Last month Gary Quesenberry published his new book, "Spotting Danger Before It Spots You: Build Situational Awareness To Stay Safe".
In today's troubled times, situational awareness is more important than ever. I'm astonished to see so many people (particularly younger people) walking down the street, heads lowered over their smartphones as they text back and forth, totally ignoring the world around them. They even step off sidewalks and cross streets like that, never lifting their heads to check for oncoming traffic! I've had a couple of close encounters with such idiots while driving. When you honk your horn at them, they jump in fright, then look at you as if it's all your fault - and if you'd been unfortunate enough to hit them, that's what their lawyers would claim when they sued you, even if the fault was all their clients'.
In a situation where urban unrest, riots, demonstrations and the like may occur nearby, we need to be on the lookout for them, and prepared to take evasive action when necessary. This book is a useful tool in learning how to do that. I've excerpted some of the first two chapters as a sampler.
Situational awareness is the ability to identify and process environmental cues to accurately predict the actions of others. This requires us to be familiar with what is known as baseline behaviors (those actions that are considered normal in any given environment). By knowing what is deemed to be reasonable and appropriate, we can more easily spot the people that seem out of place and raise our suspicion. Then we can evaluate that person’s actions, and with practice, accurately predict their behaviors. This is how situational awareness works, and it allows us to get the jump on dangerous situations so that we can respond appropriately. We’re going to go into greater detail about these things later on, but there are a few points I’d like you to keep in mind as you read.
- Situational awareness always increases your level of personal security. This stands true whether you’re concerned about violent predators, or the guy in aisle three who refuses to cover his cough.
- Before COVID-19, if you were standing in line at the bank and someone walked in wearing a mask, you would have probably panicked, now it’s perfectly normal. The baseline for normal behaviors has shifted dramatically. Because of that, we each need to reconsider how we define danger. My definition may be much different than yours, but neither of us is wrong. If you spot something that you judge to be threatening, avoid it. The techniques you’ll learn in this book will help you to do that.
- You are your own last line of defense. You must stay focused on the things that matter most when you’re out and about. Although the COVID-19 virus requires us to practice specific protective measures, your personal safety extends well beyond the threat of getting sick. Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to become so focused on whether or not the person behind you in the checkout line is wearing a mask that you miss the fact he’s holding a knife.
These are trying times, but in the end, we’ll all get through it. Keep in mind that as we progress along the road to situational awareness, the next threat to our safety could be just over the horizon, and no one knows what shape that threat may take. No matter what other people may throw at you, be it a criminal or Mother Nature, you must maintain your concentration and keep focused on the end goal, ensuring the security of yourself and those you love. It’s a big crazy world out there, and things are always changing. Stay safe, and always keep your head up.
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My goal here is to take what’s relevant in the world of situational awareness and personal safety and boil that information down to its simplest terms, which can then be easily implemented in your daily life. The techniques and exercises I’ll have you practice work for everyone—parents, small children walking to school, teenagers going off to college, and whole families headed out on summer vacation. It works universally. When properly applied, this system of situational awareness will help improve your general understanding of how, when, and where violence occurs. It will also increase your chances of successfully detecting and avoiding danger no matter where in the world you may find yourself.
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Real situational awareness requires a shift in perspective. It’s not enough to just walk around in a state of hypervigilance, thinking that nothing within your line of sight will go unnoticed. You have to be able to see yourself and others from the perspective of a predator. This isn’t easy for a lot of people. For the most part, we all want to see the best in others, and the fact that someone else could possibly view us as a target of opportunity is hard to imagine. The unfortunate truth is that there are predators among us, and unless we can change the way we think, we may look like easy prey without even knowing it.
To better understand predatory behaviors, let’s start by breaking down and categorizing the different types of predators and their basic motivations. In his book, Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected, Sgt. Rory Miller breaks down predators into two groups: resource predators and process predators.
A resource predator is looking for tangible items, be it cash, jewelry, or even your shoes. They’ve decided they need something and they’re going to take it from you. Predators in this category include your basic mugger, pickpocket, or burglar. In some cases, if a resource predator confronts you and you just give them the thing they want, they go away.
Process predators, on the other hand, are much different. Process predators aren’t interested in your watch or wallet; they get off on the act of violence itself. This category of predator includes the likes of rapists and murderers.
Motivations of the two categories of predators can vary, but violent behavior is primarily driven by one of four things: money, ego, territory, and emotion. Let’s take a closer look at each.
- Money: Like it or not, money is a consideration in almost every aspect of our lives. If you want a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and clothes on your back, you’re going to need money, plain and simple. Money is also a consistent factor in the commission of crimes. Some people have plenty of money, but they want more, and they’ll do whatever it takes, legal or illegal, to get it. This is where you get your white-collar criminals who end up in jail for tax evasion, fraud, or embezzlement. In those cases, victims may have lost money, but they were seldom harmed physically. More commonly, it’s the lack of money that drives people to commit irrational acts. Desperation can creep in, and people will go to any length to satisfy their needs. A friend of mine just sat as a juror on a capital murder case where a twenty-five-year-old man murdered his drug dealer over a forty-dollar debt. Most of us can’t even fathom such an act over that amount of money, but money is just the beginning of the problem; the real issue starts when the need for money is fueled by addiction. According to the Bureau of Justice, more than 18 percent of inmates in federal prisons committed their crimes to get money for drugs. In addition, drug addicts committed 26 percent of violent crimes as defined by the UCR. Alcohol, drugs, sex, you name it; if there’s a need for it, you can guarantee that money is what gets it. For some people, when money is unavailable, crime is a reasonable alternative.
- Ego: On the surface, this one seems to be a little less common, but we all have egos; it’s the part of us that feels the need to be special. People will go to extremes to protect that feeling because it feeds their self-image, which can lead them into some pretty dangerous situations. We’ve all seen this play out either on television or in real life. Guy number one at the bar backs up and spills his drink on a lady’s dress. The lady’s boyfriend (guy number two) rushes to her defense and verbally attacks guy number one. Guy number one now has to save face in front of his friends and the other patrons of the bar, so he puffs out his chest and starts talking trash. Guy number two isn’t about to back down in front of his girlfriend, so things escalate and become physical. Both guys end up bloody, broken, and kicked out on the street looking like fools. Overinflated egos often lead to bad decision-making. If you ever find yourself in a predicament where egos are taking over and it looks like confrontation is eminent, it’s best to simply swallow your pride and remove yourself from the situation.
- Territory: Humans are territorial creatures and will fight to protect what they consider to be theirs. An entirely peaceful, law-abiding citizen can become incredibly violent when they feel something within their territory has been threatened. A person’s home is their territory. When a mother takes her children to the park, that area becomes an extension of her territory, and she will protect it viciously from anyone she feels poses a danger to her children. The same goes for criminals. They survey their surroundings and stake claims on everything from street corners to door stoops. They become aggressive and often violent when they feel their territory is being encroached upon. To avoid this, it’s important that you become familiar with the places you frequent and be aware of any areas where your presence may cause problems.
- Emotion: Violence is frequently driven by emotion. From jealous spouses to disgruntled employees and bullied teenagers, violent crimes such as mass shootings are often triggered by emotional responses. The level of emotion attached to religious beliefs has served as the primary influence behind acts of terrorism and the recruitment of others to extremist causes. Emotion is an incredibly powerful force, and it can be very unpredictable. Violence compelled by emotion tends to be excessively punishing.
That's a small sample of the sort of things you can learn from this book. It's all useful stuff, and important in today's world. It's particularly important because the system of justice in many states and cities of our nation has become politicized. Those with certain political views and/or skin colors are likely to be treated a lot more harshly than those with others, and if the "wrong" color or politics is involved in a violent incident - no matter how justified their self-defense may be in terms of the letter of the law - they're likely to face a very vengeful prosecutor, out to prove that "his" or "her" people couldn't possibly be the guilty party(ies).
Given that legal fees may run into the tens of thousands of dollars, plus all the aggravation in having to defend oneself against charges that may be baseless, but will nevertheless be splashed all over the news media, we can see that avoiding this post-conflict conundrum may be even more important than recognizing potential conflict itself, in time to avoid it.