Category Archives: Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness

Holiday Season Situational Awareness


A criminal wants one or more of three things: your property, your body or your life. Being careless with any of these things will make you a more attractive target to criminals- aka a soft target. The holiday shopping has the potential to overwhelm anyone, but there are things we can all keep in mind to make ourselves hard targets to avoid becoming a victim. Make sure you don’t just read this but also remind your loved ones about these simple tips.

From a recent Edwards AFB memo:

  • Keep your doors and windows locked (both car and home)
  • Before you leave the safety of your vehicle survey the parking lot- is something suspicious? Trust your instincts- if something doesn’t look or feel right it probably isn’t– avoid it.
  • Park in well-lit areas: criminals prefer darkness to conceal their activities 
  • Stay off your cell phone while walking to and from your vehicle- stay aware of your surroundings
Some other things you can do to make yourself a hard target include:
Stay aware of your surroundings- remember that if you don’t act like a victim it can go a long way to help you avoid criminal interest.

Practice Drill: Sharpening your Orient skills

In some ways the Orient stage is simply “determine what it (i.e. feedback from your environment) means to me and what can I do about it?”

This is a fast paced drill that requires you to process feedback and determine shoot/no shoot. Investing time in this as an add-on to training will help you run the loop faster – that extra decision cycle can be the edge you need to avoid trouble.

Get some targets like one above (for example a Rockwell RTG1). Or draw shapes and numbers on targets you already have- the colors add a third characteristic but you can run this drill without colors if you want. I recommend doing at least 12-15 rounds of this drill or as many reps as you need to about 50 total rounds in a session.

  • Begin with your pistol holstered, hands at your sides
  • Have someone add two random numbers and shapes off the target and call out the answer – like 'Yellow or 13!' or 'Triangle 9!'
  • Before you can draw you must determine that you can add numbers on the target to match the number and characteristics called out
  • Any qualified targets called get a healthy double tap
  • Using a shot timer is up to you but it will help you track your progress

So if 'Yellow or 14' is called you must double tap the 9, 5, 6, 8, 7 and 2 (you may choose to limit this to the first two pairs you can add). If 'Triangle 9' is called you can only double tap the triangle 9.

If the call is something not on the target (like '8 Red') you Fail even if you draw. Remember this is about your Orientation phase – training your neuromuscular pathways to analyze the environment to identify the threat before you react.

The key elements of this drill are:

  • Requires us to process the new feedback – in this case the target thats randomly identified
  • Threat must be identified (and is difficult to predict) before you can draw
  • When a threat is recognized we follow through with live fire (iow a complete execution of that OODA loop decision)


Applied OODA with a little help from First Person Defender

Warning: the video featured in today's post exceeds my typical limit of 6:00 for videos. However you only need to watch a couple minutes of it. Eric at the Gunmart Blog does a handy job covering his takeaways on this force-on-force training video, complete with Simunition, from First Person Defender. For context on the rest of this post watch the embedded video starting at 4:15 up to about 6:00.

You may want to go back and watch the beginning again because it happens in a fast and chaotic manner (like real life)- about 7 seconds into the scenario- quite a bit has happened already. The companion of the student performed an OODA loop that went something like this in the first 3-5 seconds:

  • Observe: bad guy with a gun
  • Orient: serious trouble! that guy just shot two rounds into the ceiling
  • Decide: better defend us before its too late
  • Act: draw- fire (get shot by bad guy)

And that was all before the student even drew his revolver and entered the gunfight with the bad guy. The student goes through a similar OODA loop although he wins the added stress of adding something like “oh shit- my buddy just lost a gunfight!” to his Orient stage. At that point I bet nearly every student follows suit and engages in a gun battle they can't win. Let's try to learn from this scenario so we can avoid living it.


I don't blame the guy with the revolver- many people are guilty of training to do exacty what we saw: identify threat, present weapon, engage threat. The problem with this OODA loop is the breakdown that occurs in the Orient phase.


The bad guy wants to do what? Oh, he wants to rob the place- either customers, the store safe or both. Trying to draw and fire against an opponent who already has a gun pointed at you is impossible to win. While is correct (and natural) to think that serious trouble is underfoot there was not an immediate need to engage in a losing effort.

Wouldn't it make more sense to leverage one of the best tools in the concealed carrier's toolbox? Yes- surprise!! Don't identify yourself as a threat to the bad guy when you don't have to-it's extremely likely that an opportunity to stop the bad guy will present itself.

Executing your tactical mindset fast enough to make that decision isn't easy. Watch this space for tips on how to sharpen your skills so you can make the right decision.


Learnings from the Westgate Mall tragedy

The terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya was a horrific tragedy. What can we learn from this and what can we rehearse/ train for to help us out in the unlikely but sadly I fear inevitable case that this happens in the US? One thing people SHOULD learn is how much help a good guy with a gun can be…but this article is about how to apply a tactical mindset to survive a horrific event like this.

  • Get off the X. Move your self and your companions right away! Your priorities should be to find cover or concealment as quickly as possible- react and think on the move. Cover is always preferred but if you have to conceal yourselves and then assess a path to cover it's better than nothing.
  • Drawing your weapon is up to you (you are carrying, aren't you??). While your instinct may be to break leather, the moment that happens you risk positively identifying yourself as a threat to the bad guys. Be certain before you draw. And if you do have to use your sidearm remember to reholster.
  • One thing you may not realize about shopping malls- many stores have a back room that leads to a back door typically used for deliveries. At a minimum these are good places to get out of sight and it just might pay off as a way to discretely exit the building to safety.
  • Avoid the Fatal Funnel: don't take doorways for granted- ever.
  • Observe-Orient-Decide-Act. This is a critical mindset- effectively processing information about your environment could make all the difference between getting yourself and your loved ones out an exit or running your group into a dead-end (hopefully not a literal one).

You may have to assess the threat or threats to choose an appropriate course of action. Is this the typical lone gunman type or have you observed evidence of a coordinated team of attackers? That answer could weigh heavily on your decision: in many cases there may be opportunities to confront a 'lone gunman' type of attacker and stop them. It's always important to keep Cooper's Laws of safety in mind though- for example what's behind your target?

As with most things, practice can make execution of these techniques much more effective in the unfortunate event they are required. Rehearse as much as you can- take the family to the mall and walk everyone through some scenarios. Also be sure to ask your loved ones questions to ensure they are applying the mindset and prioritization of how to react.

Maintain reaction space

Applied situational awareness includes managing contact with people you don't know. You have to pay attention to the space around you and maintain it. That space can keep you out of the other person's reach and also give you time to react.

Combine the tips demonstrated above with the palms-out hand fence and an orbit move and you will likely deter most bad guys because you're not acting like a victim.


Stop this clip halfway through and quiz yourself

This is an excellent situational awareness lesson and they do it in under 3 minutes. Stop the video after the first segment and ask yourself what you would do in that situation- part of strong situational awareness skills entails quick adaptation in stressful situations.

The scenario used here is an extremely stressful situation – more stressful than a typical DGU in the US – (DGU: those 1.2-2 million times per year that law-abiding citizens use firearms to defend themselves and their loved ones). However the extreme nature of the scenario is a reminder that with practice you can make the right decisions in any situation. Remember that OODA ends with Action.


Situational Awareness: The orbit move

Situational Awareness is a term used so often in the growing concealed carry community across America- but what exactly does this mean after you pass any required tests or certs and go on with your life?

More importantly, what is a basic framework that isn't a 30-step process (that most people won't memorize anyway)? Dangerous situations won't give you extra time for enough OODA flops to sort this out on your own through trial and error.

In the simplest of terms situational awareness is one layer of defense you can use to make yourself a less attractive target to a criminal (aka a predator). The value of this technique is that it signals that you are not going to be surprised as easily as someone oblivious to their surroundings. Task fixation in public places is just a bad idea. The central concept of situational awareness is “Do not make yourself a soft target (aka an easy mark)”- the idea is the same whether you're a US Marine in a hostile area or a stateside college student walking home from the library at night.

So what can you do if you are aware that an unknown contact is approaching because they already have started closing the distance between you?

  • Use your Fence Technique : put both hands out in front of you in a nonthreatening manner and tell the unknown you cannot help them. This motion tends to make people pause or even stop. It also places you in a better defensive position: now your hands are up between you and the unknown contact, who I will now refer to as a threat.
  • Now that you have bought yourself a second its time to move in a way that benefits you. Now move in a way that allows you to begin to orbit the threat while maintaining a safe distance. If you can, try to remain squared up to the threat and take one step to your 3 o'clock followed by another (if not, the main goal is to 'get off the X'). Now you can see what is/was behind you and without taking your focus off the threat.

Victims don't typically behave like this. The unexpected movement should disrupt any imminent ambush since now you can see what was behind you and you have assumed a flanking position to the threat.

No matter what happens from this point on in the encounter you now have made yourself an even less attractive target for any threat because you are not only aware but you also don't act like a victim.

Congratulations- you have just added a new technique to your framework.


Defensive Training Tip: Avoid the Fatal Funnel

Rich Graham elegantly breaks down door opening procedures and the infamous Fatal Funnel. Watch for the bonus Tactical Reload reinforcement at about 4:00. Other thoughts/ complimentary notes:

  • The way Rich demonstrates with his pistol at slidelock is great- it's a good safety idea for anyone demonstrating tactical movement like this
  • If you were going to approach a closed door with a flashlight and weapon occupying your hands- be sure to use the flashlight hand to turn that doorknob
  • You should be conscious of your OODA loop as you slice the pie – each step is an Observe input
  • More info on slicing the pie here (skip right to the 'Corners' section)


Concealed Carry Body Language

Rich Graham handily demonstrates some of the tells you can observe that indicate impending trouble. Some of these signals are also this to practice not doing when you carry. This doesn't happen overnight – like most skills it takes practice.

Speaking of practice how often do you practice drawing from concealed and firing? Train your neuromuscular pathways- sharper instincts could make a difference when seconds count.

Situational Awareness: The 4 inputs

As Dave Harrington deftly pints out, a key element of situational awareness is that 'Everything Matters, Everything is important.' If something seems wrong, don't ignore it- Orient and Decide as quickly as possible. How can you tell if something is (or may be) wrong? One way is to stay in tune with the 4 types of input you receive from your surroundings: