Correct Decisions From Situational Awareness

The following true story exemplifies situational awareness and it’s importance for correct decision making in a time of crisis.

Just one week ago, I was casually seated at a table with my date at a local, upscale restaurant when I felt (more than heard) a jarring, concussive blast coming from behind me. It was close. The blast was immediately followed by screams and commotion.

I was pretty sure it was a gunshot but with my ears still ringing I did not even turn to look. Per my training, I just put my arm around my date’s waist and quickly pushed her past a paralyzed gaggle of people standing in front of us into the main part of the restaurant, then through the kitchen, and ultimately out the back door.

During our hasty exit I heard two more shots, along with more screaming.

Only when there were several layers of brick between us and the excitement did we pause.

Astonishingly, no one else followed behind us! I fully expected that we would be at the head of a flood of other frightened patrons. Not so.

Instead, we walked briskly past dozens of catatonic diners, who were grotesquely looking up with blank, quizzical expressions on their faces. I didn’t see even one stand up.

An ashen-faced waitress finally ran out behind us. She related that a bar-patron, without a word, had precipitously produced a 38 Special snubby revolver and immediately fired a single shot at the bartender, who saved himself by diving out of the way! He then fired a second shot, again at the bartender. That shot missed also. After a brief pause, the shooter placed the pistol to his own head and simultaneously fired a third shot. He was DRT – dead right there.

No one else was hurt (we learned those details the following day).

Two other couples did eventually come out the back door. All remaining restaurant and bar patrons stayed in the restaurant, most still in their seats, during the entire event. When police arrived, nearly all were still there, having never even moved.

-the Journal of Civil Defense

When you’ve never thought about emergency exits while in a public place, when you’ve never even thought about emergencies, when you don’t have an emergency plan, it is very unlikely that you will act decisively or make correct decisions when you need to in a time of crisis.

Any time you enter a restaurant, or any building – scout out eligible exits, objects that can be used for cover, and escape routes.

Have a plan for getting out of there quickly, or fighting your way out from a strong position when necessary.

When you go into a restaurant (or public place), learn to sum up the whole place and the different characters there in a few seconds.

If sitting, choose your seat wisely.

During a jarring crisis, most people will be stunned and will remain mostly clueless as to what’s really going on and what to do – like the restaurant patrons described above.

Don’t be one of them.


  1. I learned from Wild Bill Hickok’s experience to always be seated facing the entrance and to keep an eye on who is entering.

  2. I DO NOT CARE where I am! I always try to sit facing the door no matter WHERE it is and have MORE than one escape plan.

  3. A good story and a good reason to be aware. However it is more likely that you will be mugged or assaulted in public then someone shooting up a restaurant.

    More then likely it will be a panhandler or a person asking directions or help of some kind. They will probably appear calm and even kindly, a smile, a quiet voice, all intended to put you at ease. The goal to get close enough and inside your security zone and deliver a knockout punch.

    When ever anyone comes up to you in the street, parking lot or anywhere outside your home be alert. If they are strangers and acting a little too friendly be even more alert. If they are getting too close or want to hand you something or shake your hand be very alert. Take a step back (you should have already looked around so you know where you can step safely) and in the process orient yourself to the stranger so he is slightly to your left not directly in front of you.

    Both hands should be free, feet 18″ apart. Place your left hand to your chin as though you were pondering something. You should be on hair trigger to use your left arm to block a punch (I know the pose sounds aggressive but if done properly it doesn’t look aggressive). You can place your right hand (this assumes you are right handed if you are left handed then everything is the opposite) just touching the left elbow. It would look like your right hand is supporting your left elbow but it should merely be touching to allow for quicker movement.

    When you took the step back and assumed this position if the stranger followed to get closer to you then you should now be on red alert and move your left hand in front of you palm out and say firmly “back off”. You can move both hands out in the same manner but keep your right hand somewhat back, your goal is still to block a punch with your left arm and follow up with a punch with your right hand.

    Not yet! Believe it or not it is better to allow your opponent to commit himself first (except if he weighs 285 lbs and is 6’5″ like the guy in Ferguson). A word of warning; If this scenario is making you nervous then you should have already turned tail and run to someplace safe. If you cannot physically defend yourself against a bad guy then you really need a plan B.

    Another warning if the aggressor is still threatening or worse, then he is probably confident he is going to whip your butt. About half of the assaults are over/determined in less then 5 seconds so you need to bring your A game if you are going to defend yourself. His game plan is to knock you out with one or two punches or knock you to the ground and kick you unconscious. He is about to attack you viciously, you must do the same to him.

  4. When I was in my late twenties, I went with a bunch of guys for a bachelor party that started out at a restaurant.

    One of the cooks eventually got in a fistfight with a patron and it ended up in the entrance area next to where we were seated, only separated by a large pane of thick glass.

    I didn’t think to move away until one of the guys I was with told me to do so in the event the two fighting came flying through it. We were literally 5 feet away from these guys fighting and boy did they go at it.

    All this occurred before I was “awake” for my surroundings and day to day living. Nowadays, I always pay attention to who is around me, where the exits are, what the risks in the establishment location are, and on and on.

    My guard is rarely down anymore, which is pretty sad that we’ve come to that as a lifestyle. The wife just takes it in stride and knows how I’m wired.

    Oh, and my back is never to a door – anywhere…

  5. I always have my back to a wall never any door, whether it be office door, closet door, bathroom door, exit door. I also avoid corners as one could get cornered (no pun intended). I like to have multiple avenues of travel available to me.

  6. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful tips. First of all practicing situational awareness techniques is detrimental to personal safety. But isn’t it sad that we as a common average joe have to learn about SA? Or we have to learn about the cost of normalization of deviance and normalcy biases in our personal life?

    Though SA has it’s definite advantages but at what cost, health wise. To be on high alert mean to have high adrenaline and high cortisol level, which of course lead to high BP and lost of peace of minds, or loosing the moments that we are comfortably numb in our environments.

    I came from the culture where SA is not taught, it’s inborn. We were not allowed to come back home taking the same route. Looking or observing from safe distance at any strange thing either human, animal or strange situation in our surroundings for as long as you know the behavior of that strange thing. I have my share of misfortune, I have been robbed, shot at and beaten. But do I have to be Jason Bourne in my daily routine life? Is it statistically cost effective?

    Its a habit, I still check my environments for safety before I lose myself in it. But I wish it was not the case.

    BTW if you are out in the woods, the best safety measure is that no one know you are there.

  7. I guess I’m not gettin it. If you’re packin…you may be the only thing between the shooter and a whole bunch more victims. Why the hell would you skidaddle out the back door? Reminds me of George Costanza thinking there’s a fire at a kid’s party, and pushin all the kids out of the way to get out the door. Get your date under the table and get to work. Save a few lives and you’ll “earn some points with your date” (and everyone else).

    1. In that situation your first responsibility is to your date/wife/children. Get them to safety immediately and then possibly return to “save” the sitting ducks that had the same opportunity to arm themselves as you.

  8. Entering a hamburger place in San Rafael, CA, I noted four young Hispanics blocking the door but being young and dumb I pushed through them to their surprise followed by my friend. The place was full of old people and mothers with kids. Management was afraid of the Hispanics.

    We ate and come time to leave I again pushed past the Hispanics who were still blocking the door. I smiled and was 6 inches face to face with the leader of the thugs who backed away from me.

    Once past the punks my friend dropped his gun on the ground and picked it up. Seeing this the Hispanics left the area rather fast. Yes it was dumb to push past the punks but damn if I was going to act the part I was supposed to play in their drama. Don’t count on the management of a place to act with any back bone.

  9. In a similar event to the above I entered a grocery store and picking up a few items I was scouted by a couple of gentlemen of color. I looked directly at the leader of the two and he really did go white.

    I soon found the store employees and the rest of the customers up against and facing some gentlemen of color. Smiling I noted they had no guns or knives so I walked up to a store clerk and said I was ready to check out. The colored gentlemen were totally blown away that I did not play the game by their rules. The clerk made a break for the phone and the gentlemen were arrested.

    I didn’t play the game they wanted. I was supposed to be afraid of them. Some times a smile will get you through a dangerous event.

    1. A wise man once said; “You can get more with a kind word and a gun…….. than with a kind word”. Oh wait, that was Al Capone!

  10. I always walk in the center of the hallway and make eye contact with everyone else. When out and approached by others, I watch where their hands are.

  11. My daughter (18 yr), husband (policeman) & I were out walking early in the morning (06:00) in downtown Minneapolis. We went by a bank when we noticed 3 black men standing the doorway of the bank. My husband immediately noticed them. They fell in line behind us a little way back but walking very fast. My husband said, “listen to me; we are about to be attacked… on 3 we are turning abruptly around and walking straight for the 3 men; run hard and fast, ok? 1,2 3.” We turned around and headed right for them very hard. The 3 men immediately turned and ran across the street. They did not expect us to do that at all. I’ll never forget that and am always aware of my surroundings. Thank you Hubby!!

  12. I’m going to turn 80 in little over a month. I’m laughed at by family n friends, but I never sit with back to the door or window, like to sit at end of table or bench and am aware of exits, including kitchen areas. I’ve a quick confident smile for all and very alert. Ya just never know….g’ma Ann…

  13. So I guess there are no white thugs out to harm us. So you can ignore 60% of the population. Ya, right.. I look for male youths mostly 16 to 30 . Youths in groups of three or more with no girls. Youths who are not dressed with much flash. These are the ones to watch, no matter what race they are. If they are not talking, sort of whispering, and just seem to be observing with a stone face, well that does not bode well. Heavy long coats on, is suspect – they may be carrying more than pistols. It just pays to look around. Yes, back to the door(s) not good. Know your environment. Most danger begins at darkness. Tough neighborhoods, bars and party stores. Literally watch your back.

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