In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think it’s necessary to address how some unforeseen circumstances can affect the way we use situational awareness. We've recently made some radical changes in the way we live our lives. People now walk around wearing masks and use terms like “social distancing” and “reemergence” in their daily conversations. Most of those conversations take place through video conferencing software or over the phone since more than a few people in one room are now considered a crowd and a health hazard.

This isn’t the first time that an unforeseen circumstance has completely changed our lives. September 11, 2001 was a tragic day for all of America. The attacks on the world trade center, pentagon and United flight 93 affected us all on an emotional level. It reshaped the way we think and live. It changed intelligence gathering, world travel, and the way we fight wars, but it also changed our mindset. Situational awareness took on a whole new meaning for most Americans and everyone wanted a hand in stopping the next attack. The changes that come with life-altering events are inevitable, but it’s important that we understand not all threats are the same. They evolve, and although we may feel prepared, the next big event could come from a direction that we never expected. 

The next big event could come from a direction that we never expected.

The CoVid-19 virus fell upon us like a ton of bricks, and even now, as the pressure begins to lift, we're still trying to figure out new ways to live our lives and keep ourselves safe. The one question I've been asking myself is, “How does this new threat to my personal safety affect the way I manage situational awareness?” The answer is simple. The techniques that you’ll learn in my book, Spotting Danger Before It Spots You, are specifically geared towards helping you spot and avoid predatory violence, but danger can mean a lot of different things to people, especially now. Luckily, situational awareness is an adaptable process. Yes, it can be used to help you to spot and evade dangerous people, but it can also help you to identify and avoid situations that you believe may pose a threat to your health.

Luckily, situational awareness is an adaptable process.

Situational awareness is the ability to identify and process environmental cues to accurately predict the actions of others. This requires us to be familiar with what is known as baseline behaviors (those actions that are considered normal in any given environment.) By knowing what is deemed to be reasonable and appropriate, we can more easily spot the people that seem out of place and raise our suspicion. Then we can evaluate that person's actions, and with practice, accurately predict their behaviors. This is how situational awareness works, and it allows us to get the jump on dangerous situations so that we can respond appropriately. There are a few points I’d like you to keep in mind.

  • Situational awareness always increases your level of personal security. This stands true whether you’re concerned about violent predators, or the guy in aisle three who refuses to cover his cough. Dangers evolve, but the ability to spot those dangers early and develop plans for avoidance remains constant. The only thing that really changes is the baseline. This requires us to look at how each new threat alters what we previously considered normal behavior.
  • Before CoVid-19, if you were standing in line at the bank and someone walked in wearing a mask, you would have probably panicked, now it's perfectly normal. The baseline for normal behaviors has shifted dramatically. Because of that, we each need to reconsider how we define danger. My definition may be much different than yours, but neither of us is wrong. If you spot something that you judge to be threatening, avoid it. The techniques you’ll learn in my book will help you to do that.
  • You are your own last line of defense. You must stay focused on the things that matter most when you're out and about. Although the CoVid-19 virus requires us to practice specific protective measures, your personal safety extends well beyond the threat of getting sick. Whatever you do, don't allow yourself to become so focused on whether or not the person behind you in the checkout line is wearing a mask that you miss the fact he's holding a knife.

Situational awareness always increases your level of personal security.

These are trying times, but in the end, we'll all get through it. Keep in mind that as we progress along the road to situational awareness, the next threat to our safety could be just over the horizon, and no one knows what shape that threat may take. No matter what other people may throw at you, be it a criminal or mother nature, you must maintain your concentration and keep focused on the end goal, ensuring the security of yourself and those you love. It's a big crazy world out there, and things are always changing. Stay safe, and always keep your head up.

The above is an original article by Gary Quesenberry, Federal Air Marshal and author of Spotting Danger Before It Spots You—Build situation awareness to stay safe, Pub Date June 2020, by YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 978-1-59439-737-0.