Automatic Scan Technique For Situational Awareness & Personal Security

Situational awareness and the ‘automatic scan’ technique. It is an interesting thing. How often do you notice others who appear to be aware of their surroundings? Sometimes…

However, a more common site is that of others moving about in their own bubbles. Perhaps the inside of these bubbles are mirror-coated. Because most people don’t seem able to see outside their own bubble.

Just the other day… I think I frightened another human who was blissfully in her own bubble, minding her own business. Until… I spoke to her. (((GASP!))) I had approached the Deli counter at the grocery store. I wasn’t sure if she was “in line”. She was looking at a bag of hamburger buns in her hand (which were located in front of the counter). I spoke to her, “Are you in line?”… the pause, then the realization that another human was near her and actually speaking to her! After a confused look, and the uncomfortable pause, she said “I’m just looking at these buns”. Wow. I think I jolted her psyche.

Okay, back to the post.

People’s minds are “elsewhere”. Maybe they’re in their smart-phone. Maybe a conversation with a companion. Or a conversation in their head with an imaginary friend. Perhaps they’re staring straight ahead. Or mostly looking down while walking forward. They are in their own bubble as they move about.

It’s just not good situational awareness.

After you have learned the automatic scan technique, it will be easy to become a natural part of your subconscious. It will compliment your own situational awareness and personal security.

The automatic scan is about placing some focus and paying attention to the things around you as you move about. It’s about looking beyond your 6-foot bubble of ‘comfort zone’. It’s about a periodic scan of your environment.

One simple analogy is this… When people are in their car driving in traffic, some of them only focus on the car in front of them. The better way is to keep an eye on the cars in front of the car that’s in front of you (while you are still obviously aware of the car in front of you). This way you will better anticipate braking, lane changes, upcoming issues, etc.

Similarly while out and about in public (or anywhere), it is better to be aware of more than just what is in front of you.

The automatic scan technique sounds simple enough. But the trick is to get in the subconscious habit of occasionally scanning your environment. It takes repeated conscious effort at first. And it may take awhile to regularly remember to do it. But after awhile it will become more natural and will not require conscious remembrance to do it.

You might ask, “What am I looking for?”

Answer: You are simply gauging your environment. The baseline. Your subconscious (sixth sense) may alert you to something out of the ordinary. Or you may even see something that is quite obviously out of the ordinary. You will also be recognized as difficult prey to any lurking predator.

While doing the automatic scan, depending on your level of concern, you might be making conscious mental notes of things or people that might look suspicious, alternate routes, exits, obstructions, etc.

When you’re out in public, you should always be in condition ‘yellow’ (relaxed alert).

[ Read: The Cooper Color Code ]

An interesting aspect to the automatic scan situational awareness technique: After you’ve engrained the technique into your psyche, you will begin to ‘see’ (on occasion) another world (another level) which you’ve not really noticed so much before.


  1. I’ve talked about this one before. I know people who carry, and it’s basically invisible. No one would ever know. But a few years ago I was in a grocery store parking lot and something caught my attention. Two men swaggering toward the store, matching heavy quilted vests on a hot day, and one of them had his hand close to his belt, obviously ready to draw at a moment’s notice.

    Everything was normal until I saw those two. Idiots. If you’re carrying, don’t advertise it.

    1. “If you’re carrying, don’t advertise it.”
      Yes but it also depends where you live. Arizona, no problem. California, big problem. Constitutional Carry states are admittedly a luxury. I do agree with you. I carry IWB and have never had a problem no matter where I go – and I do avoid the anti-gun states like the plague.

  2. I agree, most people I see when out and about are in their “bubble” and oblivious to the world/people/conditions around them.We have greatly reduced our trips away from home for the last year but when we do venture out in public we concentrate on being in condition yellow . It takes practice to make it a habit and we do sometimes drift away from the situational awareness mode .
    Stay away from crowds as much as possible and do not let yourself get into a compromising situation.

  3. Yes Lauren you bring up a point I make to all new CCW people who I meet: Most people act and walk different when they are carrying in the community. This is one of the primary reasons I no longer carry in town where I shop at the Winco or go out to eat at the local restaurants. Too high a risk of collateral damage for me as a civilian and my fellow citizens out there. My place of work also can fire me for having a firearm in my car on company property. I do have several contacts within the town where I have access to their firearms because they were students of a CCW class which I helped instruct. ( business and nightclub owners- weird part of town ). networking has created several “safehouses” where I can go to should I be under threat versus a firearm on my person.

  4. These days, the people I consider as “experts” in situational awareness are: beat cops, prison guards and staff that work on psych wards. In all 3 cases, those that survive to become veterans have many things in common: I have never seen them being distracted by their smart phone when on the job. They do not talk too much in public area. They peek around corners before walking through doorways. They generally move with purpose.
    Despite my asian heritage, I also drive the same way I walk through life. Most of my years in emergency service I was driving an ambulance versus a patrol car so I never did develop the safe but aggressive driving style of a true pursuit car driver. ( ambulances are top heavy, underpowered RV’s that happen to have a light bar and a siren. They corner like the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile and handle hike a pig…Not built to go fast )

  5. in my before life i had to go to some VERY bad parts of a state capitol. think next door to the soup kitchens and RR tracks.
    i never walked with my head on a swivel. to do so was to look scared and like a potential victim, i “looked” with my ears and watched the people in front of me, if there was something going on behind me you could see it in their faces.
    also i walked through those places like i owned them. the thugs and the bums are looking for easy targets. not someone like me.
    i really think that i scared them more than they did me. i am not a handsome man.

  6. Situational awareness is a big deal with me, so much so that when we go out to eat my wife and daughter usually know what seat I’ll need to keep an eye on things and if they aren’t sure they always ask me what seat I need. They fully get I’m the sheep dog and happily let me do do the sheep dog thing. My daughter knows and comprehends that my number one priority in life is to assure her long term survival.

    When you carry almost everywhere and have for 20 years, you cultivate the ability to not telegraph to the world that you are.

    1. Car fobs usually have a red panic button, you can learn by feel where it is. You usually don’t have to take the fob out and “point it” at the car, you can press those buttons while in your pocket when nearby.
      Everybody should set off their car alarm on purpose once in a while for practice. Also fyi- my car alarm does not arm when I lock the doors with one press, I must press twice (chirp it) to activate it.

  7. I remember a time when I was trying to give a friend directions and I told her to go past all the sheep and goats on the corner, only to find out after months of driving past them she had never noticed them there. I happen to love sheep, so I would definitely notice them but I am still confused as to how you could miss them. If you think of a car as a “mirror coated bubble”, it is terrifying, but it does make sense.

  8. We just got back from a vacation in the smokey mountains. We saw a bear from our balcony. That was great motivation to step up our situational awareness. We didn’t see any more but were definately on the look out for them.

  9. I think being close to home also tends to let peoples guard down. Example, my neighbors came home one afternoon while i and my large dog were setting on a stump. They drove in, parked, got out while discussing where the dog was and walked 100 feet to the house. Dog and I were within 35 feet of them as they walked by. Never saw us. Absolutely no obstructions, could and should have spotted us at any time. I have have found if i make a habit of scanning as i walk out my house door or pulling in I tend to do the same anywhere.

  10. I kept reading, waiting for a ‘technique’.
    Look around once in a while? Really? What a waste of time.
    If you want a real technique, one that can be practiced and perfected you need two people. Enter a population center, a store preferably, do a walk through and then go outside.
    Ask each other questions. Any question is good, make them pertinent.
    How many women?
    How many men?
    How many dangerous men and why?
    Describe all the people wearing t -shirts.
    Where was the pasta located, the beer, the bandaids…
    Next go back in and surveil a person without anyone knowing you are doing it. Keep it going and follow them until they are home.
    If you spend just three days doing these exercises your life will never be the same.

    1. Tucker,
      I was enjoying your post until you said, “follow them until they are home”. You might just frighten the wrong little old lady and your life will, for sure, never be the same… I think you should be careful with the “surveiling”. I don’t understand why you would do that.

    2. I think the “follow til they are home” would get someone seriously injured- unless they are totally clueless. It would not be a good way to end the day in this neck of the woods.

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