Barriers To Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is basically knowing what is going on around us. This concept includes our immediate surroundings as well as what’s going on beyond our visual perimeter. Lets talk about some barriers to situational awareness…

Sometimes there are things (barriers) that cloud our ability to be situationally aware.

Other than some of the obvious barriers such as simply not being observant of our surroundings (for whatever the reason), there are other deeper rooted barriers to fully seeing or understanding what’s really going on.

Perception Barrier

A Situational Awareness barrier can be our own ‘perception’ which might be based on faulty or flawed information. Perception is our own mental picture of reality. Perception can be (and often is) manipulated, and our mental picture may not always be aligned with reality or truth. We should be aware of that (perception influence) and be skeptical while using our own critical-thinking about any given situation.

Our mental picture is affected by:

Past Experiences: We act on information based on our knowledge. When something looks similar to what we are familiar with, we may react as if it were the same as before (whereas it may be different this time).

Expectations: We often interpret information in such a way that it affirms our beliefs. We might rationalize that something is so, because we want it to be so (whereas it really might not be).

Filters: We are provided with information, but we don’t always use it. We don’t always pay attention to information that doesn’t match our mental picture or our expectations. In other words, we sometimes only hear what we want to hear.

Be aware of your own biases.

Excessive Motivation

Sometimes being overly or excessively motivated will affect our ability to fully assess the situation due to our exuberance. We might miss certain risks and overlook safety, for example. An overriding sense of mission importance could jeopardize critical thinking and good judgement.

Complacency Barrier

Assuming that everything is under control, affects our vigilance. We slack off. When things are slow, tasks are routine and situational awareness can become low. During these times, it’s good to challenge ourselves (e.g. planning or training) which can deter complacency.


Overload causes distraction, fixation, increased errors, and high stress. Prioritizing and delegating tasks and minimizing distractions can improve efficiency and safety.


Fatigue affects vigilance. Adjust your routine and take time to unwind away from environments that require your full situational awareness, and be sure you’re getting enough sleep.

Poor Communications

If working with a team, the level of situational awareness achieved is related to the level and quality of communications within the team. Working together and communicating efficiently will result in a sharper awareness overall.

Situational awareness is so very important (what we observe, how we interpret it, and how we act based on that awareness). Keeping an open mind and getting beyond the barriers is not always easy. Thinking beyond our normalcy bias does not come natural. It requires discipline. Challenge yourself and why you feel the way you do about a situation – especially before making an important decision. Understand the situation…

[ Read: 360 Situational Awareness ]

[ Read: Situational Awareness Exercises and Drills ]


  1. Hello Ken,
    As always, thank you for the great information! I saw a couple of spelling errors that you might want to correct.

    Excessive Motivatoin
    Poor Communicatoins

    Have a great day!

    1. Thanks for the heads-up. Corrections applied. Should’ve had Mrs.J proof read it :=)

  2. I know when I’m doing a pretty job at situational awareness, as I notice other in the area (room) practicing the same thing!!!
    Though many are not.

  3. situational awareness, where do i beguine. i worked for years as a service man in HVAC and plumbing in the biggest shit hole in our state and went EVERYWHERE. this what i learned in 30 yrs, take it or leave it.
    walk through an area like you own it. don’t keep turning your head around like you are scared. LISTEN to what is happening around, you will hear it before it happens. to keep turning your head is to look scared and that is what people are looking for, an easy target. people in the ghetto’s were more afraid of me than i was of them and those i came in contact with always treated me with respect because i would talk to them like a neighbor. you would be surprised how far just talking to people like a friend will get you in a situation.
    everyone has an old wallet, carry it with 40 dollars in your front pocket and nothing else to give to someone if you are robbed. i have heard of people who were shot for being poor and wasting someones time.
    never pull a gun, give them something. if they are holding a gun on you they have the advantage and are scared to start with, you’ll never clear the holster. give them something and let them be on their way. whats your life worth?
    in the years working up there i never had a problem, but i could tell a hundred stories.

  4. Normalcy Bias or “Complacency Barrier” as Ken phrased it accurately seems to be the biggest hindrance to situational awareness. Ex. Las Vegas – there are hundreds, possibly thousands of homeless who have taken up residency in the city’s underground network of rain runoff sewers. Last night monsoons came through and dumped a wall of water on Las Vegas. I wonder if the death toll will ever be disclosed or discussed.

    1. Tmac,
      Thought about those sewer dwellers when I saw the flood video. Very likely a tangle of sleeping bags, tents trash, and bodies somewhere downstream. Underground is not a place to be in a flood. Don’t ask how I know.

    1. Yep,
      You see it every day, people oblivious to their surroundings, head buried in whatever they are doing on their phone, often operating a 2 ton vehicle

Comments are closed.