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.

While we can only become aware of a situation from input of our senses (sight, sound, etc..), sometimes there are things (barriers) that cloud our judgement and diminish our ability to be properly situationally aware. We might think we understand the situation, but in reality we might not.

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 understanding what’s really going on while we interpret what we’re seeing or hearing.



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. A potential problem is – perception can be manipulated and our mental picture may not always be aligned with reality. 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 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.



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. An overriding sense of mission importance could jeopardize critical thinking and good judgement.



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.



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 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…

Similar Posts


  1. Ken, What about the civil unrest that going on in the country right now. How come you are not writing about that? I think that people living in these area are very concern.

    1. I’ve been contemplating writing about it (the Ferguson situation) – and likely will in the near future. One reason I’ve waited is because what’s happened (so far) is no big surprise. The situation there has been mostly predictable and anticipated (for them to burn down their own town, to $hit in their own backyard so to speak, along with the help of all the instigators and agitators who have been shipped in from other areas). I have been waiting for it to unfold further to gain more discovery and insight. The situation has been turned into a race war, and is disgustingly being promoted that way by our own president and attorney general. At least that’s how I see it at the moment.

  2. I observe most people have a severe lack of Situational Awareness. Those who lack it also lack understanding, lack an open mind, lack curiosity, do not react to forwarned danger thus don’t prepare, and do not follow what constitutes what awareness is.

    If shtf, these people would be the first to die off in what scientists call a genetic failure.

    1. Yes, just look at all the people around you that have their head buried in their cellphone. Not a care in the world except that all important text or call. Its a wonder that we don’t here about more attacks on people or that it is so common these days that it is not reported. They have not a clue.

  3. Excellent article,thank you very much. We NEED to see many more like this on our own bias’ and how our own minds can over ride common sense.

  4. “We might think we understand the situation, but in reality we might not.”

    Reminds me of the Bible verse:
    For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

    1 Corinthians 13:12 King James Version (KJV)

  5. The situation in Ferguson shows us how quick things can be fine one day and go to hell before dark. Think about all the good people in that area that was not prepare to survive this unrest. I bet a lot of them wish that they had been better prepared. Its to late to go buy a gun when the wolf is out side your door are go to the store for food when the shelves are empty. Just think what this mop would have done if they had been without food for just three days.

  6. “The situation in Ferguson shows us how quick things can be fine one day and go to hell before dark.” Don’t mean to get you stoked, but this was anything but that. For months the media and the administration has been keeping this on top and tossing logs into the fire. It was perhaps the most predictable event in recent times. We were wary of the situation as we drove through that state in September. Look at the way people are warned about impending hurricanes and don’t take heed. My guess is that the majority of “black swans” are crowing roosters. The reason why we are surprised when a disaster occurs is because we decided not to pay attention to the warning signals for the very same reason we ignore the idiot lights on our dashboard because we figure the lights are faulty or exaggerating the situation. Even experts will tell you to ignore the warning signals. My mechanic told me to ignore the idiot light warning on my vehicle, I’ve heard economic experts declaring that the warning signals are to be ignored. Pay attention and act accordingly.

Leave a Reply

>>USE OPEN FORUM for Off-Topic conversation

Name* use an alias