A basic soft skills/situational awareness class I teach usually runs about 3-4 hours. That is the minimum amount of time to give someone the most basic applicable skill set (tools) he/she can immediately go outside to the real world and use from that moment on. However, sometimes I only get 30-45 minutes to work with LE or military personal. How do you give them a useful tool they can use and develop in such a short amount of time…? So… here is how you can condense it all to a single valuable tool, which is a single question you can play as a game, with two precursor (a mental state and a helping question): What is different here?
(In operational terms: what is the anomaly here? and, it also can be phrased as: what is out of the ordinary here? or, what is unusual here?)
The precursor mindset is “situational awareness active”
The helping precursor question is: what should “this” look like? (or, what is normal for this situation?)
For every situation there is a baseline = how should the environment look like/how should people behave in this environment/situation. We look for anomalies. We look for what is different. This helps cut down the clutter and bring about the important things. What should you do about the anomaly? It depends on your training, skill set, how the situation develops and your obligations (LE, BG, walking around with your little kid etc.). If nothing else, keep monitoring the anomaly and be ready for the situation to develop.
In his book “How to be your own bodyguard” (http://amzn.com/B005Z8L6YG) Nick Hughes talks about a situation in an African country were a FFL personal used to go clubbing after hours. One night there were no taxi cubs around the clubs area – there were always many taxis around that area…. That night there was a bombing intendent for those FFL personal.
In my security days, I was once working a party venue and we were monitoring a person we knew was trouble. Scanning the venue I suddenly grabbed my partner and told him to do a fast approach with me to a different location – he didn’t get why since “trouble” was to the other side and the venue was very uneventful. He still followed me and we got just in time to stop a different guy mid punch. When I called it, he was about 20ft from the guy he was planning to punch. It wasn’t magic and it wasn’t mind reading. His behavior was an anomaly and adding my knowledge of non-verbal communication and training in recognizing pre-activation-intent-cues, we were able to get there to break the fight in the nick of time.
With the mindset of always looking for the anomaly, (playing the game of what is different here?) you are a. developing a lifesaving tool that can always be there for you, and b. can better use the other tools in your skill box. For example, if you are traditionally trained as BG, the eyes-hands cycle can be highly cognitive taxing, and very time costly when you have a big crowd; especially when you have a high-value principal walking in a large crowd. Looking for anomalies allows you to focus the eyes-hands cycle and not lose track of “the big picture”.
When you understand the concept of cognitive uptime/downtime, continuously running a “what is different here subroutine” in the back of your mind will allow you to have a “danger alert signal” even when you are experiencing cognitive downtime. This can be valuable if you work long hours security post/crowd control, or, if you are coming home after a very long day at work or after a very tough workout at the gym. It can literally save your life crossing the street after a long tiring day.
How do you develop this subroutine? Keep playing the “what is different here” game as often as possible – heck, you can play it any time your outside or even watching TV, a movie or YouTube. The more often you play this game the better your situational awareness will get. Then, adding other tools to your skillset box (pre-activation-intent cues, enhanced visual skill, state access/management and non-verbal communication skills, to name a few) will be easier and faster.
Oh yes, one last thing about situational awareness basics: get your head out of your G@dd@mn smartphone.