Situational Awareness & Background Noise — Use Your Ears!

Your ears are a very important asset to situational awareness!

We hear all the time. Even when we’re sleeping our subconscious still listens.

During the daytime as we go about our daily work, routines, and activities, our ears send ‘input’ to our brain. Even when we’re not ‘listening’ we’re still ‘hearing’.

We are generally pretty good at distinguishing what would be unusual or out of the ordinary sounds in a given environment of background noise. Especially when we hear something that is loudly out of place, we take notice.

Background Noise versus Noticing Unusual or Out-of-Place Noises

In this context, background noise is defined as whatever it is that may be considered ‘normal’ for that environment. Depends on where you are, what’s going on, etc.. but most of us have a pretty good idea what that is as we go about our typical day.

In a quiet environment it’s quite easy to hear a louder noise. In fact it’s actually pretty easy to hear something that’s just a little bit louder than quiet background noise.

It’s not just loudness that we notice — when the frequency, pitch, tone of the sounds themselves change (compared to what’s ‘normal’ for a given environment), even though they might be about the same loudness – we may notice the changes.

The noisier the environment the louder the ‘unusual’ or ‘out of place’ noise needs to be before it’s noticed.

When the environment is fairly loud, we still notice these changes if we’re paying attention. However the louder the background is, the more it will mask noises beneath its threshold.

In other words, you may be able to speak fairly loudly to a person next to you and not be heard 30 feet away if the environment is filled with lots of noise. Whereas even speaking in a fairly low voice in a quiet Library will get noticed across the room…

I know this is common sense. However being aware of these things will help if you’re focusing on situational awareness.

Side note: I have several pair of electronic ‘ears’ (hearing protection for the shooting sport) that have built-in microphones & amplifiers which GREATLY enhance the background noise. It’s amazing what you can hear with those electronic ears… They’re designed such that when you shoot, they instantaneously shut off to protect your ears. I’ve worn them while walking through the woods. You seemingly can hear ‘everything’…

Howard Leight Electronic Ears
(view on amzn)

Your Ears and Situational Awareness

Eyes and Ears.

When actively in condition yellow consciously focusing on your situational awareness, not only ‘look’ with your eyes, but tune in with your ears.

[ Read: Cooper Color Code – The 4 Stages of Combat Mindset Readiness ]

Situational Awareness Drills

– Go outside and just listen. I sometimes enjoy just sitting out on the deck and listening to nature around me. I mostly will hear the sounds of birds. But it’s more than that. After awhile you can figure out if something’s happening over here or over there based on the bird sounds. They’re all different…

– While you’re out in pubic or around other people, listen to the words being spoken by those around you. Can you pick up anything that they’re saying? Can you figure out what they might be conversing about?

– As you move about in different environments, try to quickly identify the source of various sounds that you are hearing. What’s making the specific noise (noises)?

– Again as you’re out and about, identify whether a given noise is natural or man-made.

[ Read: Electronic Ear Muffs For Shooting | Why I Like Them ]


    1. Old Chevy,
      Even people with good hearing benefit from having a dog around! I don’t know how many times I have been warned of something by watching my dog react to some “unseen, unheard” presence.

      1. Minerjim & Old Chevy;
        AND don’t forget the size of that Snout on that puppy, they can smell stuff from miles away it seems.
        Guaranteed that when old Blue lets out a bark that rattles the windows at 2:00AM I pay attention.

  1. Two things:
    Our dog used to be out at night and bark and bark at every little sound. Overnight guests told me that, but I never heard it. Then we had a baby. Each little snuffle, whimper or cry and I was wide awake.

    What will happen during high security nights? Will I hear a call on a walkie talkie?
    Will I hear any of the noises that mean danger?

    During the baby years I wasn’t sleep exhausted whether there was sound to wake me or not. What about now, 45 years later?

  2. I truly rely on my dogs to stay abreast of what’s goin on. I live more remotely than the majority in my area. Dogs are an absolute necessity for me to feel secure. A fair example is when I split wood. I couldn’t hear a tank if it drove up because of splitter. If not for the dogs I would have to be keepin up with what’s goin around me. They take their job seriously, Takes a real load off of me. It’s really a surprise what abilities an ol dog might have when you really get “in tune” with em.

    I don’t hear or see as well as in years past but, I seem to hear better when asleep than awake. When I am asleep even a slight noise out of the ordinary wakes me up while the normal sounds don’t usually affect me .

    I have always been extra aware of what’s goin on around me, even as a child, it has just always come natural to me. My maternal grandaddy grew up in a likker makin family. The family business was makin moonshine. Might be an inherited trait.

  3. – For those of us who live near or in town, two dogs, maybe three, with one inside and one or two outside. If there is a noise, the inside dog will “honor” and repeat the outside dogs when they bark. The outside dogs will let you know if there is a problem coming up outside, the inside dog will let you know if the doorknob rattles and the outside dogs got missed/hurt. That will give you the best chance at an option to respond, and know if you have a problem. I currently have one inside and one outside, but might find myself adopting a second outside dog if SHTF very quickly.
    – Papa S.

    1. Our Pyrennes are on night duty outside…our schnauzers are on duty inside….and they DO honor each others language! The Pyrennes have great smellers….the Schnauzers have great ears. They can hear someone at the driveway gate a 1/4 mile away while inside the house! We DO rely on our dogs to alert us during the night.

  4. Hearing loss is cumulative. The more exposure to loud noise you have the worse it gets. Protect your ears!, Ear plugs help, so do ear muffs. No rule says you can’t use both. Too much exposure over the years to motorcycles, chain saws, things that go boom, etc has caused partial deafness. The VA is pretty good about giving hearing aids but they are very expensive out of pocket. They don’t work as well as what God gave you. They are also uncomfortable to wear and contribute to ear infections. Protect them!

    1. I’ve been around loud noise since I was in diapers, I’m on my third set of hearing aids. Even tough after you lose some hearing and you are away from loud noise your hearing still goes down.
      As far as ear infections they lead to Vertigo. Happened to me while I was driving, pulled over and ended up on somebody’s lawn. Spent three days in the hospital.
      Please take care of your ears, your wife won’t believe you hard of hearing.

      1. I bought a hearing device primarily because of the poor audio at the meetings I’m required to attend. But I have difficulty hearing my wife’s voice also, so after using it when around her I found out it wasn’t that my hearing was that bad but that she was speaking Russian under breath.
        And then a couple of times when operating power equipment I reached for my headphones when I realized all I had to do was remove the device from my ear.

        1. No! The loss is cumulative. You still need to protect your ears or the loss will get worse. Removing the device is not enough.

          1. Okay, good advice in spite of my poor description; the power tool in use is no more than the sound of a drill, the ear conditioner amplifies too much. Thanks,

  5. Pay attention
    Sometimes we hear something that does not register as normal
    Stop when you do and listen closely
    It may be something to pay attention to–
    Do not dismiss such noises–

  6. One of the things we do for OSPEC is I take my grand children out, into nature. We just sit real still for about half an hour. They are just amazed at what they hear and see, Quiet equals adventure. When we go to town, I’ll ask the kids to listen for certain words. It’s a real game for them, not them knowing I’m teaching them to pay attention to their surroundings. We have them look for different type of clothes, shoes, what people are buying, where the exit is, bathrooms, ect. We also try and get them to look for a certain type of vehicle in the parking lot. I turns out, most of the time, in public, their head is on a swivel. I love it.!
    I have them listen in the wilds, then try to identify the sounds they hear, birds, running water, ect,ect. I wish you all could have been present, the first time they heard a beaver slap the water.! They had no idea what they just heard. One thought it was Bigfoot coughing.!!!!

  7. I’ve “heard” a great many things from suspects running through wooded areas, while I stood still and just listened to them.(a career ago)
    It is amazing what you can hear right around your own home, if you just listen.
    I learned a LONG time ago, to pay strict attention, when the “woods noise”, went eerily silent. It’s always wrong, not a good thing, or some predators are about. (2 or 4 legged)
    In the city neighborhoods, or suburbia, there is a “normal sound or rythym”, to where you live. Learn it well.

    1. I agree. even though I have some hearing loss, if I concentrate, and listen to the background noise, or actually the changes in that noise, I am alerted to a number of things. I also watch wild animals and farm animals in the fields. I don’t know how many times I watched cows or horses staring at something, and followed their gaze to deer or elk. Many 2 legged animals do not realize how far their voices carry.
      Even though I am near deaf in one ear, and can’t hear out of the other, on a still day I can hear people talking over 1/2 mile. just takes practice.

      1. Minerjim, a lifetime in the woods, on water, fields it becomes your normal environment and you just naturally see and hear subtle changes. Which can mean the difference in bringing something home, or bailing out because the change is not good (weather, terrain condition, other people). I call it continuous, asynchronous multiprocessing-absorbing and adapting. The combined outdoor system constantly telling you what is going on and what’s coming up, if your’re tuned in. Being oblivious to the inputs usually does not result in a positive outcome.

        1. Grey,
          Too true. Guess I have figured that out too. The younger guys want to take me along hunting, seems when they take me “we spot more critters”. I am sure it is not my good looks bringing them in. I swear I can smell elk and deer in an area if they are there. I am sure you do the same. But most people don’t believe it.

          1. The deer definitely have a scent signature, we have axis deer everywhere over here, people dont get it, one lady was convinces someone was cutting all her stuff in the night, first thin i noticed was the smell, there was no turds because her stupid little mop dog would go around the yard and eat them all every morning when she let her out,,, took me placing my game camera in her back yard to convince her of both things,

          2. Nailbanger,
            Good use of a game camera. Have loaned mine to a neighbor to figure out what/who was stealing his chicken eggs.

          3. hahaha….When we moved to the mountain it took THREE days to get suburbia out of our ears….aftr that we hear everything! We notice that after a week in the desert at our rv resort (close quarters) each month we have to adjust our hearing again…but only takes an hour or two.

  8. Something that I do in my house is to keep my ear pro handy. The muffs amplify noises that I need to hear and if I have to shoot it will protect my hearing. Because one shot and your ability to hear will be compromised.

      1. Old Chevy,
        I’m not familiar with “ear pro”, but I use “Walker’s Ultimate Power Muff”. Great stereo sound amplification with instantaneous noise blanking of anything over about 9o decibels. Great in the woods, range, or if you must investigate that bump in the night.
        Available on Amazon, let ken give you the link.

      2. Old Chevy,
        Ear pro is just short for ear protection. But yes any of the electronic ear muffs that you can buy will do this. Some are better than others. I use the peltor brand and have had good luck with them. The best are the msa sordin. But walker, peltor, Howard leight are some of the more popular ones. Just make sure you turn them off after you’re done using them because the batteries will be dead the next time you use them. It doesn’t take away from the noise reduction ability. You just won’t have the sound amplification.

    1. This has always bothered me about the possibility of having to shoot inside a room after just about having my eardrums blown out once by firing a 45 without ear protection. This is good advice, really the only alternative outside of a silencer, which I guess are too loud also.

  9. Old Chevy I just looked them up on Amazon. Honeywell Impact Pro good ratings and that leads you to other options.

    Sad that Wolf Ears stopped production. Very good for hunting.

    Hope that helps

  10. Using power tools can impede your ability to hear what is going on around you. Having a dog or dogs can help alert you to noises that you need to hear while the power tool is running, but even then, the animal’s ability to hear can be compromised as well. That’s why I prefer to use people-powered tools for most of my activities. They’re not as noisy, and allow both me and my dogs to better hear what’s going on around us. I try to avoid having a motor running next to me keeping me from hearing something important.

    Quiz: I power my favorite tools with my feet. What tools are they?

    CD in Oklahoma

    1. Sometimes, using people-powered tools can be so quiet, you can hear crickets….

      CD in Oklahoma

  11. My dogs are my first line of defence. There job is to let me know something is wrong and my job to take care of it. The Chihuahua takes the front of the house and the Beagle covers the rear of the house. She works on sight and sound looking out the front windows. He covers the rear from the floor with sound and super nose power. My wife and I laugh at how we can tell by their bark what’s going on. Both will let us know when it’s time to stand too with MBR in hand ready to rock and roll. Remember to stack extra food for you little fury friends in case of SHTF. My dogs are worth their weight in gold on a bad day.

    1. Southernman

      You made a good point. I farm a little, spend almost all my awake time outside so I spend a lotta time with my dogs. I can almost always tell by the sound of the bark what they’re barkin at and how serious they are about it. They never bark just to have somethin to do. I imagine anybody could do it with their dog with enough time invested.

      While at times their senses are dulled to some extent by other noises at times, for instance today, wind is about 40 mph, they are still still leaps and bounds beyond mine. They also have their impressive nose, My dogs give me the ability to concentrate on what I’m doin without concern unless they speak up. Takes a load off me.

  12. Just thought I’d add my loss is greater in my right ear. I tell folks it is because when I’m driving my wife is frequently yelling into that ear. Slow down! Watch the road! Why are you in this lane! Hearing loss sucks.

  13. I still work on a psycho ward and I go check things out when they are too quiet. My constant filing of incident reports prove there is a method to my own form of madness.

    When things are too quiet, I ask myself where the patients are and what are they doing. usually, they are up to no good. That is why I catch them literally with their pants down.

  14. I try to differentiate between different sounds of sirens – if one ambulance I do not worry; multiple fire engines do not worry me if I know my place is OK. Police cars make me pay more attention as it could be something that puts me in danger. I also notice normal aircraft fly over the neighbourhood and have listened to videos online of planes with engine problems, etc. If the latter, I will leave my home, especially if I see a plane crashing. In the bank I listen for normal conversations between customers and staff. Anything out of the ordinary I take notice. Same with teens/adults shouting (potential trouble) in a mall vs young kids screaming (normal). I am moving to a condo apartment and now in the house I notice all cars especially at night – I am nervous.

  15. read your story on background noise it good advice. but what does a person who is deaf to do ? any advice on that.

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