For years I’ve been asked what people could do to increase their awareness. Many of us have replied in these pages about our observations, experiences and theories regarding that subject. A while ago, I wrote what seemed like the “eureka” answer to me: people who are good at situational awareness don’t have a “secret” and they don’t have any additional skills that the average person doesn’t. People who are good at situational awareness have often developed this habit by virtue of experiences or lifestyles that make it imperative that they do make a habit of it. My experiences as a police officer and my observations of other officers are what I drew on to come to my conclusion, and I still think that it’s an accurate answer. It’s sort of like losing weight: you don’t develop the skill to put the fork down, you just make a habit of doing it.
Well, I’ve recently noticed another trait that people with good situational awareness have is that they “pull back” when they perceive a potential threat. I don’t mean they physically retreat, I mean they mentally widen out. Instead of focusing solely on the potential threat and getting caught up in the potential threat’s actions, language, behavior, etc., they widen their field of view and look around to take in the context and any other potential threats.
Now, it’s human nature when we perceive something might be wrong, or someone might be a threat, to focus in on that threat and exclude other things, which are going on and other people who may be in the area. That’s what everyone does when they are actually under attack or feel someone is presenting an imminent threat. That’s why threat-focused (alternately called target-focus, or point shooting) shooting skills are so important to hone. But in those situations where a potential threat, or maybe just “something wrong,” presents itself in advance of a threat becoming imminent, untrained people also tend to focus in on the one thing that’s got their attention. They focus in on the man who might be intent on doing wrong; they focus in on the direction of an unusual sound, and so on. And they get stuck there, oftentimes getting caught up in a conversation with the person presenting the potential threat.
By contrast, what trained people do, what people with tuned situational awareness do, is to literally widen their field of view (imagine a camera lens pulling back from telephoto to wide angle) and to physically move their eyes, neck and body so as to evaluate the context of what is being presented. Is what’s presented part of something larger, such as a disturbance, accident, or emergency? Are there other people in the area who are part of the potential threat package? In other words, instead of thinking, “I have to deal with this thing [or person or situation] in front of me,” they think, “What’s going on here?” Now, you actually learned to do this, or at lest were told to do this back in Drivers Ed, remember? We taught that if you see a ball, or a person, or an animal or whatever dart across the road in front of you, you don’t look at it, you look at where it came from to see if there’s a person or animal running after it.
I don’t know how you teach someone do to this, or how you change their behavior to do it except through repetition. If someone wants to know the “secret” to having a good tennis serve, you’d have to tell them that there is no “secret.” There are the basics of a good serve, and then there are thousands of repetitions necessary to develop them. There’s no short cut, no magic way to avoid the necessary time and energy, no coach who can make the process significantly shorter for you. Substitute “survival” for “tennis,” and substitute any survival skill for “serve” and you have the situation that you face. That’s why we keep coming back to realistic simulations as the way to develop all types of survival skills and pulling back, or looking at the larger picture is no exception. Actors rehearse the actual play they will perform; football players run actual football plays in practice; survival-minded people need to do simulations. You have to put in the flight time.
Let me now move to a related subject. There is an exciting new field of study in what some call “warrior science,” or what in the citizen and non-sworn world we often call survival skills, and that is the field known variously as change blindness, perceptual blindness, cognitive blindness or inattentional blindness. To put it very simply, often very alert, concentrating people will miss even very large things going on in their field of vision because they are concentrating or focusing on something else there.
This field has been around in academic circles for decades, but surprisingly it hasn’t been applied in a practical way to police work, sniper training or citizen survival skills. Derrick Bartlett, one of the best-known names in law enforcement sniper training, has set out to correct this situation, and he offers a course called “Tactical Vision” on the subject. Tactical Vision is a four-hour class that will actually show participants how to become “trained observers.” To supplement the classroom instruction, attendees receive a proprietary CD containing over 50 training exercises they can do at their leisure to develop and maintain their observation skills. All Snipercraft courses are restricted to law enforcement and military personnel only. I believe this will be the next frontier in our field.
For more information contact: Derrick Bartlett, 6232 Apple Road, Dept CH, Sebring, FL 33875; 863-385-7835; www.snipercraft.org.
Known as the Personal Defense Assistant, the Para USA PDA 9mm handgun is the...
by Clair Rees / Feb 2, 2009