For Your Situational Awareness!

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt Kevin Eads
  • 117th Intelligence Operations
Our What? What is Situational Awareness? Many of you hear the term daily and don't really know what it means. Well, with the help of two articles written by Scott Stewart and Fred Burton, I will briefly try to explain what the term situational awareness is and how we can put it into practice in our own lives. We live in a dangerous world. There are people in all parts of the world who are intent on doing harm to or causing mass fear in others. Regardless of the motives of these people, danger lurks everywhere, even in our own communities. Terrorism gets the big headlines but crime also causes harm and mass fear. How do we as citizens prevent terrorism and crime from happening in our lives and in our communities? To begin with, we must have Situational Awareness of our surroundings.  Well, there is that term again, what does it mean? 

According to Burton and Stewart "Situational Awareness is the process of recognizing a threat at an early stage and taking measures to avoid it. Being observant of one's surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations is more of an attitude or mindset than it is a hard skill. Because of this, situational awareness is not just a process that can be practiced by highly trained government agents or specialized corporate security counter surveillance teams-it can be adopted and employed by anyone with the will and discipline to do so. An important element of this mindset is realizing that a threat does exist. Ignorance or denial of a threat, or completely tuning out to one's surroundings makes it almost impossible to detect when a threat is near. This is why apathy, denial and complacency are so deadly. 

Burton and Stewart state, "Denial and complacency are not the only hazardous states of mind. Paranoia and obsessive concern about one's safety and security can be just as dangerous." There are times when we should be at a heightened state of alert such as when we are alone walking across a dark parking lot at night or in an unfamiliar town or neighborhood. During these times of heightened awareness our bodies are ready and willing to react in a timely manner to a threat of danger. Our bodies "fight or flight" response is helpful in a sudden emergency, but a constant stream of adrenalin and stress leads to mental and physical burnout. Therefore, Situational Awareness is best practiced at a balanced level Burton and Stewart call "relaxed awareness", which is a state of mind that can be maintained indefinitely without all of the stress associated with being on constant alert. Relaxed awareness is not tiring and allows us to go on enjoying life while paying attention to what is around us. It is far easier to transition from relaxed awareness to a heightened state of alert than to jump from being totally complacent to heightened awareness. So if you are in a relaxed awareness state, you are in a far better position to view an abnormality and determine if it is a threat and react accordingly or determine it is not a threat and return to the relaxed awareness state and go about your business. 

So what are we looking for when we are in the state of relaxed awareness? How can I put this into practice to help secure my place of work and my family? It is important to know that almost every criminal act from a common theft (purse snatching, shoplifting) to a complex terrorist attack (bombing, VBIED, kidnapping) requires some type of surveillance. The more complex the criminal act the more surveillance that is required and therefore the more opportunity there is to be detected. But even the simplest of criminal surveillance can be detected with good practice of situational awareness. Counter surveillance experts know that during the terrorist planning phase the target surveillance step is where the terrorist makes the most mistakes and is most often detected. Therefore, having and practicing good situational awareness and reporting what you have seen or heard can help stop an act of terror or a criminal act before it occurs.

Who do I report it to? You can report any suspicious behavior to local law enforcement, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), the 117th Security Forces Squadron, your commander or the 117th Anti-Terrorism Officer. The safety and security of our base and our community is not just the responsibility of law enforcement and security professionals, it is EVERYONES responsibility.