As anyone who has read any of our articles or books knows already knows we place a high premium on developing and using situational awareness as an integral component of personal security.  In fact if you were to do only one thing to make yourself safer – and nothing else – it would be to develop and employ situational awareness.

Still many people struggle with this for a variety of reasons.  In some cases it is because they have not received proper training on it before:  they are told to be alert to aware of their surroundings but are not told how to do this or they have been told its “common sense”.  Others equate situational awareness with hyper vigilance.  Another problem is dismissing the concept of Coopers Colors based on a very strict understanding of the color code.  One instructor discusses his dislike of Cooper’s Colors as a method here:  While he makes some interesting points I strongly disagree with what he says – his position only aligns with a very rigid interpretation of the color code.  Further the notion that situational awareness is not useful is ridiculous.

I believe that Coopers Colors is a guide to follow – not a rigid doctrine.  The four main colors that are used – White, Yellow, Orange and Red – form a framework for us to gauge awareness.  In reality there are sublevels or gradations within those colors in my opinion.  You might be in a low Condition Yellow or a high Condition Yellow as an example.  While you should not be in Condition White in public places as a general rule, you may be in Condition Yellow and move momentarily into Condition White for a moment while you look at a map, answer your phone, etc.  I think that is normal and fine as you are not walking around in Condition White for an extended period of time.  You should be positioning yourself in a more protected position to do those activities – i.e. stepping into a doorway to look at the map.  You are not lingering in Condition White – you go into it and come back out quickly.  Throughout the day you should mainly be in Condition Yellow which is a relaxed state of awareness.  You will likely shift briefly to Condition Orange from time to time – either due to some outside stimulus / observation that you make such as seeing a person exhibiting behavior that causes you some concern or because you are entering a perceived danger area or transition area where you know you should be more alert due to the increased potential threat.  You may drop briefly into Condition White while looking at a menu in a restaurant or taking a phone call.  This is only a brief interruption and only after assessing your environment and assuming a more protected position.  This is very doable and a very easy way to live your life.

How do you apply it?  There are a number of ways to begin introduce situational awareness behavior:

  • Establish Baselines:  It’s important to understand the baseline or pattern of normal activity for a given environment or location.  This baseline may change based on the hour of day and day of the week.  By establishing a baseline you determine what type of behavior is normal in that environment at that given time.  This allows you to detect behavior which is not normal (an aberration or anomaly) as well as the absence of normal behavior or activity.
  • Watch People:  Pay attention to people in your environment and learn to assess them rapidly.  We will look more at what constitutes suspicious behavior and other indicators of danger at another time.  We previously discussed some elements of it here:
  • Look for Exits:  Train yourself to identify exits whenever you enter a room, building, public transportation, etc.
  • Recognize Points Where You Need to Raise Your Awareness: Recognize that arrivals, departures, choke points and danger areas are all situations where you need to be more alert to potential threats.
  • Eliminate Distractions:  This means moderating your smart phone, tablet, ear buds, etc. use in public areas in order to better focus on your surroundings.  For many people this takes real discipline.

You can condition yourself to be aware of your environment – specifically potential threats in your environment – in much the same way.  It takes some deliberate effort – especially at first but it is a worthwhile endeavor.  It doesn’t require hyper vigilance or rigid adherence to a strict interpretation of Coopers Colors.   With practice and a good understanding of how to employ it, situational awareness can be a habit that you use daily to keep yourself safe.

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