Situational awareness in a new environment.
Updated: May 16
By Marcus Aupuni
Situational awareness is an absolute necessity in a hostile environment. It enables you to anticipate threats, but is it necessary in environments less than hostile? Benign environments? What constitutes a benign environment for you? Is it that there is no open threat to you or your personnel? Hostile environments dictate that there is a threat of some measure capable of killing you or causing you some serious pain and suffering. Now if you already know what I’m about to say, you’re already one step ahead of the curve, but if you don’t, then this is something you need to know: Any environment can present situations that are capable of killing you or causing you some serious pain and suffering. In your home city, this risk might be greatly reduced; but why? Because you might be familiar with the atmosphere, you might know what to avoid where and at what time, you might understand the energy, you might know what is normal and what isn’t. It’s your environment, and you’re aware of the situation on a level that separates you from outsiders. However, local or outsider, you can always increase your situational awareness. But if you are an outsider, you have your work cut out for you. You are not going to gain the situational awareness of a local overnight, not (or) even in a couple of weeks, but you can do enough to understand your environment in a manner that will provide you with your first line of protection.
New environments abroad.
New environments bring with them something special, a kind of energy that naturally boosts your own, an excitement that makes you forget about your jet lag for a while; new things to see and do. New environments abroad also bring with them a string of challenges that you may or may not be aware of initially, however; it doesn’t take long for you to realize this. When you enter a new environment, you lack basic knowledge of this environment at the ground level. This is what begins to separate you from the locals. What might fly at home might not fly in a new environment, however this doesn’t stop people from conducting themselves as if they are home. Different people, different languages, different food, different social dynamics, different cultural norms, different climate, different time zones, the list goes on; and very quickly it becomes clear how much you need to understand about your new environment to attain awareness.
Use your most valuable tools.
So what are your most valuable tools to gain situational awareness in a new environment? Your senses! And yes, common sense is included in this. But do yourself a favor and give yourself a head start. Common sense dictates that you learn about the new environment you’re heading to before you go there! Do your research. Learn the lay of the land, learn about the people that occupy the land, learn about the food there, learn about the culture, learn about what’s acceptable and what isn’t; this is the start. If you at least understand these things, then you’re off to a good start. Now you might be saying to yourself, “Well of course I’m going to use my senses, how can I not?”, and you’d be right; but that’s not exactly what I mean. The manner in which you process information is the key to gaining situational awareness. What are you telling yourself that you are seeing or hearing? If you are to only ask yourself one question, make it “why?”. But if you want to be a little more thorough, make it the following questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Ask these questions of the things that you see and hear regularly, and you’ll start to do it on a level where you don’t even realize you’re doing it; in a faster and faster manner. This is you organizing and processing incoming information about the environment that surrounds you. This is you using your most valuable tools in a more efficient manner.
Take your time.
Take your time my friend. Sit and watch the world go by in your new environment. Post up at a seat in a café, take a seat at a park, pick an observation point and watch how the locals conduct themselves, how people interact with each other, what they are wearing, their gestures, how the locals observe each other. Sit and observe for long enough, and you’ll begin to develop a sense of the atmospherics of that area; but understand that these are the atmospherics of the area you are currently situated and shouldn’t be taken as indicative of every area. This will ensure you are not complacent in your processing of information within your new environment. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘atmospherics’ as it relates to situational awareness, it is referring to the ‘feel’ of an environment, its energy and vibes, the rhythm and flow of the area; and helps you gain an understanding of what is the norm in that environment.
The absence of the normal …
If you have occupied and observed your environment for long enough, you will get a feel for what the pattern of daily life is and understand what is normal daily activity. It is at this stage that you will be able to recognize two critical shifts in atmospherics and daily pattern of life: The Absence of the Normal and the Presence of the Abnormal. The classic example of this in a military sense is the following: every Tuesday, there’s a big market on from morning to mid-afternoon, before locals pack up and go home. The locals tolerate your presence and welcome the money that you spend in the market. However on one Tuesday that your patrol is rolling through, there is nobody in sight, except for what appeared to be a local, who is running down an alley after seeing you. The absence of the normal: the market is not on today. The presence of the abnormal: the local fleeing at the sight of you. I’ll leave it to you what might be happening next, however this a very obvious example. In new environments that are not hostile, the absence of the normal and the presence of the abnormal can be a lot more subtle, but if you’ve spent the time observing your new environment and gaining situational awareness, these will start to become feelings; the “something is not quite right” kind of feeling.
Relax and become situationally aware.
Now don’t think you’re on some military operation where you have to act all super-serious to gain situational awareness, people will think you’re weird … Relax, enjoy yourself, and be mindful of how you process the incoming information. Take your time and observe your new surrounds. Do these things and you will gain your situational awareness of your new environment. Situational awareness forms your first layer of protection while you are in an environment old or new. This layer of protection is enhanced by training to implement countermeasures for various scenarios, however if this is new to you; this is a great place to start.
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