Situation awareness

by Mark Rowe

Is ‘situation awareness’ just a mantra or crucially valuable tactic? asks Steve Collins of PS5.

An awareness of your surroundings and location is the cornerstone of good security. Situational awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend information about how to survive in an emergency situation. More simply, it is knowing and understanding what is going on around you. I have exalted the virtues of ‘situation awareness’ in my writings and training for decades and I have seen the phrase slowly but surely enter the security trainer’s glossary. Situation awareness is recognising potentially dangerous environments, but be aware that some of the most peaceful-looking locations can still be affected by crime. Nowhere should be thought of as being completely safe.

Some truly understand the term ‘situation awareness’ but for others it’s just a throw-away line with no real substance or understanding of what it means. The term owes its birth to the very steep learning curve experienced by the UK in their war against terrorists, both Republican and Loyalist, in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland. As with all counter insurgency situations survival lessons have be learnt quicker than the terrorists learn theirs. Staying ahead of the insurgent’s tactical learning curve means keeping friendly forces alive long enough to slow the enemy successes. And of course this has never been truer than it is in today’s terrorists’ fraught world.

From a personal standpoint, it is much easier to stay out of trouble than it is to get out of trouble. One of the best ways to stay out of trouble is to keep away from the sort of places it is likely to happen. If you are ignorant of your environment and believe ‘it will never happen to me’, you may as well walk around with a great big neon sign saying ‘victim’.

The most effective aspect of situational awareness involves the ability to project the future actions of elements around you. After you have been able to identify elements in your environment and can comprehend the situation, it is time to take your situational awareness one step further. Use this information to think ahead and determine how it will affect future actions and events in the environment.

Those absorbed in facing a competent and experienced military enemy, or even a run of the mill criminal element must develop training tactics that are vital and rational. However, sadly whether our guardians are in the military, law enforcement, government security, or in the private security sector, training is always budget-led and resource-sensitive. Even those with substantial budgets struggle with the needs of those on the front line. All physical skills need hands on training and regular practice and refreshers, however I believe an understanding of ‘situation awareness’ is a means that addresses the inability of operational personnel to regularly retrain and refresh.

There is a saying, “it is impossible to protect everyone, everywhere all the time from everything”. This maxim has never been truer than it is now in 2018.

A large part of the protective remit is to understand risk, and that high risk situations are arduous and adrenaline demanding and draining to the body. Intensive concentration is exhausting and in most cases a high state of awareness cannot be maintained for periods of hours let alone days, without a serious degradation of effectiveness. The genuine protection professional needs to be able understand when to ‘up their game’ and equally ‘when it’s safe to relax’. To achieve this ultimate and enviable mental state is the goal of understanding ‘Situation Awareness’.

The skills required to effectively protect those at risk such as shooting, driving, intelligence gathering, surveillance and first aid are all secondary to understanding how to become, and stay situationally aware. All of the physical skills are of course critical in the reactive stage of an operation. However the best kind of skill will allow the protection professional to avoid having to find out whether or not their shooting and driving skills are up to scratch. ‘Situation awareness’ will teach one to avoid danger.

Truly understanding ‘situation awareness’ will dramatically reduce the need for using physical fighting skills. Furthermore it can be constantly practiced, tested and modified in any operational situation and is truly sustainable whereas training and re training is all too often no sustainable.

I asked the question is ‘situation awareness’ just a mantra or critically valuable tactic? You can make up your own minds with regards to that, My mantra is “We Go Prepared” and the cornerstone of that is ‘situation awareness’.


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