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 a stream of ‘input’ to our brain. Even when we’re not ‘listening’ we’re still ‘hearing’. Example: Mrs. J said to me, “Are you listening to me?” and I said, “I hear ya…”.

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 or uniquely out of place, we take notice.

A quick short story:

We’ve been dog-sitting a friend’s ‘Bernedoodle’ on occasion. This time he’s here on a 2-week doggy ‘vacation’ due to his family being on a trip. I’d say he’s about 90 pounds, loves to run, and has a deep loud jarring bark. The kind that can give you a ‘heart attack’ if you’re not ready for it! And boy oh boy does he have a set of ears that’ll sometimes send him into a barking frenzy. It reminded me of this article (which I’m tweaking today for republish). Here’s the short story relevant example:

Although it can certainly get annoying, his ear-to-bark response is on a hair trigger… but for noises that (at least to him) are “out of the ordinary”. Or not part of his daily ‘normal’. For example, this dog can go ‘nuts’ with the TV. If there’s even a quiet or barely audible background sound (among all the other sounds) of a dog barking – he’s instantly triggered into barking at the TV. (God forbid if he sees a dog or any animal on TV he goes nuts – but that’s another story…).

Another example: This morning I’m playing back yesterday’s security cameras motion-triggered clips on my laptop. The volume is barely up at all – it’s the UPS truck delivering a package last evening. When the driver does the typical two short horn beeps (upon approach), the dog goes ballistic barking from the other room – from audio which I could barely even hear with the laptop setting on my lap! That’s what you call situational awareness of background noise!

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 – if it’s out of place, so to speak.

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 ]