Situational Awareness Training: How To Be More Observant

With information comes misinformation. Prepping has been around for years, but it has grown in popularity recently thanks to television shows and magazine stories. As a result, more people are aware of how to begin preparing for a disaster. Unfortunately, not everything is accurate.

For example, simply buying gear and wandering into the woods will not make anyone a survivalist, so before you’re forced to make the decision to either stay in place or leave your home following an emergency, you should get to know a few simple facts.

Learn situational awareness

From a domestic point of view, if you’re facing disasters that are threatening your family and home, you will eventually have to make the decision to stay or go, and that choice involves quite a few factors requiring “situational awareness.” Situational awareness simply refers to your knowledge of what you have and how well you’re capable of dealing with the problems and threats around you.

Situational awareness will be easier to understand if you break it down into its three main areas: self-preparedness, surroundings and resources.

  1. Step 1: Self-preparedness

    Being prepared means more than stockpiling gear. It also involves looking at things like your overall health, mobility, skill level, and your capability to physically and mentally cope with the situation at hand. I use the term “self,” but in the case of a family unit, you really have to look at everyone involved as one main entity. Examples of how self-preparedness impacts you are best seen when deciding to leave your home in an emergency. If you bug out, each person must be capable of mobility because your group only moves as quickly as the slowest person. The group also has to be capable of transporting its resources, which can present additional considerations.
    For instance, when transporting by vehicle, you must ask whether yours is capable of transporting the number of people you have, along with the supplies you need to reach minimum safety.
    As any parent who has brought kids on vacation can tell you, the more people and the more stuff to pack, the larger the vehicle and the more time you’ll need before you’re mobile. With the current price of gas being high, it’s common for those in the city to own small, fuel-efficient cars. If you decide to bug out on foot to avoid main roadways and people, be sure each person in your group is capable of carrying enough supplies to help support himself. No nine-year-old child is going to be able to carry his share of clothing and food, and most certainly won’t be able to move quickly while trying.
    So when people start talking about just picking up and fleeing to the wilderness, they must be able to envision a good idea of what it takes.

  2. Step 2: Surroundings

    “Surroundings” does not simply refer to knowing the main routes in and out of your town. It also includes the knowledge of local flood plains and the locations of nearby nuclear plants. For example, in the case of a pandemic, the smart move would be to stay put in order to avoid contact with people. You can expect to have to do this for about two months, when unless otherwise informed, the pandemic should mostly be blown over. If, however, the pandemic has prolonged itself and has become much worse than estimated, it can create secondary problems. For instance, if your house is within fallout distance of a nuclear plant, you must consider whether the pandemic has impacted enough of the community to no longer supply enough staff members to maintain the nuclear plant. Even if you previously thought it was a good idea to stay put, the potential threat of a new problem could mean you should re-evaluate.

  3. Step 3: Resources

    When many people think of “resources,” they picture their gear, but there’s more to it than that. This term also applies to your social network and your financial capabilities. Not every disaster you anticipate is the end of the world—sometimes it simply can be a localized issue such as a hurricane. Granted, hurricanes impact large areas and the weather effects from them can be widespread. In the case of a hurricane, however, you usually get enough advanced warning that you can make a decision on what you are going to do. If you decide to stay and hunker down, you have to consider whether you can afford to fortify the house and whether you have the supplies and manpower to do so. If you plan to bug out instead, check whether you have enough funds to fuel the vehicle and if you have people to stay with outside of the affected area.

Properly prepare

As these examples illustrate, there’s a lot to situational awareness, and if used properly, it can allow you to prepare for any disaster that comes your way. It’s not enough to simply make a rigid plan. Instead, paraphrasing the teachings of Bruce Lee, be the water that fills the cup—powerful, yet able to conform and change to any vessel.

Beware of secondary threats

Being aware of your surroundings can ensure that you’re aware of not only primary threats, but also of secondary issues. For instance, in the province of Quebec in July of 1996, a tropical storm settled over the Saguenay region and dropped a large amount of rain on the area. The initial floods were the primary threat, but what happened afterward with the failure of various dams and dykes claimed many more lives. The possible failure of the dams after a large rainfall or an earthquake would be considered a potential secondary threat that must be calculated in your decision-making when determining how you’d react to a threat.

Disaster strategy 101

Chess and disasters. Here’s the connection.When I was in high school, I was a competitive chess player, and the first lesson my coach taught me was to be totally aware of the fact you’re not playing this game alone—there’s someone else sitting across the board from you.

You might wonder how this plays into emergency planning. Simply put, it means you’re better off learning how to handle what may come your way than planning for specific events. This strategy will allow you to deal with whatever emergency arises instead of being surprised by one you did not foresee.

Know your gear

Preparations You Must Take Before Disaster Hits

Using situational awareness means that your preparations have to be flexible enough to meet the demands of any plan of action. Owning the right gear is part of the battle, but having it organized is the other part. It’s not enough to go out and buy supplies and gear, and just throw them in the corner to await an emergency. You must familiarize yourself with their uses and operations. A good example is the use of a water filtration system.

Before you actually need it, take it for a test run to make sure everyone in the family knows how it works. If everyone knows how to use each piece of gear, then the burden doesn’t rest on one person’s shoulders and the group itself becomes more capable.

When it comes to your food supply, the key is to organize it into two groups: bug-out supplies and household.Bug-out supplies have lighter packaging and should be more compact, making them easy to transport. If, however, you fort up at home, you can still use those supplies anyway. The same concept should be used to keep your gear organized into travel supplies vs. fortifying supplies.

Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the 2013 print issue of American Survival Guide.