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Situational Awareness

by: Chris Beglin

"...The major desired result from awareness is of course gaining thinking time and therefore the greater ability to escape safely or determine when things have gone too far and escape is no longer possible, then responding to hopefully survive another day..."

One of the prerequisites of concealed carry should (must) be avoidance of dangerous situations, by which I mean we escape them at all costs rather than enter into conflict. To maximize that requires good awareness, which I consider the most important and vital aspect of being alert. Our firearm is no passport to a gunfight. The major desired result from awareness is of course gaining thinking time and therefore the greater ability to escape safely or determine when things have gone too far and escape is no longer possible, then responding to hopefully survive another day. There are popular "condition" colors we can allude to, suggested originally by the venerable Jeff Cooper (white, yellow, orange and red) which conveniently separate and demarcate the levels of awareness we can employ. As we may know, many people do indeed live most of their lives in condition white - meaning that while they might think they look and listen, they do not in fact see and hear as an effective information gathering experience. Rather they remain in their personal space sometimes oblivious to most of the environment that is around them. I think we all see vehicle drivers who can be labeled this way! There are other factors that can play a part also, including excessive alcohol intake effects and severe tiredness. It is these people who also perhaps exhibit what we may refer to as "victim status," because they can be recognized by criminals as unaware, sometimes slow, often trance-like and certainly potentially vulnerable.

Condition yellow is a step up from white and in my opinion where we should all be as responsible firearm carriers. It does not need any stress level because it is calm and relaxed but does require that we hone our senses to maximize their usefulness and habitually absorb the incoming information to good effect - ALERTNESS! It is what I think we should practice at all times possible, all our waking hours.

Orange is effectively an enhanced yellow state where we sense something is not quite right and things do not add up, so we think through our options for flight or fight.

Finally, condition red. The fight is on and you have to take decisive action to defend yourself or flee the latter being as ever the better choice if possible. It is though please note only with a firm grasp on yellow that the transition to orange and red can be properly and usefully achieved as, with white as a starting point sensory overload and denial will possibly be the main consequence resulting in a very non-productive panic. The transition through these three important stages is actually seamless.

Of all the senses, sight and hearing are the most obvious and applicable here, with touch taste and smell being secondary. The final one I include is "intuition" which is actually a "cerebral sense" and less apparent. I may be stating the obvious to some but, there is a very significant difference between looking and seeing, as there is also with listening and hearing - even the sense of smell should not be totally disregarded though I am not dealing with that here, other than to maybe state the obvious whereby if we smell smoke there just may be fire! I am assuming that all readers have their senses intact, however for those who may be hearing or vision impaired then they must further hone their remaining sense skills that much more. The majority of people I find do tend to let their senses run on "idle" when actually they have much remaining potential.

Let's look briefly at specific sensory aspects and ways to better exploit them for situational awareness. For the majority of us blessed with sight, this is perhaps the best sense to capitalize on, and remember, looking is not always seeing. Here is where practice with peripheral vision really helps because not only is that function acutely motion sensitive but also most people can manage very nearly 180 coverage. To most gainfully use that however requires some extra work initially, so as to "register" in the mind what is out there over and above the central vision field, forming a habit of including that wide area in one's appraisal.

When eating out next, for example, try to observe what you can see with peripheral vision and notice that movement in particular is well included by the eyes. Extend that further to try and recognize colors and types of clothes and you may be amazed that with a small increase in mental concentration and analysis you actually "see" a great deal more. Try also to practice subtle scanning actions, which can include extra eye movements side to side as well as subtle head movements, disguised more as general interest looks than actual intrusive intrusions into the space of others. Even an apparent cursory look at one's wristwatch can effectively allow for a wider sweep which would not be noticed by most others. When out and about, even reflections in window glass can be very informative, such as glancing in a store window to see a reflection in another area while seeming to be window shopping. Auto glass can also be useful in a similar manner. Another ploy that can be used is to make a casual glance upward as if interested in something flying perhaps and then when returning to a low gaze, include a target area in the return sweep! Learn to place image "frames" grabbed during a sweep in temporary store and if possible make 360 sweeps too.

It is further important to practice scanning at all ranges. We have probably seen drivers who appear isolated in their own small cocoon and probably looking no further than ahead by one vehicle. It is they who may fail to see a wreck a quarter mile away and fail to act soon enough to avert trouble. They might equally fail to see the same distance behind and not see an errant truck barreling down on them with failed brakes. Apply this to everyday life. Do not just look within your local space but also scan at distance for anything unusual. In a street situation it might mean spotting a vehicle behaving strangely long before it has got close, or a person moving in an odd manner.

Much of our waking life, sound is a constant input and also very mixed in content. One thing we can fail to exploit is "selective hearing," which we often use unwittingly in a crowd when talking, shutting out extraneous sounds as we concentrate on a speaker. This can be developed considerably if when listening to input we consciously do a separation exercise. An easy example might be imagined when again, sitting in a restaurant, we attempt listening to and trying to tune in on and identify each voice or sound, attempting then also to even listen for outside sounds like vehicles.

In conclusion, remember once more that your prime responsibility as a bearer of a concealed weapon is to avoid trouble. The best way to do so is to know what is going on around you at varying distances and positions and it is something everyone can do, because the potential is there but it must be used and enhanced through practice. Every extra piece of sensory input you can accumulate represents vital fractions of time you may be better able to plan for flight or flight.

I have had to keep this fairly concise but it should hopefully set you off in the right direction, all the better to be a responsible and safe bearer of a firearm.

About The Author

Chris Beglin is an ex-pat' 60-year-old Englishman and a proud American citizen, married to an American lady for the last six years and living happily in SW Pennsylvania. His daily carry is a SIG 226 ST in 9mm, in a custom K&D Holsters belt slide. He used to do freelance photography. He is a degreed Engineer, even though these days, he works mainly on the computer dealing in web design and kidding himself that he is semi-retired! In 1997, he suffered the ignominy of loosing his prized collection of 24 handguns, thanks to the UK Government revoking his "privilege." As a result, he now clings on tightly to our right to keep and bear arms in the U.S.A. He is an NRA Certified Instructor in all disciplines and enjoy passing on his experience as well as bringing in new shooters whenever possible. This allows him to feel that he gives a little something back.

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