Situational Awareness 2.0

Our previous discussion included a definition of Situational Awareness, how to practice it while on the job, and how to keep on your toes (i.e. playing the “What if…” game) during long, boring shifts. While all this is well and good, it is important to note that obsessive concern about one’s environment, safety, and security can be just as dangerous as lax behavior, if not more so.  Why?

Your body’s “fight or flight” response is there to help you in unexpected, emergency situations: a child jumping in front of your car, someone grabbing you from behind, fire breaking out in a movie theater. But a steady stream of stress and adrenalin can lead to burnout, both physical and mental. And it is very difficult to be cognizant of what is going on around you when you are burned out. Anyone working in a high risk, stressful environment can attest to this.

How then does one attain a comfortable level of Situational Awareness? By practicing what is referred to as “relaxed awareness”. You can remain in this mental state indefinitely without the strain of being on constant alert. It will allow you to enjoy your job (and your life) while still remaining aware of your surrounding. As a matter of fact, being in a state of relaxed awareness makes it easier to transition to four-alarm, sirens flashing, heightened awareness. If something unusual occurs you can heighten your awareness while making a determination of threat level. Then you can take action or stand down and relax again.

Some of you might say, “Relaxed awareness is an oxymoron. It is not possible to be both relaxed and aware at the same time!” Wrong. The next time you get in your car and go for a spin, take note of your mental state. Chances are you are calm, cool, and collected. If you aren’t, you probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel. You will notice that you take casual glances at your side and rear view mirrors, pay attention to possible hazards in the road, and watch your speedometer. All of this is done in a state of…relaxed awareness! Over the years, you have learned to seek out and identify possible threats while staying in a relaxed state. Those working in security should attempt to achieve this relaxed state while working the floor, but they can only do so if they know what to look for and practice, practice, practice. Kind of like when you got your learner’s permit to drive.

So what are you looking for while working your bar shift? Let’s do a positional breakdown:

Doorman – You are the first line of defense and as such bear the brunt of the responsibility to keep the troublemakers, drunks, and under-agers out of the bar.

  • How are people walking before they arrive? Stumbling, swaying, unable to stand? You should be watching people before they even arrive to your door!
  • When people show you their ID, do they look you in the eye? Do they act insulted if you ask them for ID? Do they try to hide in the middle of their group of friends and attempt to get by you without handing you an ID?
  • Is the patron rude, snide, or contentious upon arrival?
  • Are they carrying large bags or backpacks?
  • Are people following dress code? Any unusual lumps or bumps in their clothing? Is the clip in their pocket a knife?
  • How crowded is your doorway? Are people blocking the sidewalk or doorway?
  • Are patrons from inside the bar attempting to bring drinks outside or blocking the doorway on their way out?
  • When leaving the bar, are patrons visibly intoxicated? Are sober men (or women) trying to get the intoxicated person they are with out the door? Do they know this person?

Remember you are just as responsible for people leaving the bar, as you are people in the bar! It is important for the doorman to watch the sidewalk, doorway, and immediate entry way to maintain proper traffic flow and get people in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Floorman/Static Posts – Your primary responsibility is to watch the crowd. In a perfect world you are positioned on a box or slightly raised platform to give you a nice view of the floor.

  • How are patrons walking? Swaying, stumbling, falling? Are men pushing, shoving, or jostling their way through the crowd?
  • Are groups of men clustering together? Are they shooting glances at other groups of men or gesturing to them? Are they encroaching on the personal space of groups of women?
  • Are any patrons (men or women) having conversations with very little personal space and a lot of gesticulation or angry body language?
  • Are there any men standing by themselves in corners or darker areas of the bar? Are any single men trailing after single women or cornering women?
  • Is there any roughhousing between men or groups of men on the floor?

You can spot a bad attitude from across a room. Scowling, furrowed brows, walking with elbows jutted out…all telltale signs of a bad attitude.

Roamers – You are the “cop on the beat”. You’re paying attention to the floor and maintaining traffic flow and order.

  • Are your hallways, walkways, and doorways clear, and is traffic flowing?
  • Are exit doors closed?
  • How are people acting in the restroom line? Are there men lurking by the women’s restroom?
  • Are there empty glasses and bottles on tables?
  • Are there any patrons swaying, holding themselves up, or holding their friends up?
  • Is there any roughhousing or early signs of altercations between individuals or groups?

Roamers’ best bet is to walk, walk, walk and watch for signs of bad behavior!

The key to achieving a state of “Relaxed Awareness” is to go over these items over, and over, and over again, until they become second nature. Once they become second nature, it will become easier for you to spot trouble before it occurs and act accordingly.

And what better way to spot trouble than know the Levels of Intoxication? You’ll have to wait til next time for that.

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!