Situational Awareness: Establish A Baseline And Look For Anomalies


While establishing situational awareness, one might say that first we must establish a baseline, and then look for anomalies.

Every place, every environment, including the people in those places, have a baseline. What is a baseline? It’s what’s “normal” there. The normal baseline in a given situation will be different from one environment to the next and from one person to the next.

For example, the baseline at a small cafe might involve people sitting quietly at dining tables or speaking in moderately hushed tones to their partners, or perhaps reading a book while sipping a coffee or working on their computer – while the line at the register and those working behind the counter have their own environmental ‘baseline’ (people looking up at the menu board or nosing in their smartphones while waiting in line while those behind the counter are hustling to fill orders)…

We first establish baselines, so that we can then spot anomalies…

What are anomalies?

Anomalies are things that do happen and shouldn’t. As we take in our surrounding while establishing a baseline, anomalies are the things or actions that direct our attention towards them. They stand out.

Mentally ask yourself these baseline questions first, every time you enter a new environment:

1. What’s going on here?
2. What’s the general mood of the place?
3. What’s the “normal” activity that I should expect here?
4. How do most people behave here most of the time?

Then ask yourself this anomaly question:

What would cause someone or something to stand out?

As simple as it sounds (situational awareness), hardly anyone has it while out in public. You can practice this yourself – and it can actually be fun… After awhile (if you practice often) it can even become ‘second nature’ as you find yourself doing it somewhat subconsciously. Just ask yourself the questions listed above whenever you’re entering a new environment…

Thoughts inspired from the ‘Art of Manliness Collection’ by Brett and Kate McKay.

More Situational Awareness articles here


  1. I don’t care what ANYONE says. Situational awareness is VITAL it has saved my butt more than once.

  2. I guess I have always had this as I constantly scan any area I am in for anything that seems out of place. I don’t do this as a conscious thing it is just part of my nature. It’s hard for me to understand people that don’t have this trait. I walk through a store or down a street and am amazed at people that just seem to walk in front of me, backup into me, etc. that I move out of the way for and they never even knew I was within a couple of feet of them.

    1. Yes…I know what you mean. My husband and I always seem to be the ones to move over on narrow walkways or sidewalks so we can pass oncoming people safely. I always just thought it was the polite thing to do, but after awhile I came to realize those other people were not even seeing us. It has become especially noticeable with the advent of hand held devices that occupy what little attention these zombies had to begin with…thanks for letting me vent a bit.

      1. GoneWIth… you have describe exactly the same experience we(wife and I) have on our walks! :)

      2. I occasionally do this for fun…just want to see how long it takes them to realize that I’ve stopped in front of them…I have termed them “Sleep Walkers”…

    2. The zombie shoppers walking around Walmart are irritating. I see where they get the term zombie. Try to get down an isle with a group right in the middle talking or staring at the shelves. The women always leave their purses in the cart way behind them. I stop and tell them they are taking a chance.

      I am pretty good at situational awareness and defensive driving but … A woman with a baby strapped in a car seat ran a red light (she said it was yellow, no way) and smashed into the back side of my vehicle long after I turned. She was no where in sight when I turned (all the cars were stopped) so she must have been going at least 60 in a 45. All I heard was screeching tires and then bam! I asked which direction was she going and she said straight. She must have been texting and looked up after I turned and panicked, I guess. It was crazy.

      1. Some people just don’t care about their own children. Rotten driving will get worse as my stupid country legalises pot. Add stoned drivers to the drunk and inattentive drivers.

  3. Don’t forget to “listen”…Very important aspect of situational awareness. You cannot “look” everywhere/each direction at once. Literally. You can “listen”, pretty much automatically, at once.

    -Ask any parent how they “knew” the kid(s) were up to something — usually they will say “it got too quiet, etc”
    -Ask a teacher how they manage “to have eyes in the back of their head”..they listen for changes in activity patterns of the classroom

    And for those out in the country/homesteads, listen to the animals, let the “normal” animals “get used to you”/”get to know you”. The animals/birds will continue their normal patterns/activities once they know/realize a “maintains their territory/cave (land/house)”. If any stranger (human or animal) enters your territory, the animals and birds will change their patterns/noise/alerts. Learn the difference.

    1. ‘Don’t forget’- your comment really got me thinking. I have these squirrels in my yard that I can get within about four feet of them before they take off. Wasn’t always that way. I believe they now know me and realize I am no threat, well at least for now. Animal behavior is a great indicator of danger around. I will never be in my yard again without watching the behavior of animals. Thanks for some great advice.

      1. Brian…

        squirrels are interesting…First, you don’t really want them eating from your hand (as lots do), as they will think their next “rightful” step, is to find a hole/chew their way into your attic/wall…(seriously heard of lots of that happening.).

        since you have squirrels, have you ever noticed the sound they make when they are mad/chasing off larger bird from their little ones/alerting to danger? it is interesting, and quite distinctive. See if you can notice it.

        and those crows and magpies, aren’t so bad to have around either. Never much appreciated them until last week. Windows were open, and they (crows and magpies) were raising huge ruckus. It didn’t taper off, and could see them dive bombing in unison (first time ever seen them work together). Looked outside on ground, and a lynx/bobcat was few feet from the house. Crows and Magpies kept up the ruckus and diving till it left. (BIG noise).

  4. I think that situational awareness is most important in the work place. Who is playing office politics by sucking up to the boss for example. What subjects of conversation are taboo in a meeting even though they need to be discussed. Finally, what is the financial condition of the company; is it time to look for another job so you do not get caught up in a lay-off. As an employee are you continuously up grading your skill level (education) so you do not find yourself not marketable in the workplace. Is your company evolved in a business that will not be needed in a few years? This awareness is how I survived many years in engineering without getting blindsided by someone or something beyond my control.

  5. When “something” just doesn’t seem right wherever you are, you need to act on that feeling. Going into large crowds makes me pay closer attention to my surroundings. I am not comfortable in large crowds to begin with. With that in mind, when there is a situation that everyone is called to look at (someone falling down, a loud noise, etc) be sure to look past that and scan to see if something else is happening. Maybe it was just to get our attention somewhere else.It has taken me many years to know that going with my gut is the best way to handle most situations. Most importantly, STOP STARING AT YOUR PHONE and look around!

  6. We were in Walmart yesterday and I was people watching while sitting on a bench waiting for my better half to come back with his coffee from the Dunkin Donuts in the store. I was watching 3 kids playing around the carriage while their mother checked out. They ranged in age around 7 to 8 I believe. Those kids had more awareness than any of the adults I watched. They looked around as they played and even studied some people. Of course at that age their attention span was pretty short and kept getting caught up in their play. Every few minutes though one of them kept looking around more aware than any of the adults. Of course at that age they don’t have the electronics that the older people have at all times. I was surprised to see kids practicing situational awareness. Maybe it’s an inherit ability that we are all born with and only lose it as we get older.

    1. ” Maybe it’s an inherit ability that we are all born with and only lose it as we get older.”
      I believe it goes back the the plains of Africa, our distant ancestors had to have SA or they would not be our ancestors:) The relative security of the modern world has dulled our SA because there really isn’t an obvious predator crouched in every tree or every clump of tall grass. Now the only threat comes from the sociopaths who look like US!

  7. Don’t forget awareness of what is going on at the national level. Many people knew to leave Nazi Germany just before things got bad.

  8. And then there are those who not only lack a single grain of situational awareness, but they also suffer from normalcy bias. As if nothing could go wrong… The thought never enters their brain.

    Overcome Your Normalcy Bias

  9. Ken,
    You are FAR too kind. I feel that “normalcy bias” is merely the sheeple being firmly HUA at all times. They deserve what they get.
    I’ve had friends complain that I have “too much situational awareness” and I “notice” too much. That’s why I am still alive and kicking and I’m not changing anytime soon.
    Have been training the grand kids on having SA and being able to use it and not feel guilty.(they’re still young)
    If someone or something, makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, DO NOT DISREGARD IT! Not ever.

  10. Don’t forget about the distraction! The magicians trick, look over here while I work over there. Example, look at SC and the “LOOK, an old flag above the capital is the black problem” while no one looks at the destruction on the black family caused by welfare and the “war” on drugs.
    The loud noise isn’t necessarily where the action is located.

    1. Yes the idiots here in SC are now blaming the flag. The flag did it!!! The flag entered the church with the gun and killed those innocent people. Makes me sick. I know by being a professional industrial mechanic and electrician, that the problem is not going to be fixed unless you look at the whole picture and find the root problem that caused the break down to begin with. Only then can you say you fixed it. Like the case here in Charleston, nobody is looking at the root problem. They never do.

  11. Situational Awareness goes both ways.
    Don’t stand out yourself, be the “Gray Man”.

  12. I am sometimes accused of being too aware. People that I spend time with regularly know if we go to a restaurant, I want the seat where I can see the doors as well as the majority of the establishment. If I go to a concert or sports arena, I want to sit in the top row of whatever section we are in. I am one of those who wants to see as much as possible in front of me, be able to see who is coming and going, and leave myself where there are as few blind spots as possible. Not sure what made me this way, probably from my time in the service and being raised spending time hunting in the woods. I am always bitching at my kids, both of whom are adults now to put the phone away and take out the earbuds, pay attention to your surroundings.

  13. I was in a restaurant in town and there were about 15 patrons inside getting something to eat. After I ordered, a loud thud filled the place. I already knew what happened while everyone pretended not to notice the noise. (weird) I rushed to the doorway and found a very tall 90 year old woman who was lying on the floor, face down. She had tripped over the rise of the floor which I noticed one day someone will hurt themselves on it. She was okay but couldn’t get up.

    I turned to the wait staff and asked for help, but they were ignoring me. I turned to ask 4 large men sitting 2 feet away a booth to help me get her up, and they sat there looking at each other for the longest time. I had to repeat myself and I had to explain “A lady fell and needs help getting up or no one can leave this place”. Finally a man got up and helped me lift this poor woman up.

    I looked around to see if someone was being robbed at gunpoint because it seemed suspicious no one seemed to care about the old lady and ignored her. Nothing was going on, this is the way those people in that restaurant were. My baseline is in the Twilight Zone.

    1. I too have witnessed similar incidents. That brings up a very interesting behavior trait these days – people unwilling to help others. Could be a variety of reasons, but it is a sad thing. No one wants to ‘get involved’. The majority are seemingly and only ‘all about themselves’. “Let someone else deal with it”, they’re thinking…

      1. That people are not willing to “get involved” would be a good subject for another article. I blame our litigious society for some of this.

        When I was taking a CPR course years ago, I was stunned that you we were told if coming upon a fallen person that you must first ASK them if you can help them! In other words, they may decide to sue you if you help them up off the floor. The instructor told us that if we don’t get a response (unconscious), we could then ASSUME permission to perform CPR, etc.

        A while back, I learned that police cars used to have a seal on the door that said, “To Serve and Protect”. Not any longer. In fact, they are not required to protect anyone. And serve? That seems to be going the way of the Dodo bird.

        I’ve also noticed that people seem completely unaware, or else turn a “blind eye” to a situation that requires them to move off-course.

        The way I look at this mentality: There’s the quick and there’s the dead.

    2. I really am surprised that people were so slow to assist an elderly person. A younger one I could see the hesitation since it could be a robbery ruse or these days a decapitating or stabbing ruse, but someone close to age 90 is fairly harmless. Then again maybe the adult children or grandchildren may sue.

    1. Assuming you missed Ken’s acknowledgement? So allow me to paraphrase it for you…

      “Thoughts inspired from the ‘Art of Manliness Collection’ by Brett and Kate McKay.”

  14. During my POST academy training and especially during firearms and live action scenario training we were taught to scan and stay aware of our surroundings, using reflective surfaces and sounds around us to stay aware of what was happening behind us.

  15. When the brain is trained in a particular direction it doesn’t like to break that pattern. They see violence, a car accident, whatever, the brain automatically associates this event with a screen–this kind of thing doesn’t happen in real life, therefore it isn’t happening, therefore it can be safely ignored. People who are inundated with screen media have a warped reality filter.

  16. Situational awareness has led me to report suspicious events anonymously to crime stoppers. Many burglars do prior surveillance. I reported one van that had two men sitting perfectly still in it – absolutely no movement from the driver and passenger. Due to some events I have witnessed I am now suspicious until I don’t need a reason to be. My baseline security is shredding, keep strangers physically away from me, my home security system, my RFID purse and wallet, my hidden wallet, etc. Next to consider is a security camera.

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