Situational Awareness: Know The Baseline


The concept of situational awareness is simple enough, “to pay attention to what is happening around you”. Unfortunately though, this is not quite so simple for most people.

Here’s one way to train yourself to make it simple – know the ‘baseline’ of your surroundings (immediate environment). Here’s what I mean…

Most people are under the influence of normalcy bias. Because nothing (bad) has ever happened to them when they’re doing ‘this’ or ‘that’, therefore nothing (bad) is going to happen in the future when they’re doing ‘this’ or ‘that’. The ‘this’ could be anything – crossing the street, walking from your car to the store, taking a walk at your favorite park, shopping at the grocery store, driving to your friends house, hiking a familiar trail, etc..

Even if the warning signs are there – your normalcy bias will try and override your subconscious alerts. By being conscious of your normalcy bias (aware that it exists), you will be able to forcibly overcome it – eventually leading to a natural state of awareness.

Assuming that you are cognizant of your tendency towards normalcy bias and you are making the effort (consciously choosing) to pay attention to what is going on around you (situational awareness), you will need to understand (observe) and know the ‘baseline’ of your given surroundings to understand whether or not there is potential danger lurking there.

Every environment has its own baseline of ‘noise’ (for example). The ‘noise’ might literally be noise or it might be visual (the going’s on). The baseline is the normal ‘goings on’ of the place – the typical flow of people coming and going (affected by time of day, weather, etc.), the ebbs and flows of everything going on there, the actual noise level, behaviors, the profile of the people, etc. The baseline of one environment will be different for another environment.

The environments are many. The streets, the neighborhoods, the woods, the workplace, the stores – all of which are unique given their geographic locations, cultural or ethnic norms, etc.

Situational Awareness begins with knowing the baseline and then recognizing the changes and fluctuations to the baseline.

There may be times when it is normal for the ‘noise’ of a given baseline to rise and fall whereas there may be other environments where this would signal potential danger. It all depends.

To be effective, you must know the environment – the baseline. In this way you will recognize when there might be predatory behavior (for example). You must look beyond your nearby field of vision and steadily monitor the background activity for potential threats. After awhile this will become natural in your subconscious, provided that you begin by getting into the conscious habit of learning the baseline and then paying attention to variations in that baseline – no matter where you are and what you are doing.

All of the above is simply a round-about way of saying, “Pay attention!”


  1. Start getting your situational awareness while driving your car. Look to see who is around, who might be driving distracted and then think what that car may do in front of you. This will give most ample times to think of what may happen before it does. If nothing happens that is great, but at least you have started looking out for yourself and thought defensively.

  2. Always, everywhere, under all circumstances, I look for the “exit” most likely missed by the herd. Never, ever follow the herd.

    I have been paying attention even more while stopped at train crossings since derailings seem to be increasing. Very little reaction time there.

  3. Being aware of changes in a normal environment assumes you know what normal actually IS at that time of day, etc. When you’re in a strange place (say when traveling), this is difficult.

  4. “Pay attention!”

    Most folks I know, that’s asking a lot–their balance is zero in their “attention bank”!

    I do travel some out of my area, and I make every attempt to be aware of my surroundings. I follow that gut feeling. I know it has saved me on 2 occasions.

  5. Read The Gift of Fear.

    It really examines the meaning behind the proverbial “gut feeling” It’s one of the most eye opening books i ever read.

      1. sounds like a good book to read. Thanks to both who recommended it.

        I try to make a point going into a room, of checking for exits/windows.

        I also “listen” to my gut. If for any reason I get a feeling I should leave/not stay/not go, I don’t. If pressed for a reason, and feel I should give one, there is always the “forgot something in the oven”. Usually though, I just “do it”.

        I encourage others I know, especially out and about in crowds, to not be gawking down at their handheld devices.

  6. Pay attention.
    Look around you when you are walking.
    Who is looking at you, or others?

    Most folks are only paying attention to their “device” rather than where they are going.

  7. Stop staring at the phone or other electronic gizmo in your hand. Eyes up!

  8. this I think Is where having ptsd and hyper awareness can come in handy, with ptsd when your out in public your head is on a swivel, you are ALWAYS looking around EVERYWHERE at everything, you learn to LISTEN to your inner feelings, you pay attention to what your body is telling you and you learn how to react without thinking

    this is a perfect example, a dude I used to be friends with thought one day he would be a smartass, he clapped hands really loudly right behind my head

    I didnt think I just reacted, I spun around elbow out and stopped my elbow about a inch from his throat, he PEED HIS PANTS IT SCARED HIM SO BADLY

    I almost did myself because I almost killed a guy

    Another time I was walking down a side street at night alone, I know very stupid

    I will never know why but SOMETHING told me to stop and cut across to another street and I did, the next day I find out 15 MINUTES AFTER I cut over to another street there had been a VERY VIOLENT home invasion on the street I had just left AND I WOULD HAVE BEEN RIGHT ON TOP OF IT, I would have been a witness and most likely would have been shot

    all I can say is PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR GUT

  9. I, too, disagree with de Becker’s stance on guns. Otherwise, I recommend this book to everyone. I have read it twice and each time I learn/notice something new. By simply paying attention to your surroundings and listening to your gut ( intuition ) you will improve your chances to avoid danger before it finds you.

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