We have often discussed the importance of situational awareness and its role in keeping yourself safe. This pertains not only to personal security but to general personal safety as well. The massive use of different handled devices has had a demonstrative effect on the situational awareness of most of the public.
The other day while running on relatively remote trail I passed a young lady walking with ear buds in her ears listening to music. She seemed to be totally oblivious to what was going on around her and didn’t notice me until I was within a few feet of her. This encounter is a good example of the degree of vulnerability that many people put themselves in on a daily basis. At the risk of sounding like a male chauvinist this vulnerability is particularly acute for females who for several reasons may be a more attractive target than a male.
While this phenomenon is not new – and my example of the girl with the ear buds could be equated to people zoning out with Walkmans in the ‘80s – it’s definitely intensified with the proliferation and popularity of a variety of devices. Personal computer sales are down and hand held device sales are up. New technology has brought us great advantages, from increased productivity to increased mobility and in some respects increased freedom. Not only are we no longer tied to a desk but there are also benefits for personal security in the form of increased communication ability, GPS and others.
However these devices have a way of commanding our attention that can be unhealthy. One only has to look at the tragic accidents that have occurred when drivers who were focused on texting rather than the road collided with another vehicle or a pedestrian. This same concern applies to personal security.
Most criminals give off some indicators before they act. Sometimes it may be more subtle than others but there is almost always some kind of target assessment that occurs and usually a final check – often a glance over the shoulder or a “9-3-6” head movement to check for potential interference and maybe for escape routes before the attack. These actions are detectable, especially if you know what to look for and….if you are looking.
Respected combatives instructor Kelly McCann describes the issue of a victim not noticing the attacker prior to the attack in the following quote:
“Criminals physically occupy space before they attack. They have to see their victims so they’re usually in the victim’s line of sight. They’re just not noticed by their victims who are preoccupied, disinterested or disinclined to believe any violent crime could possibly happen to them”
That sums it up pretty well. You can only notice these signs if you are paying attention to your environment. You can only pay attention to your environment if you are not distracted by something else. While we should never be in Condition White in public we need to be particularly attentive at certain times as we have discussed before: Chokepoints, arrivals, departures and identified high risk areas. These are times when the devices should be put away and we should focus on the world around us. Even when we are not at these critical points we should attempt to use our devices in a light Condition Yellow if we are in public. Don’t get totally absorbed in what you are doing. Lift your head regularly and look around, keep some level of awareness about your environment.
Back to the original example of the girl with the ear buds. Hearing is one of our senses that we use for survival and we should think carefully before effectively shutting it off with earphones and depriving ourselves of that sense. They are times when it is safe to do this, maybe working out in a gym or running on a track during a busy time when other people are using it or sitting in an airport waiting for your next flight. Should you use earphones running on that same track by yourself at night? Walking down a city street? I wouldn’t do it. Good situational awareness will keep you out of many if not most problems so be careful not to handicap yourself and use technology smartly.