What Should I Do?

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Developing Situational Awareness

Playing the "keep in memory" (KIMs) game
Monday, March 10, 2014, 11:15 AM

One of the most important aspects of surviving emergencies is your ability to be aware of your surroundings. This is ubiquitously referred to as “Situational Awareness” and is often just referred to as “SA”. Situational awareness is a peculiarity amongst those who prepare – it is both a skill and experience. It has to be developed, like any skill, but the more often you find yourself in dicey scenarios, the more likely you are to pick up on subtleties that are out of place, or inconsistent with the surrounding environment.

As situational awareness applies to the environment, there is a simple way to test yourself, provided you have at least one friend. It’s a game called “KIMs”, also known as “keep in memory”. In order to be effective, you’ve got to play KIMs randomly and try and surprise your friend with an SA test.

The game itself goes something like this:

Have your friend stop what they’re doing, and present them with a series of questions.

  1. What color are the walls? Are there windows?
     
  2. How is the furniture organized? What is its color?
     
  3. Describe any art you saw.
     
  4. Describe any people you saw. What were they wearing? Their approximate ages, genders, races and such?
     
  5. Where were the exits? Entrances? Stairwells?
     
  6. Where were the resources? (First Aid Kits, AEDs, snack machines, refrigerators, fire axes – whatever)
     
  7. Was there security? How were they outfitted? Armed? With what? (and what type of what – if you can ID specific types of weapons or nuances about uniforms – more better)

KIMs is one of the first steps to developing situational awareness, and is a constant benefit to you. As you develop your sense of tactical thinking, you’ll find that the placement of dangerous areas is consistent throughout buildings and in various architectures’. Placement of resources is common, and you’ll find that most buildings have various entrances and exits that are not public, and can be thought as you move through a given environment. You’ll start seeing potential choke points, spots where secondary injuries will occur (and you might recognize where Type I emergencies will strike within a Type II). When you seat yourself, begin by find a spot that is tactically advantageous; if you don’t fully understand what that means yet – that’s ok – the idea is that you will.

Think of it this way – What position gives you the broadest set of advantages (visual, spatial, escape, avoidance of dangerous areas such as corridors and stairwells) and covers the broadest set of emergencies, such as fires, outages, earthquakes or active shooter situations?

Developing your situational awareness skill set will not only bring you better insights in the present moment, but will also help you assess resources and hazards in your everyday surroundings and community.  With these insights you can take actions to improve the situation and increase your resilience in various scenarios.

So I invite you to begin developing SA and find a friend or group to start challenging each other to seeing the world around you in a whole new light.  Share your insights and experiences in the comments below.

~ Aaron Moyer
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14 Comments

sand_puppy's picture
sand_puppy
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2011
Posts: 1758
Not Day Dreaming

What a great idea, Aaron.

I guess the first step for us introverted types is to come out of our imaginary inner world and attend to the real physical world of the moment.  :-)

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
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Posts: 2367
Day dreamin'

You know, there's a fine line between being a bit of a day dreamer, and opening yourself up for victimization. In general, the public is not that dangerous. Just like driving your car. More often than not, you can get away without paying attention to the minutia. 

 But it's really easy to get in the habit of just being in a daze. We live in a world of over-stimulation and distractions, so when you get used to tuning out, it becomes a habit pretty easily. 

Those are the habits that create problems when you need to rely on your ability to rapidly orient yourself to situations (See the OODA Loop, talked on extensively in the "Understanding Emergencies" series) and a failure to recognize the little things is what crooks bank on.

In short, People who are oblivious, are obvious.

Glad you enjoyed it, and I'd be glad to hear peoples' experiences, should they decide to try this.

Cheers,

Aaron

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1982
SA in NYC, and now

Although my SA started when I was working in fast food management, of all things it started with looking for cigarette butts in the parking lots!, it has evolved over time. I had to develop intense situational awareness working in NY City on construction sites. It was not only needed in new neighborhoods, of which there were many--one for each new job. Some of these neighborhoods were pretty dangerous. I also needed it to inspect inside buildings under construction. The person who is making sure there is no break in the fall protection railings had better be aware enough of their surroundings. The person who is looking for trip hazards is less likely to trip. And yeah, you notice patterns. (Don't even get me started on SA in driving situations in NYC traffic.)

Nowadays, with my CCP, I've added a layer of cover the exits and entrances, line-of-sight, and covering positions. It does get to be a habit.

Phaedrus the younger's picture
Phaedrus the younger
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Posts: 64
quick tip - nice!

Thanks Aaron, good practical tips.   I find it's a big advantage to watch other drivers around you and predict what you think they may do.  Often they tip their intentions with subtle clues (and that's not using their signals!).   Also, looking well down the road instead of the bumper in front of you is a big advantage in driving and can be a good metaphor for non-driving SA.

 

thc0655's picture
thc0655
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Posts: 1513
Be like Bourne

Be like Bourne: wink

Mackay's picture
Mackay
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Posts: 17
Great topic. Your post got me

Great topic.

Your post got me to thinking. As a journalist, I covered wars, riots and social strife for more than a decade. I spent a lot of time in pitched battles, riots or just plain freaky places. Unlike a soldier, I carried no gun. Situational awareness was everything.

The most important factor in survival, by far, was learning to read people. If I had to create seven points for the above game, six of them would relate to people.

When I started covering wars, I had as a mentor a photographer who had been living and working in war zones pretty much non-stop for 17 years at the time. I watched his behavior very closely and emulated it to survive. The key to survival related to reading people, almost always.

I learned to tell when trouble will likely arise by watching people. And, as important, studying human behavior in violent situations taught me when to override my own instincts. Sometimes, neither fight nor flight are options.

For example, I found myself in groups of hostile people many, many times over the years. Soldiers post-battle, rioters mid-riot, gang members, etc. There is a clear pattern of behavior that will help to increase your safety in those situations. It mostly has to do with confidence.

When suddenly in a dangerous crowd situation, I would often directly approach the baddest mofo there. Or maybe an obvious leader. Somebody who commands fear and/or respect from the crowd. This is often counter-intuitive because you might be approaching the guy who you think is most likely to kill or maim you among the whole crowd. Figuring out who this respected/feared guy is requires situational awareness. You can't tell so much by watching him - you can tell more by watching how others react to him.

I would always try to figure out who this person was and, when needed, I could go into action. It usually involved something like walking straight up to him and saying something neutral to very slightly aggressive like "Dude. I'm leaving my car there" or "Hey. You in charge?" I would approach with maybe the slightest hint of hostility - perhaps with a finger pointed at him and my head held slightly up, looking a bit down on him. Do NOT be overtly friendly in a situation like that or you could die. Not sure if I need to say that open hostility will get you killed too.

After years of reading crowds like that, it almost seemed like magic. You can see problems arising before they occur and you can get away with behavior that most people imagine will get you killed. As a matter of fact, you can survive precisely because of that type of behavior.

Anyway, definitely a good topic to explore.

badScooter's picture
badScooter
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Posts: 152
yup

I've played a similar "game" with my son for many years - he's 12 now.  I'd say something like "pop-pop-pop, from around that corner" in the shopping mall or wherever, and he'd point at the nearest concealment/cover/exit.  After the latest school shooting a year or so ago, it came home to him what I was doing, and that, in Col. Cooper's own words, "realize ahead of time that it really CAN happen to YOU."

It is very true that for most of us, the vast majority of time our environment is a very safe place from random violence.  Until it isn't.

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
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Posts: 3936
Curtains

I cannot sit in a room with the curtains drawn open at night. I feel much safer riding my bicycle noiselessly in the dark without lights. I love the dark.

Real pros never make eye contact with when they are talking- they are looking over your shoulder for surprises. It is common courtesy to reciprocate. They also talk barely above a whisper.

When it gets Bad- don't use the roads. On no account use a vehicle. Sleep during the day and move at night. When you are moving you are vulnerable- you are at a disadvantage. Moving objects stand out.. Always do a 360 around your sleeping position, before settling in. Never make a fire. Do not smoke-it stinks- dead give-away. Do not use soap or chemicals. The top of your tent must be no more than a foot above the ground. Always wake before dawn in the dark. Just lie there cuddling your cold steel weapon. Dawn is a favorite time to attack. Forget modesty- always have someone standing guard when you do your ablutions. Getting your throat cut with your pants down around your ankles is not a dignified exit.

Getting water is particularly problematical. Ask any gazelle.

Never, ever feel sorry for yourself. Especially if it is raining and you are tired, cold and hungry. You are especially vulnerable at that time. It will be difficult not to be attracted to the warm glow of domesticated bliss. Those little lights twinkling in the darkness are lethal.

You will lose the use of one hand- It will be carrying your weapon. Your weapon will never be more than a meter from you. You will practice IA's until you are bored to tears. (IA=Instantaneous Actions) 

Eventually when they take your weapon away from you, you will feel as naked as a Jay Bird. And you will never be the same again.

Those are the basics.

HughK's picture
HughK
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Joined: Mar 6 2012
Posts: 760
A great thread, and The Road
Arthur Robey wrote:

When it gets Bad- don't use the roads. On no account use a vehicle. Sleep during the day and move at night. When you are moving you are vulnerable- you are at a disadvantage. Moving objects stand out.. Always do a 360 around your sleeping position, before settling in. Never make a fire. Do not smoke-it stinks- dead give-away. Do not use soap or chemicals. The top of your tent must be no more than a foot above the ground. Always wake before dawn in the dark. Just lie there cuddling your cold steel weapon. Dawn is a favorite time to attack. Forget modesty- always have someone standing guard when you do your ablutions. Getting your throat cut with your pants down around your ankles is not a dignified exit.

Getting water is particularly problematical. Ask any gazelle.

Never, ever feel sorry for yourself. Especially if it is raining and you are tired, cold and hungry. You are especially vulnerable at that time. It will be difficult not to be attracted to the warm glow of domesticated bliss. Those little lights twinkling in the darkness are lethal.

You will lose the use of one hand- It will be carrying your weapon. Your weapon will never be more than a meter from you.

Aaron,

Thanks a lot for this thread.  It's fascinating to consider different levels and ways of awareness, and as someone with little experience with or inclination towards guns, I appreciate the many suggestions on avoiding or altering dangerous interactions without the use of weapons.  

It may be that a time comes when only people who carry and understand how to use guns will survive, and, for a variety of reasons, I'm at peace with the fact that I would not be a survivor in that case.  After all, there are many things that cannot be destroyed by weapons, and very few things that can be built with them.

Arthur, I appreciate your post, as well as the advantages of pedaling, paddling, swimming, or walking, in the dark.  The part quoted above reminds me of Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  

Most of my situational awareness was formed in the context of negotiating whitewater rivers, which is a very different environment than human threat matrices.  The nineties were good to me, so no complaints.  Some days I am attached to ensuring that my genetic line will make it through the coming bottleneck, and other days I think that so much of this is beyond my control that there's little need to struggle.  In any case, our smiles and our kindnesses will reverberate through the cosmos for longer than all of bombs of the apocalypse.  Or not.  But, sometimes belief is more heartening than calculating the probabilities.  

As Han Solo once said, "Never tell me the odds!"

Cheers,

Hugh

 

 

FreeNL's picture
FreeNL
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Posts: 112
my situational awareness

my situational awareness started when i realized that i married the devil. 

 

  

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
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Joined: Oct 22 2008
Posts: 2367
Street Smarts and Survival

Mackay,
You said:
"After years of reading crowds like that, it almost seemed like magic. You can see problems arising before they occur and you can get away with behavior that most people imagine will get you killed. As a matter of fact, you can survive precisely because of that type of behavior." 

And I couldn't agree more. This is the goal with these exercises. Situational Awareness is a a buzzword within a certain community. It could more commonly be described as "Street Smarts". It just means being able to read people and situations well enough to head off problems. These kinds of skills have to be cultivated, like any other, and I'm grateful for your sharing your experiences on how you've built up your street smarts.

HughK,
You said:
"It's fascinating to consider different levels and ways of awareness, and as someone with little experience with or inclination towards guns, I appreciate the many suggestions on avoiding or altering dangerous interactions without the use of weapons."

I believe that these types of things are well over 95% of your day interactions, and that weapons are like having 4-wheel drive - it's to get you out of trouble, not into it. Managing situations is far more important than acting out some John Woo fantasy, and in most cases, being able to judge the situation is both the first step, and half the battle.

You said:
"It may be that a time comes when only people who carry and understand how to use guns will survive, and, for a variety of reasons, I'm at peace with the fact that I would not be a survivor in that case. "

I don't believe this will be true. There has never been a point in history where people who were unskilled in weaponry were selected by Natural Selection. Learn other skills that make you valuable, and find good people. Arms are not a nearly the devil they're made out to be. It's the men who wield them.

Cheers,

Aaron

Poet's picture
Poet
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1891
Play The "Keeping In Memory" Game with Your Kids

Thanks, Aaron! I think this KIM exercise is going to be a great game that I am going to play with my kids.

Poet

thatchmo's picture
thatchmo
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Posts: 432
tunnel vision

Have we shared this before in these threads?  On Situational Awareness.  Aloha, Steve.

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Joined: Apr 13 2008
Posts: 2237
Powerful lesson

Hey Thatchmo-

   I went to a workshop where this was shown, and totally did the tunnel-vision thing.  To say that I was shocked by the results would not be an understatement!  I was blown away by just how laser-focused our ' attention can be on one thing, at the expense of other things going on in the environment. I would have never believed it if I hadn't gone through the exercise myself.

   That lesson stays with me, and comes to mind frequently when I start to get very focused on something...am I doing it at the exclusion of seeing something else? 

   Thanks for sharing!

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