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Situational Awareness with Eyesight

by James Tindall, Ph.D.

According to Webster's Dictionary, 'Awareness is vigilance in observing events and surroundings and the alertness in drawing inferences from ones experiences'. The purpose of this article is to teach you how to become more aware of your surroundings, because by doing so, you'll be safer and more in control of a possible crises situation.

I would like to teach you the three keys to becoming more aware or observant. These are curiosity, attention to detail, and what I refer to as at-a-glance.


Perhaps the best way to become more observant and aware of your surroundings is to develop the trait of curiosity. As a child, you always had it, but as an adult, somehow things become a little less interesting. For your own safety, it's a good time to rekindle that trait. One of my favorite passtimes is sitting in a crowded mall watching people. The key is to notice everything about them. How they walk, dress, interact with others and how they sit. Everything you do sends a signal. What signal are you sending? For example, you see someone walking along, looking down, pretty much oblivious to what is going on around them. According to scientific studies on human behavior, this is exactly the type person that becomes the favored target of a criminal. The primary reason is that even when confronted face-to-face, they will likely be unable to identify their attacker later to the police. Why? Because they had no clue as to what was happening around them until the last second and then, they became so panicked that their power of observance was essentially zero.

The following is a simple exercise to perform to help you become more curious. Go to a crowded mall or shopping area where you will find many different kinds and types of people from various cultural backgrounds. Grab a cup of coffee or drink and a nice spot to sit with notepad in hand.

First - observe the dress style of those you watch (try not to stare, but casually observe as if in thought). Later and even when making your notes, try to compare differences in dress style between both cultural backgrounds and also, within class, i.e., middle class, upper class, etc.

Second - carefully observe how your subjects walk and interact. If you were a mugger, which one's would you choose to mug and why? If you can identify the 'why', you're on your way to becoming a more confident and safer you. The traits observed from a potential target are ones you want to avoid and if you have them, get rid of them by becoming more conscious about what you do and how you carry yourself.

Third - as you watch others, look at those sitting about that appear to be doing the same thing. What do you notice about them? How do they sit and dress? What are their mannerisms? Do any of them appear to be a possible threat? Why? These are only a few of the things you should consider. With a little practice, you can become more curious and it will help keep you out of harms way.


What is attention to detail? This process is learning and putting into practice your power of observance. Quite simply, it's noticing every distinguishing feature about other persons. As an example, you've been sitting at the mall and a male subject walks by a short distance away. What details do you notice? Now that you've made your list, here's mine. What color is the hair and eyes? Is the person slim, medium, muscular, or obese in stature? What is his approximate height? What is he wearing and what color is each piece of clothing? Do the shoes and belt match his dress style? Is the dress style casual or upscale? Does he appear to be a threat, i.e., what vibes do you get from him? Can you guess his occupation? How does he carry himself? Is he observant? Does he notice you?

These questions are merely a start to point you in the right direction. Here's one more for you to think about. The persons shoes seem much more casual/rough than the rest of his dress style. Would this concern you? What could be the possible reasons for this? Do you think his dress would allow a concealed weapon(s)? Essentially, you should leave no stone unturned. If you couldn't identify your subject to a police sketch artist, your observance skills are still sub par.


This awareness trait takes the longest to develop because it is dependent on the previous two described above. Factually, it is the easiest to recognize, but the hardest to put into practice since it involves constant awareness. Let's use two examples: 1) A car just passed you going in the opposite direction. What is the color, make, and model of the car? Was the driver a male or female? What was his or her hair color, general complexion, and color of shirt or blouse? Was there anything on the dash of the vehicle? What about the number of other occupants? If there were any, did you notice any distinguishing features about them? 2) You just walked into a room with a gathering of people. You could be attending a play, party, or political event. At first glance, how many people are there? Do any of them seem out of place or threatening? Who is closest to you and what are they wearing, from shoes to head and back again.

All of this happens in an instant and only by constant practice will you become proficient at it. There are methods to use, which we'll delve into at a later date. However, as you can see there is a wealth of information to be gained everyplace you go. Start putting it into practice. Every time a car passes, pick out every detail you can. Don't try to remember the details long term at this point. Throw the useless information away, but learn the process so that it becomes a habit!

Take a trip to your local gathering place and have some fun with these principles. And you men, who said going to the mall couldn't be enjoyable? Who knows, perhaps one day these principles will put you out of harms way or help the police apprehend a criminal! And, when the Department of Homeland Security tells you to be watchful, this is what they mean, even though they don't explain it. Whether you're a police officer on duty, an average citizen, a soldier on patrol, or an employee of one of the branches of our intelligence communities, situational awareness is critically important!

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