A guide to being situationally aware

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Do you have a friend that always seems prepared for the zombie apocalypse or has their emergency bunker prepared in case of a war with North Korea? They undoubtedly have a plan ready for any emergency, whether it’s knowing how they can use the supplies in their backpacks as weapons or where all the exits are in a building so they can escape safely. They may be a tad bit eccentric, but they probably have a high level of situational awareness. Do you?

Situational awareness, defined

To begin assessing your level of situational awareness, you must first define it. Kelsey De Santis, a former military police canine officer, martial arts instructor trainer in the U.S. Marine Corps. and veteran resource coordinator at NSU, defined situational awareness as being “aware of your surroundings” and having the ability “to adapt to and overcome circumstances that present themselves versus being in shock.”

It is important to be aware of your surroundings since being prepared to react is paramount. De Santis said her worst fear is being aware of a situation, but not being able to do anything about it.

NSU Public Safety Officer Avona Robertson said that some potential threats people should be aware of in their everyday lives are theft, sexual harassment and mental issues with students or staff members. De Santis added that while the probability of terrorist acts may be low, you shouldn’t rule them out.

Why it matters

This article isn’t meant to make you feel unsafe, but the reality is that people can be unstable, natural disasters do occur and crime happens. Any of these can lead to a loss of property or life. Being situationally aware is like having a “spidey-sense” to be able to detect and even predict dangers so that you can respond strategically. Preparing for “the possible things that could happen” is crucial to situational awareness, Robertson said.

Crime statistics for the localized area near NSU, show that crime happens around the surrounding area therefore it is important to be situationally aware. Students can use tools like Crimemapping.com to stay updated with alerts in your area or check your local police departments’ websites for crime statistics.

Honing your skills

So, how can you be more situationally aware? De Santis suggests that you must first gain an understanding of yourself physically and what you’re capable of. As a teacher of martial arts, she believes in being able to protect yourself. The best way to protect yourself is by preventing the situation that would require you to defend yourself in the first place. De Santis provides a few tips for this:

  1. Know your distance: Find the distance you are comfortable with strangers, friends and family. Personally, she likes to keep at least an arm’s-length distance between herself and others since persons can conceal their intent to cause harm until they get closer to you.
  2. Keep a peripheral view: Even if you’re having a conversation, monitor your surroundings for suspicious activity out of the corner of your eye. You can also strategically position yourself in class, at a restaurant or at work so your back isn’t facing the door so you have a good view of the entire surrounding areas.

Situational awareness in cyberspace

But, what about your online environment? Threats can come from many different places and, according to De Santis, a common threat in the United States is cybersecurity. In addition to being aware of your physical surroundings, it benefits you to be aware of your digital presence.

According to De Santis, you can become more situationally aware online by performing a self-analysis. Things to evaluate when doing so are your social media content and how much information you put out into the cyber world. One exercise to evaluate yourself is to look at your online profiles as if you were someone looking to cause harm to you.

Then, create your criteria of private information. Consider the things that you want to keep to yourself. What is personal to you and what is available to the public?  For example, De Santis suggests keeping information like your location private.

In addition to social media, there is also a personal responsibility to maintain your private information, such as your Social Security Number, credit cards and other important documents. This includes requesting a copy of your credit report so you can review it and check for fraud as well as knowing how to freeze your credit card in case it is lost or stolen.

Being situationally aware is important, and enhancing your level of awareness can cause you to be safer and more prepared to help yourself and others. It is a vital skill that can lead you to make more proactive and strategic decisions that contribute to your well-being.

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