If you have spent any time in the defensive realm, you have heard two words at least once: Situational Awareness. In every discipline I have studied in whether it be martial arts, executive protection, firearms, etc., every one of them not touches but drives home the concept of situational awareness.
This concept sounds cool, and it flows off the tongue in an exquisite manor; but what is it exactly? What it is, and what it has become may be two different things.
What it has become: A buzzword. It is great to say and when you do, you are speaking the language of the defensive community. A newbie can sound like they belong in about 3 seconds! But in all the times I hear the phrase, I never get a good definition and explanation of what it is. I think many instructors take for granted that both words are common and easily defined. However, when put together they become more than the sum of their parts. This brings us to what it actually is.
What it is: Critical! Situational Awareness (SA) is far more than is often let on. Typically when it comes to firearms training, situational awareness is limited to that 1 second of scanning performed after target engagement. Knowing what is going on around an engagement, but that is putting it far too small a box.
Knowing what is going on around you (situational awareness) is not limited to threat engagement. Employed properly, SA will prevent a threat! This however takes more than looking around. It requires being engaged in your environment and planning ahead. Walking down the street at night, you see a few people lurking around just hanging out. You could continue to walk right to them, watching their hands, or: you could cross the road! When you park your car at the movie theater and it is daytime and when you come out you know it will be dark; park accordingly. Don’t park in a dark corner. Find a light post and park close enough that your car and the surrounding area will be well lit.
I propose here and now a change in phraseology from Situational Awareness to: Environmental Engagement; and here is why:
- Situational assumes intangibles. You find your self in awkward or uncomfortable situations. Situation implies a moment in time and emotion. Environment mandates, by definition, mandates tangibles. Environment is people, buildings, cars, etc., etc.
- Awareness is superficial. I am aware there is a suspicious looking character approaching me, but unless I am engaged, I do nothing about it. Awareness does not require action.
Situational awareness is an important concept, and needs to be a part of your repertoire. But, you must insist on expanding it beyond what is currently accepted. I recommend using the term Environmental Engagement. This, through simple change of terminology, changes your perception and approach of the concept.
To be effective you must become engaged. Understand what is normal and familiar to your common environment, and look for differences. Don’t just be aware of your surrounding, but engage in them. Wolves prey on those who look like they are not engaged in their environment. Playing on your cell phone requires you to be oblivious to your surroundings, making the wolves job much easier.
One of my favorite Sherlock Holmes quotes is: “You see, but you do not observe”. He tells this to Watson numerous times when Watson does not observe the infinitesimally small details that Sherlock sees in his environment. This is a perfect example of the difference in one who is aware and one who is engaged.
What can we learn?
- Situational awareness has become a buzzword, but for good reason. It is an important part to our overall defense strategy.
- SA is more than what is often taught. The term itself may be to blame for this anemic application.
- Consider transitioning to Environmental Engagement. This term is better suited to the reality of what is needed.
- Engage in your environment, don’t just be aware of it