Situational awareness and its importance

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Ty Smith MBV Retired Navy SEAL, Founder and CEO Vigilance Risk Solutions

As of October 22nd, 2019 there have been over 340 mass shootings (four or more [shot]) in the United States. As a Retired Navy SEAL Senior Chief  and Founder and CEO of Vigilance Risk Solutions (VRS) I am frequently asked to speak on the importance of situational awareness (SA). Situational awareness is simply being aware of what is going on around you in terms of ‘where you are; where you are supposed to be, and whether anything or anyone around your immediate surroundings could be viewed as a potential threat.’

This past summer, random mass shootings seemed to be breaking news on a daily basis. From an El Paso Walmart shooting where 22 innocent people were killed to the August 4th Dayton, Ohio shooting where nine persons lost their lives, including the gunman’s sister. These two shootings were literally days apart. Because of the apparent randomness of the crimes, the subject of situational awareness (SA) is now at the forefront of breaking news, as it should be.

Ty Smith as a Navy SEAL

Although I’ve been a 100% believer in SA all my life, and especially throughout my military career, which can literally mean life or death, I have never really been asked to put SA into words for the average citizen. Indeed, times have changed and now more than ever having this conversation with loved ones and educating yourself on the importance of SA, can quite literally make the difference between being a victim or being a survivor.

Acknowledging situational awareness is to acknowledge ones’ own innate instinct at the core of our very being. Bear with me; have you ever been in a situation where you could feel the hair on the nape of your neck stand up? That is our survival instinct kicking-in. That feeling you get when something feels off or weird. You start hearing a voice in the back of your head that is warning you to create space between yourself and whatever you are seeing that is creating that warning to begin with.

That voice we often ignore is an innate survival instinct. Animals have it. Humans have it. Some refer to it as ‘fight or flight’ or simply your gut. Some even credit one’s own guardian angels- if you believe in them. However, you choose to describe it, the instincts cited above can sometimes come as soft as a whisper. I’m here to tell you not to ignore those warnings.

This is because though everyone has it, most people simply choose to ignore it. Think about it, how many times have you said to yourself, ‘I knew I should have listened to myself, or, ‘I should’ve gone with my first instinct!’  The biggest reason that situational awareness is so critically important is because it is a self-preservation instinct!  

That voice in the back of your mind, a.k.a., your own, built-in situational awareness is always trying to protect you. It is always speaking to you; ‘Don’t touch that, it’s hot’; ‘Stay away from that guy, he gives me the creeps’ or ‘It looks really dark outside, ask someone to walk with you to your car.’

Now, sit for a minute and look back on all the times you actually heeded those internal warnings and you were somehow spared from a potential threat or close call. SA could equate to the four seconds you took to put your cell phone down and look up to notice a car veering out of control and heading toward the sidewalk that you are walking on; your SA felt it happening prior to you even hearing the screeching of the tires. It’s the voice in your head telling you to cover all the electrical sockets in your home because you have a toddler running around the house.

Personally, SA is a gift that allowed me to move a fire team of my closest friends and former teammates out of an Afghani compound, five minutes prior to an enemy mortar landing right in the center of it. Situational awareness not only saved my life, but the lives of others.

Your situational awareness is always trying to protect you. That’s why it is so very important for teachers to discuss SA with students, parents to discuss with kids and Human Resource executives to discuss with staff and employees. Being aware constantly of your surroundings, whether it be a parking lot late at night, a jogging trail early in the morning or that uneasy feeling when your doorbell rings and you weren’t expecting anyone. Situational awareness was given to us to protect life in all ways, and at all times. That’s the importance of situational awareness. Don’t ignore it.