Situational Awareness

Everybody says you should have it, but no one can tell you what it is. I’ll try.

“Situational Awareness” is defined as, Being able to know what’s going on around you, so you can identify threats and have time to respond to them. All that being said, no one can simply explain what that all means. I’m going to take a shot at it, right here, right now. Using cars.

To give a better contextual reference, you might want to read my article on Colonel Cooper’s Color Codes and the book Left of Bang. If you don't have time for the book, you can read my book review of Left of Bang.

When you drive your motor vehicle and you’re not looking at your phone, you’re generally “situationally aware” without really knowing it. This is the state of “Zen Awareness” you need to achieve in your everyday life. Here’s a couple of examples.

So you’re driving down a multi-lane road. You have as much room as you can get between you and the vehicle in front of you. You’re not only watching his brake lights, you’re also watching the brake lights of the 10+ cars in front of him. With the gap between you and the car ahead of you, someone may cut in. You glance at the front tires of the vehicles in the adjacent lanes, glancing at one of their tires, approximating the distance between their tire and the stripes separating the lanes, and determining if that distance is decreasing or not. You are checking your rear-view and side-view mirrors every 5 seconds or so, seeing if there are any threats. When you go to move into another lane, you scan for vehicles not only next to you, but if there’s one in your blind spot. You also focus to see if a vehicle is in the lane you want to move into, but is closing at a high rate of speed. When you slow down, you check to make sure the vehicle behind you also is likewise slowing down or not.

Personal story. My parents were visiting, and all of us (me, Mom and Dad, Wife and Son) were in my minivan, heading to a store to get a part to fix the broken dishwasher. We were on a four-lane road, and there were two cars ahead of me, we were all in the #1 or leftmost lane. The first car slams on their brakes, because they suddenly realized they had to turn left right now and right there. The middle car slams on their brakes and comes to a screeching halt inches from the first car’s bumper. The rest of this happened in 1-2 seconds. Not sure exactly how long, I wasn’t in a position to take detailed notes: I had my right hand on the wheel, a chocolate shake in my left. When I saw car #2 screech to a halt, I slammed on the brakes, checked the passenger’s mirror to see if someone was in the #2 lane, spun the wheel to the right until it locked, slewed the van 45 degrees, eased off the brake to get the wheels rolling, spun the wheel to the left until it locked that way, slewed the van straight, straightened the wheel and missed both cars. I didn’t spill a drop of my shake. I maneuvered so violently I separated the tread on three of my tires.

You’re approaching an intersection at the same time as another vehicle. You focus on his front end, is it angled down, meaning he’s using his brakes? You watch his front wheel to see how fast it is turning, and if it is slowing or not. You estimate where (or if) they will stop. You look at the driver to see if he’s looking your way or not.

Those are just two mnor examples of operating a motor vehicle. Think of all of the things you look at, even if just for a fraction of a second to be aware of what’s going on around you while driving. For each example, you go through the entire sequence in a second or two. According to Colonel Cooper, you’re in “Condition Yellow.” A relaxed general awareness of what is going on around you. To jump over to “Left of Bang,” any unusual behavior will now stick out like a sore thumb, which should cause you to move into Condition Orange to closely examine this discongruency and determine if this vehicle/driver is a threat or not. And, of course, into Condition Red if you have to actually do something about it.

This is what situational awareness is for the armed citizen. A relaxed awareness of what is going on 360 degrees around you. You’re mildly aware of every one and thing in range of your sight and hearing. There is a subconscious comprehension of normal or baseline behavior everyone should have, and this lets you spot the unusual the second it starts so you can determine if you have to do something about it or not.

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