This article on Situational Awareness is from our September 2021 Newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
You are one of several people gathered on a sidewalk waiting for an approaching bus. It’s a busy street with lots of people all around you. The bus is coming, but suddenly, a car driving in the opposite direction swerves into the bus’s lane.
Trying to avoid a collision, the bus driver makes a hard right turn. The bus avoids the car but heads straight toward you and the crowded sidewalk.
This scenario is based on a true story that happened in New York City. It shows how quickly and unexpectedly an incident can occur, causing many injuries and even deaths.
Now I have two questions for you:
1. What would you do if you were on that sidewalk waiting for that bus?
2. Before the incident, were there steps you could have taken to protect yourself, just in case something like this might happen?
There are no sure-fire answers to these questions. What we are discussing here is situational awareness. It is all about personal safety and keeping ourselves safe from harm in various situations. At its core, it includes the following components:
Skills: Situational awareness is a collection of skills we have learned to help ensure our personal safety. For instance, in the bus scenario just discussed, possibly you have learned over time it’s a good idea to stand a reasonable distance from the bus stop.
Surroundings: Being aware of our immediate surroundings is core to situational awareness. Concerns about our personal safety are invariably elevated when we are, for instance, walking on a dark, empty street. However, in the incident above, this happened on a bright sunny day. In this case, awareness of our immediate surroundings would suggest we find “safe havens” in the area – just in case.
Instincts. Ever had a “gut feeling” that something was about to happen? Just recently, I had a gut feeling that my car would not start. Sure enough, when I turned on the ignition, the battery was dead. We must listen to our instincts. When it comes to situational awareness, often they provide us with a “sixth sense” that something is about to happen.
Improving our Situational Awareness Skills
Fortunately, we can improve our situational awareness skills and help ensure our personal safety. Consider doing the following:
Create a personal bubble. Before the pandemic, most of us maintained a comfortable distance between others we interacted with. It was about two to four feet. With the pandemic, it is six or more feet. When it comes to situational awareness, we should maintain four to six feet between ourselves and others, even further if comfortable.
Start looking up. Walking on any city street in America, what are you likely to see? People staring down at their smartphones. Situational awareness requires us to look up. Become aware of your surroundings.
View unexpected incidents as warnings. A man was walking down a busy street. Unexpectedly, another man bumped into him. After both moved on, the man walked into a coffee shop. When it was time to pay, he realized his wallet had been stolen. Situational awareness teaches us such “unexpected” incidents may not be so unexpected after all. In this case, the man who was bumped into should have immediately considered there might be a rhyme or reason to the incident.
Know what to look for. Someone who is about to do us harm may be expressing it by using different forms of body language. We may have seen someone looking at us, for instance, but then suddenly look downward or away. This body language could indicate danger. It is in situations like this that we must listen to our instincts. If there is a gut feeling something is wrong, listen to them and move to safety.
Finally, it’s a good idea to simply plan ahead. For instance, a woman in Silicon Valley knew she would be working late. Around 5 PM, she got into her parked car and moved it closer to the building where she worked. At about 7 PM, she repeated the process, moving the vehicle still closer to the building. This helped ensure her safety when leaving the building later in the evening.
Situational awareness is all about being aware of our surroundings, but it also includes taking steps to prevent an incident from occurring in the first place. This is a perfect example.
Stay alert. Be prepared. Take care of yourself and your staff.