When people are travelling they seem to enter a mental bubble where they are much less aware of what is going on around them. This lack of awareness does not end with travellers. If you look around you, you will find many examples every day. Many London Black Cab drivers are fitting dashboard cameras after near misses where people step out in front of them talking on mobile phones or listening to music players.
British SBS at the battle Qala-i-Jangi, situationally aware af. – There’s a great documentary on what happened early 2000’s during that battle. You can find it here
If you are aware of your surroundings you will be much safer. There are many models of levels awareness, such as Cooper’s Colour Codes, most of which are aimed at Law Enforcement or Military. Clearly this is more than most people need so I will not drag you down that particular rabbit hole.
So what is situational awareness? Basically it is being aware of your surroundings and identifying potential dangers and threats. It is more of a mind-set than a tangible hands-on skill. In order to develop this mind-set you need to accept three things. Firstly, that threats do exist. You need to lose the “it can’t possibly happen to me” attitude. Next, trust your instincts. Thousands of years of evolution has given us a well-tuned set of “spidey senses”. If something feels wrong it probably is. Finally, take responsibility for your immediate personal safety. The Emergency Services cannot be everywhere all the time. They are necessarily a reactive service.
Being aware is a conscious choice, and something you need to work at. Here are some simple ways in which you can improve your situational awareness.
- Next time you come out of a shop into a carpark take a mental note of how many cars have people sitting in them.
- Try to identify all exits when you go into a building.
- Count how many people are with you in a restaurant or in a train carriage.
- Make a mental note of any cars which take the same turns as you when you are driving.
- Start people watching. Try to work out what their story is. What kind of mood are they in? What do they seem to be doing? What do they do for a living?
Barriers to Situational Awareness
Previously I stated that situational awareness was something you must make a deliberate effort to cultivate. As with any other endeavour there will be barriers to fully following through with this commitment. Being aware of this will help you in developing your awareness.
- Perception – Our own mental interpretation of reality can have a significant effect on our awareness. Our own perception can colour how we react to a given situation. Our perception can be influenced by;
- Past experiences – We react to things based on our past experiences. If it looks like something we have seen before we will instinctively react as we have before, but things may be different this time.
- Expectations – We interpret information in ways that ratify our beliefs. We rationalise things are a certain way because we want it to be that way.
- Filters – We are constantly provided with information. However, we don’t always use it. We often ignore information which doesn’t match our mental perception or expectations. This is the mental equivalent of “selective hearing”
- Over Motivation – Being overly or excessively motivated can affect your ability to fully assess a situation. This might cause you to miss risks and overlook safety. An overriding sense of “mission importance” could jeopardise sound judgement and objective thinking.
- Complacency – Don’t assume that everything is under control. This will affect your vigilance. When things are slow or you are carrying out routine tasks your awareness will diminish.
- Overload – Doing too much will cause distraction and stress, and will result in increased errors. Prioritise and delegate to minimise distractions.
- Tiredness – This will affect your ability to concentrate on your surroundings. Make sure you take time to unwind in an environment that doesn’t need your full awareness to remain safe. Make sure you are getting enough sleep.
- Poor Communications – Teams are more efficient if they have high quality communication. Working together and communication effectively will act as an awareness amplifier.