situational awareness meme
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Making the decision to carry a concealed weapon is only the first step in a process which includes purchasing a handgun that’s appropriate for one’s personality and life, training, regular practice, and adapting one’s thinking to the habits necessary to safely carrying a handgun on a daily basis. Safety, however, does not consist primarily of not accidentally shooting oneself or others, or of avoiding accidentally leaving one’s handgun in a public restroom, among other monumental mistakes. Most important is ensuring that one will never have to use a handgun, which is done primarily through developing and maintaining situational awareness.

Situational awareness might be described as the ability to be aware of one’s surroundings, to anticipate potential trouble, and to avoid it before one is confronted by actual trouble, forcing a reaction. Those with a high degree of situational awareness, such as police officers or combat soldiers, often find themselves virtually “outside” their bodies, as though watching themselves function in real time.

While this may sound mystical, perhaps even a bit flakey, it describes real perceptions, and the development of real skills, primarily being actively, in a relaxed and confident sense, aware of what is going on outside the arms-length personal space “bubble” of most Americans.

Unfortunately, there is an invention that makes active situational awareness for many people more difficult than at any time in history: smart phones. I developed situational awareness at a very young age, long before that kind of distraction was invented. My first cell phone, used in the later part of my police days, was a bag phone, and technology progressed rapidly from there. Now, an amazing portion of the population is out in public in the functional equivalent of smart phone catatonia.

Consider this 2013 AP report from San Francisco . . .

The man drew the gun several times on the crowded San Francisco commuter train, with surveillance video showing him pointing it across the aisle without anyone noticing and then putting it back against his side, according to authorities.

The other passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn’t notice the gunman until he randomly shot and killed a university student, authorities said.

Before that moment, footage showed the man pull out the .45-caliber pistol and once wipe his nose with the hand holding the weapon, authorities told the San Francisco Chronicle in a story on Monday.

‘These weren’t concealed movements — the gun is very clear,’ District Attorney George Gascon said. “These people are in very close proximity with him, and nobody sees this. They’re just so engrossed, texting and reading and whatnot. They’re completely oblivious of their surroundings.”

San Francisco police officials say people who pay too much attention to digital technology are also vulnerable to theft.

“Oftentimes when you interview people who get their phones stolen, when you ask them to describe where the person came from, what he was wearing, they have no idea,” said police Chief Greg Suhr.

Ironically, if people saw the killer, who was eventually arrested, earlier, it may have caused a panic which could possibly have resulted in more deaths. Due to California’s draconian gun laws, few, except criminals, are armed. However, in much of the rest of America, criminals must take into account that citizens can be, and likely are, armed virtually anywhere.

Criminals are not generally the brilliant, quirky masterminds of the movies and police novels. Most aren’t very bright, but they do have a feral intelligence that leads them to look for easy prey: those that are weak and unaware.

It is the lack of situational awareness, exacerbated by distractions such as smart phones, that helps killers fire many shots into crowds or classrooms before anyone is aware of what is happening. In the aftermath, people say: “he came out of nowhere,” or “it all happened so fast.”  Few people consciously develop situational awareness, and women, constitutionally and because of their lack of strength and size relative to men, are particularly vulnerable.

While there are no absolutely definitive studies, some surveys have suggested that women are more likely to text than men. If so, that only contributes to a lack of situational awareness.

Criminals are more likely to stalk a small, distracted woman than a large, fit man. That’s why it is particularly important for women to not only consider carrying a concealed handgun, but to work consistently to develop situational awareness.

The late Col. Jeff Cooper, founder of the famous Gunsite training facility, developed a color code system that describes the necessary mental state.

CODE WHITE: This describes most people: no situational awareness at all, face down in a smart phone.  In this state, one is essentially unaware of what is happening outside their bubble.  They can’t anticipate and identify potential danger and have virtually no chance of dealing with it effectively. Predators see them as a walking piece of meat with a flashing neon “eat me” sign.  Think about all the smart phone zombies to understand the joy, and easy picking, of criminals.

CODE YELLOW:  This is the awareness level anyone carrying concealed must develop and maintain.  It is an enhanced level of awareness.  While remaining relaxed, one is constantly on the lookout for potential danger.  Personal space is expanded far beyond arm’s length and danger can be avoided or confronted without surprise or hesitation. This level of awareness is not stressful and can be easily maintained without danger of physical or psychological deterioration.  Perfect situational awareness isn’t possible–we’re only human–but it is the goal.

CODE ORANGE:  Because of situational awareness an imminent potential threat has been recognized.  Perhaps a nearby man thrusts his hand into his coat in the manner of someone reaching for a handgun in a shoulder holster.  An escalation from yellow to orange is immediate–-until he pulls out a checkbook–-allowing the equally quick shift to yellow. An escalation from yellow to orange will probably not be noticeable by anyone not used to maintaining situational awareness. This may or may not result in an adrenaline dump, but remaining in this state for long periods of time may result in stress damage.

CODE RED:  This is the reaction to a definite, imminent threat, but there is still time to consider options.  Approaching one’s car in a parking garage there is a man slouching against the trunk. He looks and feels wrong, out of place. The heat of an adrenaline dump surges; decision time: Flight or fight?  Is a direction change and walking away without provoking a pursuit possible, or is a confrontation unavoidable?  If unavoidable, what must be done to gain and retain a tactical advantage?  Remaining in code red for more than a short time is debilitating for most people and will likely be physically and/or psychologically harmful.

CODE BLACK: This is actual combat and it must be assumed, in any confrontation outside the sparring practice of a martial arts school, that it’s potentially–even probably–a life and death struggle, particularly if attacked by a stranger on the street. Adrenaline is pumping and Tachypsychia (seconds seem like hours) is common, as is narrowing of the field of vision commonly known as “tunneling.”  Hearing may become very dim or temporarily disappear.  Fine muscle control is diminished, even lost.  This is a debilitating physical and psychological state and those who experience it are often physically and emotionally exhausted after a confrontation that lasts mere seconds.  Without situational awareness, caught unaware and by surprise, one is at a serious tactical disadvantage and may be hurt or killed. Obviously, it is best never to experience code black.

Learning to observe one’s surroundings and to ask “what if?” is vital. It’s the anticipation of trouble, and prior planning based on that observation, that enables us to avoid most trouble.

Fortunately, developing situational awareness does not take expensive professional training. It does, however, take a beginning awareness of the necessity, and daily practice, practice that begins when one leave the front door of their home each day. It also takes an awareness of human nature.

Most people don’t look around them, or focus their vision much beyond a distance necessary to avoid tripping over objects a step away. They allow their thoughts to completely distract them from an awareness of anything outside the personal space bubble. It takes little time watching people wherever they congregate to see just how shockingly unaware most are.

When people approach, they may do no more than glance briefly upward to see if they know them, and perhaps to make momentary eye contact. People virtually never look up. They don’t gaze higher than eye level unless looking for a sign, and are often amazed at what they’ve missed when they accidentally look at the second stories of buildings they pass every day.

Few look behind them. Few examine the area around their cars as they approach them. Few look up and down the street, except to avoid being hit by cars, before pulling out into traffic. Few take the few seconds needed to examine the area around their car and the path they plan to take, before leaving their car. Women are particularly bad about spending seconds or minutes stationary, hunting for car keys in a purse, leaving themselves vulnerable. Few look around as they drive down their street–the same way every day–or approach their driveway.

Some people think who carry guns and run around thinking about “code yellow” and “code red” are paranoid. They’re nuts! They’re dangerous! Actually, their work at paying attention, at developing situational awareness makes them more alive, more aware of their world and their life, helps them avoid ever having to use their handgun, and if they do, makes it more likely they’ll survive to enjoy those additional years of inspirational awareness.

They are — particularly women — dangerous…but only to predators. We can use more of those women. And those men.



Mike’s blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.

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  1. Responding to text messages in a mall is not the best place to do so,..
    Better to respond when in a better environment.
    A few or many extra minutes spent before a response could save a life.

    • I have stopped people so absorbed into their phones they nearly walked into moving traffic. Half had to be grabbed by the collar and pulled back to the sidewalk.

      Sometimes I wonder if I should let Darwinism take it’s course.

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  2. Was talking to a man who also carries and when a woman saw his pistol, which was revealed when he reached something for her, she stated ” you are carrying a gun in the store ” ? She figured that since there never has been a shooting in that food store that it never will happen. A month later, there was a shooting in the parking lot. This kind of “head in the sand thinking ” is commonplace.

  3. “smart phone catatonia. . . . absorbed in their phones and tablets”

    I’ve often thought of people pathologically absorbed in audio-visual media as “audvistic”.

  4. “However, in much of the rest of America, criminals must take into account that citizens can be, and likely are, armed virtually anywhere.”


    Assumes facts not in evidence. Were it so, we might expect to observe significant, annual, reduction in crimes where a firearm is used. Instead, for the claim in the article (referenced at the beginning of this reply), we must presume: violent criminals are near-uniformly aware of the ratio of people carrying firearms on their person, every day; violent criminals understand that the CDC attributes law-abiding armed individuals with at least 205k defensive gun uses annually; violent criminals can make rational decisions regarding the likelihood of encountering an armed response by the intended victim(s).

    The quote from the article is conjecture, projection, and baseless hope. The article itself would not be less impactful if the statement quoted were not included at all.

    • Sam, please. You are going off the deep end again. In states that have Constitutional carry, crime has gone DOWN. That fact is in “evidence.”

  5. A few things come to mind here.
    Fear, how a person deals with fear and rapidly changing scenarios is vitally important.
    For myself, I’ve had enough training and real life experience to where I will just suddenly take a look around and see if there’s anyone around me and what they are looking at and doing.
    Had an interesting experience a while back, while behind a * bucks having a coffee and trying to schedule a Dr appointment on the laptop, for some reason I looked up and two youts were staring my way and talking among themselves.
    This didn’t pass the smell test and the look in their eyes was strangely familiar like a hunter looks at prey.
    One starts to walk around the parking lot to get behind me and the other starts yelling my way if I have a cigarette.
    I just ignore the loud one that’s trying to get my attention, I can hear where he is because he won’t shut up, I give my attention to the one trying to maneuver behind me.
    They suddenly stop because I’m not reacting like they want to and engaging idiot # one, I just stay quiet and keep (my phone) at low ready just under the window, also luckily I had backed into a parking spot with a high wall and dirt hill behind me so idiot # two won’t get an advantage and get directly behind me.
    They finally give up and idiot # one said, your retired military right?
    I’m still not talking and just staring at them, they finally leave the area.
    I reviewed what had happened in my mind and I could have just started the truck and drove out of the lot but would have had to pass right next to idiot # one and I wanted all the distance I could from them so the way it went down was nobody harmed, no (phones) were waved around.
    I took a class many years ago that had a component in it about disaster psychology, learned a lot from that like the three Fs, freeze, flight or fight, a person is going to do one of these three things when it hits the fan.
    Lots of training helps but the basic personality will come into play on how people deal with high stress situations.

  6. Situational awareness. This is *exactly* why I keep my eyes open while the congregation/pastor is praying during church, and when I’m serving on security. At other churches I’ve visited, I’ve seen uniformed or badged security closing their eyes along with everyone else. If there’s any time for an intruder to maximize the opportunity to walk up to the stage/podium with least resistance, it’s when 95% of all eyes in the room are closed.

    • “If there’s any time for an intruder to maximize the opportunity to walk up to the stage/podium with least resistance, it’s when 95% of all eyes in the room are closed.”

      Doing what the others aren’t can really throw off a predator.

      Had an incident a few years back where I was crossing a parking lot in the early evening and noticed someone falling in behind me. I increased my scan and slid my hand into the pocket where my LCR was kept. Oddly, the one following me stopped advancing rapidly behind me. I was relieved and entered the store I was there to visit. On the way out, my hand was in my pocket again, and my interested party was nowhere to be seen…

  7. I downloaded the free app SituAware from Google Playspy.
    Now all I have to do is look through my phones camera mode and it shows me everything that’s going on in front of me. Amazing this new modern technology. The only complaint is if you want to scan a complete 180° or more you have to move your head and or shoulders to view the phones screen while you situationally become aware.
    Before I got this app I used to tape mirrors to my head, this is much better believe you me. I highly recommend it.

  8. Guess it’s the old grunt, or the hunter in me. Been many, many occasions where I noticed something out of place when going about my business. Some cat sitting in a car watching the ATM behind the bank. Some dude eyeing the crowd going into an event or hanging around a parking area. Just as many of us can spot a cop in a crowd just by how they move and how they react to others in the crowd. Many of us who pay attention also spot the predators in the crowd as well. What I find amazing is the number of oblivious sheep who notice nothing.

  9. It truly is sad to see how few people out there are aware of anything around them. Nearly everyone has their heads buried in their phones, whether in the grocery store, in the parking lot, or at the restaurant. One lady had her purse wide open in her shopping cart, while she was on her phone halfway down the grocery aisle-no clue at all to anything around her! I did not know whether to laugh, or be dismayed at where society has gone. One day, I was sitting in the parking lot, killing time before an appointment. Across the side road in this mini mall area was Wal-Mart, and if that was not a depressing experience, watching people enter and exit. Cluelessness everywhere!

  10. Its not the way normal people want to live or should have to live. In other industrialized nations people do not have to live this way and many don’t even in less affluents countries that I have been to.

    The sea of unregistered guns in Capitalvania makes this a tragic necessity when entering bad sections of town.

    • I was hoping you’d start that sea of gunms shit again because Id like to ask you about those civilized countries and not having gunms. Do you think if those civilians in Civiland had a sea of gunms theyd be all kill crayz, maybe twice as bad as the U.S.
      Humans, civilised. 555

      • We all know lil’d is fapping away at thoughts of administering his “final solution”. He sees desolation and calls it peace.

    • “Its not the way normal people want to live or should have to live.”

      Well there is a myriad of options for you if you don’t want to live that way, I suggest you hightail yourself over to the tallest bridge in your area, preferably one over a large body of water.

    • It has NOTHING to do with guns. One way or the other. People are walking into on coming traffic, getting knifed, and blissfully unaware of what is happening right next to them.

      You can suggest that people shouldn’t have to live in fear of guns. Well, they don’t. The fear of firearms is ridiculous in the first place. But that isn’t what this article is about.

      • He’s not here for a conversation.

        With all of his bloviating, I’m glad he’s not armed. Because if he is, then he’d be a hypocrite, right? Secondly, he must live in an oppressive country; you know, not named “America”. Calling the US “capitalvania”, as if that is some kind of a derogatory put-down that would make us butt-hurt?

        Puh-lease. No, his illness is socialism, or just plain mental illness. Or he’s just a child who thinks that name is an actual insult. The bad news is that you all are arguing with a child in a foreign country that doesn’t recognize God-given human rights for its subjects.

        Again, he’s not here to have a conversation or to participate in an exchange of ideas.

    • dacian, the DUNDERHEAD. As soon as you Lefties are willing to deal the the real problem (and it’s NOT guns), we will all be much better off.
      Criminals do not use gun stores to buy their guns and will not go to anyone who is selling a gun second hand who has half a brain in their head.
      You Lefties refuse to deal with the problem of mental illness leaving dangerous people out in the street preying on the innocent and vulnerable.
      Time for you to wake the h e l l up!

    • Archer, yes it can. Most people who walk around malls, and stores are oblivious and pay little attention to their surroundings. I teach a course which does in fact STRESS “situational awareness”. It’s called “REFUSE TO BE A VICTIM”.


  12. What about “Code Green” as stacks of that is what we’ll all be handing over to our attorneys if we ever have to defend ourselves with a firearm in a Democrat-controlled area.

    And on another subject I suspect the DOJ will escalate things with firearm owners/CCW permit holders and increase charging victims of violent crimes who have successfully defended themselves, they’ll use tge “Civil Rights” Division to do it. The Feds are not going to just sit back and let local prosecutors and grand juries have their say.

    • “You can’t have freedom for free, you can’t get wise with the sleep still in your eyes no matter what your dream might be”


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