How to Improve Your Situational Awareness

According to research, your brain takes about 13 milliseconds to process an event. This means that you have less than 2 seconds to make the right call and avoid a potentially deadly incident. While owning a firearm can increase your chances of surviving a dangerous event, you first must be aware of the danger before you can react appropriately. This requires what the military calls situational awareness.

Situational awareness is crucial to wilderness survival and the safety of you and your loved ones. If you cannot gauge the severity of a situation fast enough, you cannot protect anyone. This article delves into the topic of situational awareness as it relates to the use of firearms.

What Is Situational Awareness?

The military coined the term ‘situation awareness’ to describe a person’s ability to perceive environmental events and elements, comprehend them, and project their future status. This skill is crucial to your safety because it gives you an edge over the bad guys; the element of surprise. Defending yourself begins way before you touch your weapon; it starts with you identifying threats early.

For example, if the person sitting next to you on a bus is reaching for a knife, it is probably too late to react if you are just noticing them. But if you caught their weird behavior and prepared yourself, you might yet have a fighting chance. The last scenario is an example of situational awareness.

Levels of Awareness

Situational awareness, by definition, requires that you be constantly aware of what is happening around you. This state of alertness is called ‘condition yellow’ and is one of four levels of awareness. To help you better understand this concept, here are the four conditions levels of alertness:

  1. Condition White: Refers to when you are unaware of what is happening around you. If a dangerous situation arises, you are more likely to get harmed while at this level of awareness.
  2. Condition Orange: Refers to when you discover a potential threat and watch to see if it further develops. Here, you are more alert than condition white, but you are not tense.
  3. Condition Yellow: This refers to when you are fully aware of all the events around you and are constantly searching for potential threats. This is the ideal level of alertness for situational awareness.
  4. Condition Red: Refers to when you are aware of a possible threat and are ready with your firearm to react.

Improving Your Situational Awareness

Find a Vantage Point

Whenever you enter any environment (restaurant, theater, public bus, etc.), you should position yourself where you can easily view most or all the entry and exit points. This position will give you access to everything that happens around you, allowing you to make an easy and quick escape if you see a threat materializing.

For example, if you go to a restaurant, a seat in one corner that places your back to the exit and eyes facing the entry is a great vantage point. You see everyone in the room, including those coming in, and you can quickly get to the door. It is not always possible to choose where you will sit or stand, especially in crowded restaurants where you must be seated. Nonetheless, you can still scope out the position that gives you the broadest view of the room.


Situational awareness cannot be learned overnight. You will need to practice your observational skills constantly until you develop a new way of seeing your environment.

Generally, the goal is to achieve such a high level of awareness that red signs jump out at you with little effort on your part. You want to be able to see warning signs without consciously thinking about them. You can achieve this level of awareness by frequently observing people, establishing baselines, and generating possible anomalies whenever you enter a new environment.

Understand Your Surroundings

To effectively improve your situational awareness, you will need to be very observant of your environment. You cannot predict the future, but a detailed assessment of the people, elements, and events around you will give you hints when something life-threatening is about to happen.

Note: How alert you are to your surroundings will depend on where you are. For example, if you are in a city, you will likely need to be more alert than in a rural environment.

Increase Your Memorization Skills

Memorization skills are fundamental to situational awareness. If you memorize the layout of a room (people, doors, furniture, fire escapes), you will notice even the slightest of changes.

For example, you will see a locked door that was not locked when you come in or a bulge under a coat that was not there 30 seconds ago. Such minute changes might not mean anything to the average eye, but they can mean the difference between life and death. To improve your memorization skills, practice with a deck of cards or play a memory game.

Listen to Your Gut Instinct

Your brain is wired to protect you from dangerous situations and will constantly alert you of any changes in your environment through your senses. This means you can identify a threat through senses like smell, taste, hearing, and touch if you pay attention. Remember, when push comes to shove, you must trust your instincts regardless of how farfetched an idea seems.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

Criminals will usually attack people who are either distracted, unfocused, or uncomfortable. For example, if three people are walking through a park, the one whose nose is buried in their phone is more likely to be attacked than the one walking with purpose. As such, you should always keep your head up, paying attention to your environment, and always look confident. Be alert; do not relax and blend into the environment but do not strain so much that you get tired.

Situational awareness is a life-saving skill that everyone who owns firearms should possess. However, if you are just finding out about it now, it is vital that you know it is not something you can learn overnight. You will require a considerable amount of practice and consistency if you are to become constantly aware of your environment. The key is to start today and keep going. In time, you will be able to spot things other people do not see and, by extension, sniff out trouble from a mile away.

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