I’ve been single for the majority of my adult life. My circumstances in my early 20s forced me to take on this role. After all, I moved halfway around the world from my parents and friends to attend college where I knew virtually no one, in a town and a state I had never been to. Fearless in those years, I never let being alone stop me from enjoying myself. I have never been one to subscribe to locking yourself up in the house because someday something bad just might happen. That’s no way to live. So fearless I was. And dumb.
Looking back at those first few years of college, I did make some horrible choices. I have found myself with my Chihuahua, not exactly a great self-defense dog, at a closed rest stop at 1:30 in the morning in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, at a concert full of drunken skinheads, and completely lost at the final train stop somewhere in Melbourne, Australia. Since then, I have learned my lesson and thank my lucky stars I was never mugged, raped, kidnapped, or murdered. Since making the decision to arm myself for self-defense, I know now I have to have a different mindset. One that is more cautious, more alert, and less fearless. You do not have to spend your life locked up and paranoid, but you shouldn’t be unaware like I was.
When you make up your mind to take control over your own safety and protection, a change in your mindset is the very first training you need. Choosing to purchase a firearm for self-defense means you have answered yes to the question, “Can I take another human life to save my own?” As firearm owners, whether or not we carry one with us, we never want to have to use it in a self-defense situation. To help avoid this potentially deadly confrontation, we need to practice situational awareness at all times. Situational awareness is the first line of self-defense.
The first step in situational awareness is to step out of the world of denial. When I was younger, I probably was living in denial. Denial is when you think, “It won’t happen to me.” Because you have already taken the first steps to defend yourself you probably are not living in denial. You know there is potential for violence and therefore are prepared for it. Good for you, now learn how to train yourself to be observant everywhere you are.
Situational awareness is knowing what and who is around you and the potential threats they might pose. You assess the situation and people around you by gathering information, processing that information, and then figuring out if action is required. Situational awareness can help you avoid a fight or other harmful situation. Not only can situational awareness save your own life, but also other innocent lives around you. The military, the government, all law enforcement agencies and self-defense experts all train, use, and practice situational awareness.
Any time you are not asleep, you should be observing and evaluating what you are seeing. This will help you recognize a potential threat. There are three major ways to look at situational awareness. Colonel John Boyd’s OODA (observe, orient, decide, act), The United States government’s TEDD (time environment, distance, demeanor), and Colonel Jeff Cooper’s color codes.
Col. Jeff Cooper’s color codes are easy to understand and give us clear, measurable levels of how aware or unaware we are.
Code white is means you are completely unaware and tuned out. You should only be on code white when sleeping, but I bet if you think about it, you will find yourself tuned out quite a bit. All of the following are tune-out culprits: texting, talking on the phone, engrossed in a movie at the movie theater, sucked into the internet, a video game, a good book, or a TV Show, jamming out to good tunes in the car, if you have your headphones on too loud, or when you are busy concentrating on a work project. There are many times a day you may be “tuned out.” Exhaustion and intoxication can cause you to tune out as well. I am guilty of tuning out when I’m reading, watching a movie, or on road trips. How many times have I been driving, singing loudly to good tunes, when a friend calls and asks, “Where are you?” and I honestly don’t know— too many.
Code yellow is where we should be at all times, even at work and at home. Code yellow means we are on “relaxed alert.” This means you are aware of your surroundings and who is in them, but you have not spotted any threat. This relaxed awareness means that you are not expecting a fight, but accepting that a fight could happen and therefore not surprised if a threat presents itself. A perfect example of code yellow is when you are walking to your car in a parking lot, or down the street, or on the jogging trail. You are aware of how many people are behind you and beside you. You are aware of their pace and if that pace or position changes. You are in condition yellow if you always get your keys out of your pocket or purse before walking to the car. I was in code yellow when I had to go pick up a friend in a bad part of town and took note of the appearance and clothing of the three guys milling around the apartment’s entry gate.
Code orange, or “focused awareness” is when you have spotted a potential threat. Code orange means you are ready to accept an attack. The NRA calls this level “alert.” You move from code yellow to code orange when you have stopped in the gas station for a drink and someone walks in wearing a long trench coat in the heat of summer. You stay focused on the potential threat, watching their every move, especially if they reach inside the coat. At this point you have assessed the situation and have decided what you will do if they pull out a gun and you are ready to move into code red.
Code red is when you move into fight or flight mode, or “high alert.” This is when you will have to make the split-second decision to defend yourself.
Others have added one more level, called “black” or “comatose.” This is when you have reached code red, but do not act. You have actually frozen and cannot do anything about the situation.
Global intelligence-gathering website STATFOR suggests situational awareness drills, such as memorizing people sitting at the bar of a restaurant you are dining at, noting the number of people standing in line at the movie theater, or trying to recall cars stopped at the same stoplight. Another thing you should always do is note all the exits of any building you enter. At a bar or restaurant, always choose to sit facing the door. Do not ever put your back to the point of entry and exit. Not only does situational awareness involve observing and noting what is there, but also what is not there.
Criminals prey on easy targets, those who are distracted, vulnerable, and zombie-like in their routine. Even switching up your route to work once in a while helps deter crime. Walk with your head up, scanning the area around you. Walking with your head down means not only are you not aware of what is around you, but gives criminals a sign you are not confident, making you a vulnerable target.
One more point to situational awareness is to listen to your gut. Our instincts may not always be right, but they can be the first indication that something is wrong. Fear, anxiety, apprehension, and hesitation are all emotions that signal us that something is not right. We should listen to those emotions, if your hair stands on end suddenly, you might just need to move into code orange. When something just doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself going code white, like all self-defense tactics, situational awareness takes practice.
Is there a time you remember you had to move to code orange? Tell us about it!