situational awareness exercises to practice

Situational Awareness Exercises and Drills

Situational awareness is being aware of one’s surroundings, identifying potential threats and dangerous situations. The purpose here is to suggest some situational awareness exercises to help you become more aware of what’s going on around you in the real world…

Situational awareness in todays world is of considerable importance.

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 exercises 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.

Tip: Bad people don’t necessarily appear as though they’re bad people. It’s usually not obvious. Just another person on the exterior. As they say, you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Instead, observe what people are doing, ‘read’ them, what are they saying… – not so much what they look like (though it can sometimes be a tell).

Situational Awareness Exercises

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

This should go without saying, but, the #1 reason that most people are not aware of the real world while out in public… Their phones. And ear buds. The mind is elsewhere. Checking social media. Messaging. Listening to tunes. I’m sure you know what I mean…

“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.” said a MSB reader who works Security.

Hey listen, I’m not knocking the convenience of these things. I listen on my AirPods too. It’s just that while out and about in public, I do not. Anyway, back to the drills…

1. Identify all the exits when you enter a building. It doesn’t matter what kind of establishment. Just look around for ways in and out of the main area. Even if only to the back ‘stock room’. This forces you to become aware. This is an especially good idea for the establishments that you frequent on a regular basis. If something were to happen, you will already know other ways to exfil.

2. Count the number of people in a restaurant, subway or train car. This may seem kind of boring or dumb. But, it forces you to observe others. Really, you don’t have to count, rather, just try to look at everyone individually – even for just a quick moment. Sometimes, someone or their actions may ‘stand out’ as you scan. It’s interesting.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Look for distracted drivers. This shouldn’t be hard to find! I’m sure you’re like me and see this all the time… Distracted drivers doing stupid things because they’re distracted. This will force you to be more alert while driving. Looking for clues that a driver is distracted. Sometimes it’s subtle, others, quite obvious.

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

[ Read: Situational Awareness Tips]

[ Read: Situational Awareness: Watching Others ]

Add your own suggestions for situational awareness drills:


  1. I have been preaching this for a long time. Currently manage a security team (among other things) for a County in the Midwest and we are currently going through the training associated with the book “Left of Bang” which was developed for the Marine Corps. I am not finished with it yet, but the exercises are “eye opening” to say the least and I was already situationally more aware than the average person. Highly recommend it.

  2. So many public areas are relative mazes, with exits hidden from the public view. Walk into a restaurant you’re often faced with a podium, and seating to right and left hidden behind a wall. Kitchen areas and restrooms are also behind partitions.

    I went out to eat with some friends last week, and we were placed in a literal culdesac, where anyone entering the restaurant could see every person in the area–and no other way out except back past the entrance unless we broke a window (no chairs, it was all booths). Only a half-wall separated us from the entryway, and one of the wait-staff was standing by the entry doors, watching us.

    That was the weird part. I wonder if he saw me seeing him watch us?

    1. Lauren,
      you and the wait-staff weren’t making googlie eyes and smiling at each other were you. HaHa : )
      yea, be careful in public places and always know where the exits are. all restaurants have a kitchen with a back door and a way from the kitchen into the dining area.
      even a bathroom with a lock on the door could save your life. look around before you sit down.
      it only takes seconds to scout out the exit points and safe places in any building once you get into the habit of doing it.
      stay safe

      1. No, I noticed the guy because it was creepy.

        The way this restaurant was set up, most of the seating was to the back past the maitre’d station. Only one section was to the left when you come in, and in order to get out of it you had to go back past the maitre’d and into the main restaurant. Weird setup. I’m not sure why they did it that way, since the main restaurant seating area was just on the other side of the wall. The wait staff had to carry loaded trays down this narrow hall with overflow seating on either side.

  3. Along the same line of thought as knowing there’s a non-public exit probably near the kitchen, I have been meaning to drive behind the local grocery to see if their receiving entrances are through the produce or meat section doors or both. The front of the store has 2 exits but both are easily within sight of someone armed at the front.

  4. From experiences in Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, and a few other exotic places, I add the following comments;
    In reference to the numerical awareness’s (is that a real word?):

    1) I NEVER go into a ‘place’ with fewer than 2 egress points. If I, and the people with me, have less than 2 ways of egress identifiable, we don’t go. Period.

    2) If the occupancy of an area is less than what ‘should be’ for the time of day/function……DO NOT enter that place. PERIOD.

    3) If someone is staring at you, then others around you, GTHA. (Get The He77 Away). They/you are being targeted.

    4) ANY parking lot with ONE point of egress is a no-no. PERIOD. One exit blocked is one point of attack.

    5) Distracted drivers? Where in this country are there none? The drivers you need to avoid are those watching you! The more mindless looking drivers are the more ‘normal’ in this country. The ones that look ‘mission oriented’ are the ones to back off and watch.

    Paranoid? Maybe. But, I am still alive. I survived places that taught me lessons in at least 5 country’s. Six of my friends didn’t.

    If you read this, and remember it. Good. Being aware is a starting point. Be safe. Not sorry.

    1. Which is actually funny (yes, accurate, but funny) because if you were on the road you’d probably look pretty mission oriented. : ) People who are aware stand out, and probably end up watching each other.

      I had to watch a video for safety training a few weeks ago. It was a dramatization of an active shooter situation.

      The person they had playing the active shooter would have stood out like a sore thumb in that location. Had they been any good, security would have been on him before he even stepped to the door. The way he moved, the way he looked around, the way he dressed, all proclaimed, like you said, “Mission oriented.”

    2. And remember…”let me see your hands..!”. Without your hands how capable is one to inflict damage.

  5. Just because you’re ‘Paranoid’, it doesn’t mean that someone’s not out to get you !

Comments are closed.