Situational Awareness 3.0

In light of recent tragic events in Arizona, I thought it necessary to revisit Situational Awareness in regards to Personal and Nightclub Security. And while Security Staffers are not protecting government officials or acting in an Executive Protection capacity, it is important that we learn the skills of observation to keep ourselves and our patrons safe. And this counts for while in the club and while on the street in our “everyday lives”.

So a quick refresher:

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.


1) Be Observant – That means pay attention! Whether it is to the car that is parked next to yours  in a dark parking lot or the intoxicated Patron stumbling towards you in the nightclub: WATCH, LOOK, and LISTEN. Individuals that mean you harm are usually so fixated on doing you harm, that they are unaware of  the signals they are putting out. They will cross the street to confront you, reach for a bottle on the bar to hit you, or look around while talking to you to see if they are being observed. Always be aware of not only the perceived threat, but of any possible threats in the near vicinity. In a nightclub setting this means watching to see who is watching you!

2) Be assertive! That means walking tall, talking firmly, and being prepared to REACT. When walking down the street or through the club, keep your head up, eyes scanning, and walk with purpose. Telling a person who is a perceived threat to “Back off!” will oftentimes throw them for a loop because A) their actions have been perceived to be threatening and they are used to the element of surprise and B) an assertive individual is NOT a victim. Once you have asserted yourself, DO NOT capitulate. If you tell someone to back off and they don’t, you now know what you are dealing with: an assailant. Maintain your composure and don’t back down. As Gavin de Becker says, “No matter how many times you say ‘No’, it only takes one ‘Yes’ to fuel an antagonist!'”

3) When you notice unusual behavior, REACT. If the group of young men cross the street towards you or blocks the sidewalk, cross the street the opposite way or head towards a lighted, populated area. If the drunk at the bar is wobbling on their feet, head towards them to keep them from falling over. Two Patrons arguing at the bar? Call for back-up and head towards the problem. Don’t let the situation pass without some sort of reaction, in the hopes that it is probably nothing or will resolve itself.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to pay attention to your intuition! If a situation feels wrong, it probably is. It is far better to get your signals mixed up and have to apologize for being rude than it is to end up in the hospital…or worse. In a situation that you can’t handle in the club? Call for back up. (In this case, why were you in the situation without back up to begin with?). On the street and being followed (or think you are)? Confront the follower or head to safety. If it feels bad, uncomfortable, unusual, or unsafe, don’t think, “Oh it’s probably nothing.” Instead, think of how you can avoid the situation, call for help, or leave the area.

We must also draw the distinction between being aware and being paranoid. Paranoia a thought process heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs concerning a perceived threat towards oneself. Situational Awareness is being aware of your surroundings and avoiding trouble. IT IS NOT LOOKING FOR TROUBLE! When you place yourself in a position where everything that you see is perceived as a threat you begin to cultivate a paranoid view of the world, which besides being unhealthy, can lead to serious misjudgment and errors in action. Your line of thinking should be “Why is that individual standing in the shadows?”, NOT “That individual is standing in the shadows, therefore he/she is obviously out to get me!”

Any decisions that you make regarding your surroundings, the individuals within them, and your response to these individuals or circumstances should be based on observed behaviors instead of conjecture. Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of observation before you make any type of decision as to action.

Pay attention and stay safe.

Until next time…

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