A Quick, Easy Guide to Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is one of the most underrated skills you can have in life. People with high situational awareness constantly process their surroundings and quickly identify threats and benefits in their vicinity. Processing and clearly comprehending information during emergencies could be the difference between life and death.

Different settings call for varying levels of situational awareness. The level of alertness you would display in the privacy of your own home is not the same level you would show walking down a lonely street at night. We color-code the different levels of situational awareness a human being displays – white being the lowest and red the highest.

  • White: This level of situational awareness is most people’s default setting. You are usually on code white at home, minding your business with locked doors. You are walking around, oblivious to any incoming threats. You are often in this state because you are preoccupied with something like taking a shower, scrolling through your phone, or being engrossed in a TV show or a movie.
  • Yellow: This is the next immediate level. The main difference between code white and code yellow is that the latter involves you scanning your environment for threats. Remember, although you are now aware of your surroundings, you are still on relatively low alert and not focusing on a particular threat. An example of this level would be glancing around before fetching a newspaper from your lawn.
  • Orange: At this level, your head is on a swivel. Your movements become more purposeful, and a hint of paranoia kicks in. You start taking precautions, e.g., locking your doors. Your heart rate picks up, your breathing gets shallower, and you get a rush of adrenaline. You are now scanning your environment for threats and focusing on them. A common orange level situation is walking through a poorly lit parking lot.
  • Red: It is a code red! You are officially on high alert. You probably feel jumpy because your fight or flight response is kicking in. If your mind seems scrambled, it is okay. At this point, rational thought becomes difficult. You even start to process stimuli differently. Common effects at this level include time distortion, tunnel vision and auditory exclusion. Despite these problems, people lock in on a threat and act upon it. A code red situation could be a threat chasing after you on your way home.

We advise our readers to consider these levels as gears on a car. In every situation we find ourselves in, there is an appropriate setting to which we dial our situational awareness. Learning to shift between those gears takes practice, but it is worth it.

Situational awareness rests on four pillars:

  • Observing – taking in threats
  • Orienting – adapting to a situation
  • Deciding – formulating a plan
  • Acting – following through with the plan

One habit that translates into good situational awareness is people-watching. People-watching and scanning your environment can reveal suspicious behavior. This is especially true if you know what you are looking for. For example, here are some signs that somebody could become a mass shooter:

  • Oversized or loose-fitting clothes
  • Clothes not appropriate for an event or the weather
  • Keeping hands in pockets or concealing hands
  • Repositioning a weapon (confirmation touch)
  • Small bulges near waist or hip
  • Undue attention to carried objects
  • Oversized torso or bulky jackets/vest
  • Favoring one side (strong side)
  • Blading (turning body to protect or conceal a weapon)
  • Nervousness, muttering
  • Tunnel vision or 1000-mile stare
  • Trouble communicating
  • Repeated entries and exits to an area

At EMR Safety and Health, we are dedicated to equipping everyday people with the knowledge they need to combat potential violence effectively. If you are interested in learning more, sign up for our Safety Compliance Awareness Trainer (S-CAT) – Active Shooter, Workplace Violence course, or visit us at www.emrsafetyandhealth.com.