Situational Awareness

How many times have you heard the following phrases?

“I never saw him coming.”

“That car pulled out of nowhere.”

“The fight just broke out. I have no idea how it started.”

In our everyday lives, things occur around us at a rapid pace. We are constantly bombarded by stimuli in our environment: cars, televisions, people, phones. The list is literally infinite. Yet, while some people seem to be well-attuned to their environment, many seem absolutely oblivious. Like that guy with his shopping cart stopped directly in the center of the supermarket aisle, reading the contents of the bag of chips he’s about to buy and not realizing that you are trying to get past him.

What is the supermarket guy lacking? What are many people lacking in today’s world?

Situational awareness.

Situational awareness is “…the process of recognizing a threat at an early stage and taking measures to avoid it.” While the term itself if most commonly used in law enforcement and military community, everyday people exercise situational awareness in their daily lives. Driving, walking down the street, watching your kids, all involve some form of situational awareness. For those in the field of security, having good situational awareness is not only extremely useful, it can quite possibly save a life. Maybe your own!

Contrary to popular belief, being observant of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations is more of an attitude or mindset than it is a skill. And because of this, it can be adopted and employed by anyone! With a little bit of practice, it becomes quite easy to spot potential threats (even minor ones) and react to them before they develop into dangerous situations.

How does one develop and maintain situational awareness?

First, one must realize that a threat exists. Tuning out your surroundings reduces your chances of quickly recognizing a threat and avoiding it. Nightclub security can improve their situational awareness by simply paying attention. Not to the cocktail waitress and not to the go-go dancer. Pay attention to your job.

1) When you arrive to begin your shift, talk to the Head of Security and ask if there are any situations or individuals that should be paid attention to. How crowded is the club? Are there individuals who are showing signs of increased intoxication? Are there any individuals or groups that are acting (or beginning to act) aggressive?

2) After speaking to the Head of Security, do a quick walk through of the establishment. Are there tables or chairs that might constitute a blocking or tripping hazard? Any glasses or bottles that might fall off walls, chairs, or tables and break? Are all exit ways clear of blockages and are the doors closed to prevent illegal entry?

Paying attention to your surroundings will not only make you aware of potential hazards, it will place you in the proper mindset to begin your shift.

Maintaining situation awareness can be a bit more difficult. Everyone has had the experience of driving to a location and arriving without really remembering the trip. This “zoning out” tends to occur because we know the route we are traveling, become complacent, and let our mind drift. However, a cautious driver rarely “zones out”. They are constantly watching their route, checking their mirrors, and paying attention. As a bouncer, you maintain a level of awareness by engaging in the same type of behaviors. Here are some things to keep you on toes:

1) You should be constantly scanning your environment and looking for problem areas and patrons. Is that hallway getting congested? Why are those guys talking so loudly and gesturing at each other? Is that woman stumbling, or did she slip on something?

2) Conversations with co-workers should be kept to a minimum. Not only does a long conversation distract you from the job at hand, it will make your manager wonder why you are talking and not picking up the broken glass in Cabana 4. That is not to say that you can’t talk to your fellow staffers. But is does mean that one of you should be scanning the crowd while the other talks.

3) Conversations with patrons should be brief. Let the patron know that you are paying attention, but that you are also trying to do your job. It is fine to scan the crowd while talking to someone. Never should you feel uncomfortable telling a patron, “I’d love to talk more, but I really need to watch what’s going on right now.” An easy fix to this “conversation trap” is to turn so that the patron is not directly in front of you, but rather to your side. This way, you can talk to the patron and still watch the crowd. However, if you are dealing directly with an altercation or a serious situation ALWAYS pay attention to the situation at hand not what is going on across the club.


Let’s not fool ourselves, it can get slow and boring some nights on the floor or in the door. This is not the time to get complacent or drift off into daydream land. As a matter of fact, it is often at these times that some of the worst incidences occur. Why? Because no one is paying attention.

A good game to play if you should find yourself getting bored while standing in the back hallway is “What If?” What if a fire broke out right now? What if that woman fell and twisted her ankle? What if those four guys started fighting? Not only will you keep yourself occupied trying to figure out responses, you could come up with some new solutions to any number of problems!

We will continue to examine Situational Awareness next time with a few examples in which Lack of Awareness could have lead to serious disaster. Until then, heads up!

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