Situational Awareness by Kevin Reeve (Part #2)

Kevin Reeveby Kevin Reeve, onPoint Tactical

In Part #1 I covered the most basic elements of Situational Awareness, including baseline and Reticular Activating System. In this article (Part #2) I finish up by explaining how to identify threats and then what to do with those threats. If you haven’t read part one, now might be a good time.

< read Situational Awareness Part #1 >

I like to look at situational awareness in the most practical sense. The questions as I have experimented with awareness are:

  • What do I do?
  • What do I look for?
  • What do I pay attention to?

The practical application of situational awareness includes all the concepts in the first article.

You must avoid Normalcy Bias. You do that by monitoring the baseline and recognizing spikes and concentric rings. You also must not make the mistake of allowing yourself to be distracted.onPoint Tactical Classes

Many of us spend a lot of time processing past events and worrying about future events. If there is one thing that defines an aware person, it is someone who lives in the present. They are not replaying conversations from the day before, they are not thinking about the utility bill that is due. They are not allowing distraction in the form of extraneous thoughts to enter their mind. They are focused on the here and now.

But what do you focus on? What do you pay attention to?

I suggest four things –

1. Baseline & Concentric Rings

When you enter the room, monitor the baseline. Look for the normal ebb and flow of conversation, the noise and activity level. The speed with which people are moving, their social distancing, their gestures, the volume and speed of their speech. All of this comprises the baseline.

For example, the baseline in a library is generally very slow and quiet. Whispered conversations, no running. A disturbance to this baseline is actually very easy to detect. Someone yelling or running would draw our attention. But in gym, where several basketball games are going on at once, the baseline is different, and the same person running and shouting would be in harmony with that baseline. In that situation we may be drawn to the person in deep conversation in a corner of the gym. Furtiveness and whispered conversation are out of baseline and should draw our attention.

2. Threats

Whenever I enter a room, after a quick check of the baseline, I do a check for threats. Usually this means I scan people looking for evidence of those individuals who are obviously potentially dangerous. This could mean they are very fit, very aware, or that they are wearing “shoot me first” clothes.

Fit individuals are not automatically a threat. But many threat-heavy individuals I know are indeed very fit.

An aware person probably has some form of training in awareness. If they are well trained, it will be hard to know they are paying attention. I look for heads on a swivel, eyes scanning the room, essentially the things I do when I am scanning.

For a few years I wore tactical pants and shirt all the time. One day, someone pointed out that if they were clearing a room, I would be one of the first ones shot, because my clothes spoke of training.

Once I have scanned and identified potential threats, I then scan for sleepers. People I just missed the first time around who catch my eye on second inspection. There is a look in the eye of a predator. I wish I could explain that more completely. But when you see it, you will know. Sometimes the hair on the back of my neck actually stands up when I see them.

Remember, not all threats are human. Threats can be in the form of non-human elements such as fire dangers, blocked exits, precarious equipment.

3. Exits/Cover

Next I scan for exits. This means paying attention to the floor plan. Spatial awareness requires conscious choice. Whenever I enter a new building or floor, I pay attention to the layout, the locations of doors and windows that can serve as exits, and structural elements that can provide cover (protection from return fire). I am always playing the game in my head where I war game in various situations. If I were at the front of the room, and an active shooter entered, where would I go for protection from fire.

My friend Kelly Alwood defines cover in four levels:

1 – Level one is return fire.

2 – Level two is my associate’s return fire.

3 – Level three is my personal body armor.

4 – Level four is ballistic protection from a structural element.

If I have those four levels of cover, I will probably be safe.

4. Opportunities

Next I scan for things that could be useful in the event of an event. By this I mean looking for tactical advantages, for possible improvised weapons, distractions, high ground, cover (again). It can be something as simple as the location of light switches. In short, anything that can be used to my advantage. This requires some creativity and scenarios.


I play out scenarios in my head all the time. If I am sitting in a meeting experiencing “Death by PowerPoint,” I imagine a situation. I hear an explosion across the building. Something is up.

  • What door to I go to?
  • Assuming the explosion is something dastardly, what is my assessment?
  • Dangers?
  • Exits?
  • Cover?
  • Opportunities?
  • How has this upset the baseline?
  • How far has the concentric ring traveled?

About this time, the lights go back on and the presentation is over. Like Walter Mitty, I have saved the world again.


Situational Awareness is all about staying alive be knowing what is going on around you. We can help you with those survival skills here at onPoint Tactical. Learn more about our training classes → < click here >

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