5 Drills For Situational Awareness


Situational awareness is being aware of one’s surroundings, identifying potential threats and dangerous situations.

It is more of a mindset than a tangible hands-on skill.

It can be applied by anyone with the resolve to do so.

Here are a few drills to help practice your own situational awareness skills:


Situational Awareness – Bad Things Do Happen

First though, to establish a mindset of situational awareness, one must recognize that threats do exist. Bad things do happen, and it could happen in your realm – even when you feel ‘safe’.

One must also be of the mindset to take responsibility for one’s own personal security. The ‘authorities’ cannot be everywhere (and we don’t want them everywhere). They cannot stop every potential criminal action. People need to look out for themselves to the extent that they can.

The situational awareness mindset also entails trusting your “gut” or instinct. Often a person’s subconscious will notice subtle signs of danger that the conscious mind has difficulty quantifying or articulating.

Have you ever suddenly had that feeling of danger without being able to put your finger on it – so to speak? Ignoring such feelings can lead to serious trouble.

Discipline and conscious effort is required to practice situational awareness. Effort is required to pay attention to your surroundings. Eminent danger or hostility can go unnoticed when you are distracted.

Though after awhile, your conscious efforts of observation will become subconscious and instinctive. It’s not paranoia. It’s common sense.


Situational Awareness Drills

Here are a few drills to improve your situational awareness skills:

1. Identify all the exits when you enter a building.

2. Count the number of people in a restaurant, subway or train car.

3. Note which cars take the same turns in traffic.

4. Take a look at the people around you and attempt to figure out their stories. Imagine what they do for a living, their mood, what they are focused on and what it appears they are preparing to do, based merely on observation.

5. Next time you’re in a parking lot, look for – and count – the number of cars with people sitting in them, whether you’re walking to the storefront, or coming back to your car, or even driving through.

Engaging in such simple situational-awareness drills will train the mind to be aware of these things almost subconsciously, even while in a relaxed state of awareness.

Continue reading: Situational Awareness Tips

Situational Awareness: Watching Others

Add your own suggestions for situational awareness drills:

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  1. While walking on, say, a city street. Pull out of the main flow and up against a wall or into a door way. Adjust your clothing while looking around: easier if you are older, but in a vain way if you are younger. Watch for inconsistencies….. Plan your next step.

  2. Good article. I have seen many articles talking about Situational Awareness. Pretty much all of them just talk about being mindful of things around your area. They would talk about sitting in a corner of a restaurant where you could view the front or take notice of where the exits are located. Other than that, the articles mostly talked about trying to identify some bad person like it is so obvious in the old James Bond movies (steel teeth=bad guy or iron hand=bad guy). When in reality it is much different than that. When I was doing security at some places in the past, some one would walk up to me and talk to me like they just got out of church and five minutes later, I would catch them trying to steal hundreds of dollars of items. This article has some methods to work on developing an awareness mindset to the point it becomes an unconscious action.

    Learn something new everyday! Kuddo’s

    1. Not obvious is right. Just think of John Wayne Gacy and his so called regular demeanor. Most of the serial killers were “regular” people. LISTEN to YOUR GUT. It will not betray you. Young folks reading take this to heart!!! Learn to trust your gut.

      1. Mrs. USMCBG—agree. Always listen to your gut. I too re enforce this with any person, especially younger folks. I never say “but they look like nice folks” etc…

  3. My job requires a near – constant situational awareness that becomes hard to turn off . After a while you never want to , in fact , you catch yourself snapping back to full awareness on those occasions when you are distracted. ( I work Security. ) For decades I have marveled at the way so many people walk through stores , parks , sporting events and such oblivious to their surroundings. Smart phones make it much worse. You can actually see people who are driving with limited awareness , and steer clear !

  4. There was a time when situational awareness meant; watching out that you did not get hit by that truck while you chased that errant ball, or got eaten while out in the bush.

    We looked to other people including strangers for help in trouble situations. Sure, there were bad people but justice was usually quick and the miscreant was jailed or kicked out of town. Today it takes years and years to even get a felon to court never mind jail.

    This change in society means we now have to look out entirely for our own – it seems progress has a down side.

  5. My son and his girlfriend were in a WalMart when the announcement came to evacuate the store. Everyone was screaming and running for the main door. My son was looking for an alternative way out. He asked me what I would have done.
    I said, “ I check exits before I enter a store. There is a small exit at the far end of the store called “Outdoor shopping”. I always park my car as close to that exit as possible.”
    Hopefully, he is now doing the same.

    1. Skeezix, I do the same. I always park near the outdoor section or the auto service department. Walmart is about my biggest store that I will enter other than Cabela’s or Bass Pro. I avoid people and crowds. Walmart late at night is even more weird. I like to go in the morning just after they open the outdoor section entry.

      1. Walmart is our largest store in this town. I have always said “Its too big” I too park at the outdoor section. I always know what I’m getting before I go in. 90% of the time I avoid that store. I’d rather give my money to locally owned stores – or use smaller stores. I don’t like lugging bags and bags of stuff home. I grow and preserve my veggies. I use the local butch shop – mainly because the cuts are fresh, and the beef etc comes from near the area (Lord knows where the stuff comes from in the major chain grocery stores). I stay very aware of my surroundings. I always have. I can even tell when a car in the road is going to swerve before it happens… Its interesting… I’d say (to friends riding with me) “watch that blue car up there – Its going to veer off the road a bit…” sure enough within a tenth or two of a mile… the car hits the white line or worse yet – the yellow lines… If I’m on a major highway where passing is available – I get around cars like that… I really don’t want to be a witness to an accident – or worse… Involved in one because their phone is more important than keeping their eyes on the roads…

        1. Youngest of 3, we too have seen many distracted drivers. On the highway one time, I was behind a big rig driving like that. Constantly drifting into the left lane or the breakdown lane. DH wanted me to pass him. I said no way, so he can be behind us and hit us if we have to stop? We are safer behind him. I remember a video of a big rig driver that plowed full speed into a line of cars at the toll booth. Countless people died.

  6. If you take away the people that have morals and ethics, you are left with a divide that is not often categorized with the other divides – sheep (the group think socialist types) and the wolves (corrupt sociopaths). So what? You must always look at which way the sheep are being driven and avoid the traps set for them. The second group are the most dangerous because they just do not care about anything – this results in criminality from extreme violence to fraud and deception. I will give you a simple example of the latter. When I worked in emergency services, we would respond to motor vehicle accidents and if there was public transportation involved, we would have to watch out for and help the injured trying to get off the bus. We would also have to watch out for the criminals trying to get on the bus to either rob the injured or, most commonly, they would try to pretend they were riding on the bus are were injured – always a sore neck or back.

    1. I have a friend who worked for a city fire department nearby. He told me that when fire calls would come in that were located in certain neighborhoods, they would usually wait at least 30 minutes before responding. He said they do this due to being fired upon several times when trying to put out fires. Evidently a rival gang will set a house on fire and shoot at people escaping the burning place. So, when a fire crew shows up to put out the fire, the rival gang shoots at the fire crew to stop them from putting it out. If they wait 30 minutes, whoever is outside is usually gone and anyone left inside is not coming out at that point.

      1. My friend used to be a fire marshal in a small town and transferred to the city because he wanted more action. One night a short while after transferring, a call came in and everyone just stayed in their chairs and doing what they were doing. He asked why they weren’t going out. That’s when they said, not in that neighborhood, we wait a while unless we can guarantee there will be a significant police presence. Otherwise, we just stay put for a while. On another note. That same city had to be patrolled by the Indiana State police for a while because the majority of the city police force tested positive for drugs during a surprise drug test.

      2. That’s really sad… I couldn’t imagine waiting. But, in these parts… its not like that.

  7. Situational awareness at this point in todays world is of considerable importance . I think as a nation we are morally and ethically bankrupt and the times have changed from the good old days , for sure . As hermit us stated above , there are wolves and there are sheep. Wolves are evil. You cannot reason with evil because evil does not care . Follow the sheep and you will end up at the proverbial slaughterhouse . Bad things do happen.
    Most folks have to be out and about in the community at times . Ken named some very good practice drills to develop into habits . It does require some thought , dedication and practice , do it . The rewards of developing these skills and habits may be very rewarding some unexpected day , time will tell.

    1. Today I watched a horrid instore video of a young man. He duct taped two store clerks and sprayed them with a flammable liquid and then set them on fire. He did it all so casually, not rushing. He left the store as though he had just picked up a bag of chips.

      Then there are the three teens, 13, 14,and15 who shot the singer in Nashville. At the court appearance they talked and giggled so much they were ordered out of the courtroom.

      Stay frosty.

      1. The singer refused to give them his car keys…… The local police officers that worked at the alternative school in Davidson Co. quit because of so much verbal abuse…… Then you have our new republican governor apologizing for a photo in his college year book early 1970’s. He was wearing a confederate uniform at what was an old south party given by the fraternity. Glad I did not vote for the ball less wonder. Next the AG cowed down for being in a photo, about the same time, where the fraternity had their photo taken in front of a confederate flag. Times were different get over it. This gives fuel to the fire of whining about the past and the young kids will be our voters and officials one day. We better get good at being gray and paying attention because we are being watched and judged.

  8. Aware is right. On my only trip to New York City in 1999 I had one time where I knew someone was going to do something. I had been to the Guggenheim by myself. Girlfriends went to Sassoon’s. Working my way back to the subway I saw a person of color see me. He stopped and adjusted his hair in one of the fancy buildings big round security mirrors while watching me at the same time. No one else was on the sidewalks. Without missing a beat I crossed the street and picked up my pace. I had my small shoulder bag under my coat anyway, but still did not want a confrontation of any kind. Tried real hard not to talk much. My southern drawl is obvious! Worked at being gray when I did not even know what it meant. Actually Giuliani was mayor then I found the city friendly and fairly safe where I went. The subway ride by myself is another story!!!

  9. Traveled down off the mountain this morning to see my tax preparer. Feeling a little angry (always am this time of year), I wore my “Make America Great Again” cap, knowing I would be stopping by at Wally World. Was fun watching the different reactions/facial expressions from those who saw the cap. My region has recently gone Republican after probably a 150 years of democrat backing, but still has a large segment of the population that are government program dependent. First folks I crossed paths with in the store were a group of teenage girls whose smiles for the grey bearded old man turned to scowls as they took note of the MAGA hat. Crossed paths with a few older folks who spotted the cap and smiled, one gave a thumbs up. Encountered a couple of handi-cap scooter riders, middle aged women that would dress out about 350-400 lbs wearing the mandatory spandex, if looks could kill, I’d be mortician ready. Does this count as situational awareness?

    Wearing that hat today violated my normal desire to not be noticed, to blend in with the background. At the same time it reminded me that even in small town America, in a very backwoods county, you can’t depend on all folks being of a same mind.

      1. NRP,

        Glad you asked. She is a 78 year old hardcore conservative. She was the book-keeper for the school district for years, and for a small town here in this county later on in life. She despises the federal government. She does taxes for friends only. She didn’t even act as if she had noticed the cap.

  10. Dennis
    Good story with a few LOL’s thrown in there!
    Thank you for shopping at Wally….a place where to expect the unexpected….

    Anyways….on topic (Ken, NRP) 😋
    A prep for situational awareness drills?
    Always being aware of your surroundings.
    Wind direction, footing, in search of whatever critter you’re hunting, listening for out of place noises, head on a swivel, planning your path of direction 5, 10 yards ahead of yourself. And depending on the area your hunting, maybe there is/could be a possible 4 legged predator stalking you.
    …..and no Wally World interference….

  11. Good topic Ken.

    Situational awareness must be paired with the ability to quickly react. We also need to be prepared, in advance, if we are responsible for others. When my little one started walking we played a game called Stop – my adaption of the game Freeze Tag. I would bark Stop and the munchkin learned to stop on a dime. Lots of fun as I did too in all sorts of silly positions. Because this was a deliberate game, I didn’t use that word for any other reason than safety.

    We were out in the sandbox and walking with friends to their house after work one day. Mine, about 4 years, and friend’s little one, around 5, started running down the long sidewalk. Watching them I noticed a group of men on the corner waiting for the bus. Not unusual. Suddenly one man pulled out a knife and started slashing at another man. I roared STOP at the top of my lungs. My kid fell over with the momentum but got stopped within one step. My friend’s child slowed just at the group of men. Later, when asked, we demonstrated how we played a game intended to give mom a tool to keep her child from harm.

  12. Good post Ken, good reminder.
    #4 “…attempt to figure out their stories…” chance to practice our body language skills. While “the eyes are a window to the soul,” I also like to pay attention to someone’s hair. The style, color(s), etc. can speak much about someone’s character.

  13. You can get wireless (bluetooth) earbuds now, some of them sound really good.
    For younger people I think it’s tempting to walk around, looking at your playlist or whatever on your phone, jamming away with your earbuds on… 🙈🙉

    1. In London they have the words “Look Right” painted on the sidewalk curbs in many places where people cross the street– some tourists coming from countries where they drive on the right side of the road will only look left for cars coming when they step out into the street…

  14. One evening in an employee area in the park I worked at 3 of us were seated beneath a tree just after dusk having a beer. I was a ranger, one was a fire fighter and the third was a dispatcher.

    A sedan pulled up in front of us and two of us blurted out predictions on their next course of action:

    Dispatcher said: “They are going to ask us for directions.”
    fire fighter said: “They are going to get a drink of water.”
    I said : They are going to get some sodas and return to their car before driving away.”

    The 2 occupants got out, went to the brightly lit Pepsi Machine, bought 2 sodas and drove away…

    Situational awareness 101: the 3 of us employees were sitting in the dark and out of uniform (off duty) so why would they ask us for directions when we were barely visible. The dash had a bunch of maps scattered about so they had plenty of info.

    The car had a sticker on it proclaiming: “I (heart) LA”. People from Los Angeles do not drink water from a fountain back in the mid 1980’s. so although there was a drinking fountain readily visible with free water, People from Southern California back then did not drink water even if it is free,

    I predicted their behavior because the biggest most visible object in the parking lot that night was the brightly lit Pepsi vending machine.

    I still watch people for a living these days. What started out as a hobby turned out to be directly related to my job later in life.

  15. I taught my wife and son situational awareness, especially getting into your car, driving, and having someone jump in unexpectedly despite your best efforts at prevention. You have the habit of belting up, but the attacker usually won’t. Do not be afraid of sacrificing your car by ramming it into a pole or something if you have to.

    Going into supermarkets, look for the exits, bank areas. Potential trouble spots. In an escape situation, you do not want to go in the main exits where all the sheep go. In most areas: deli, seafood, produce, food prep, etc have emergency exits in the back for the employees. Get to know these places where you shop. They are your escape routes. I avoid convenience stores. They are thug magnets. Size up gas pump islands and who buys from them. Body language. Find the safest gas pump and use it. One station in our area has a couple of arguments that have turned into murders. Situational awareness is the key. Good to keep one’s head on a swivel. Make a habit and you do not get stressed or think about it.

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