Before we dive in, I want you to ask yourself these questions:
When you’re walking down the street, do you avoid making eye contact with the people walking past you?
When you’re at the mall, are you blissfully unaware of your fellow shoppers because your head is buried in your phone?
Do you concentrate so hard on where you’re going that your peripheral vision blurs?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. It’s likely that this is the base state of living for 95% of the U.S. population. Generally speaking, there’s nothing explicitly wrong with being relatively unaware of your surroundings. However, if you’re considering carrying a concealed weapon, this is a state of being that you cannot afford to be in. Developing situational awareness needs to be one of your top priorities… you owe it to your family, your fellow Americans, and yourself to always be aware of your surroundings.
Situational awareness is the conscious perception and analysis of your environment, the people surrounding you, and what those people are doing. Actively taking in your surroundings allows you to recognize the need for action as it arises, and when you think about it, this is the reason we all carry to begin with. If you don’t analyze your surroundings, you can’t possibly recognize the need to use force. If you don’t recognize the need to use force, that sidearm on your waist isn’t going to be useful in any situation.
Tips For Increasing Your Ability To Be Situationally Aware
Strategically Positioning Yourself
This is a very simple concept, but it’s one of the first things you learn when carrying a concealed weapon. Our eyes are capable of perceiving a limited amount of space. Our horizontal field of vision is only about 135°. That means that there’s about 225° of space we cannot keep track of at any given moment. That 225° provides potential attackers a large amount of space they can ambush you from. Thankfully, there’s a very easy way to mitigate this vulnerability: strategically positioning yourself.
If you’re sitting down in the middle of a restaurant or even a movie theater, you’re exposing yourself to potential threats that you’ll never see coming. Placing yourself against a wall, or even near the corner of a room, effectively reduces the amount of space potential threat actors can use to approach you.
Strategically positioning yourself also provides you with better opportunities to observe your environment. You’re actively increasing the amount of space you watch at any given moment, which allows you to keep better track of what’s going on in the area. Even if you’re in a space where you can’t carry your firearm, you’ll be aware of potential threats you otherwise might not have seen coming. So next time you’re out and about, put yourself in an optimal position to observe your surroundings.
Remove Your Distractions
It’s quite literally impossible to be situationally aware when you are distracted, and people in our modern society are more likely to be distracted than any group of people prior. Why? Because every waking moment we have access to the most distracting devices known to mankind: our cell phones. We’ve all seen videos of people walking into light polls while wistfully staring down at their phones. This is indicative of the distractive nature of our electronics.
If you’re truly invested in defending yourself and others from harm, putting away your phone, your smartwatch, or whatever other distraction you might be carrying on your person shouldn’t be a huge problem. You can’t effectively observe your surroundings and identify potential threats if your head is buried in your phone, so putting it away is only going to increase your capability to practice situational awareness.
Mental Systems For Situational Awareness And Taking Action
Coopers Color Code
The mental preparedness color code was originally created by the late Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper. Often called Cooper’s Colors, this system consists of four different levels of preparedness when faced with a dangerous threat: white, yellow, orange, and red.
Condition white is described as a state of being where an individual is unaware of his or her surroundings and is unprepared for an attack. In condition white, a person carries out their day using the same routine without a second thought. They aren’t looking for potential threats, and they are cognizant that danger could be lurking right around the corner. As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, the vast majority of the population lives their life in condition white.
This condition is described as being relaxed and alert. Not only is this a good mental condition to be in all the time, but it’s the condition you need to operate in while you’re carrying a concealed firearm. You notice the people around you, you know what’s going on behind you, and people can tell you are paying attention. When condition yellow serves as your baseline mental condition, you won’t be caught off guard when danger presents itself. This is the state of being prepared to take action should the need arise.
When you identify a potential threat, there should be a mental shift from yellow to orange. When you enter condition orange, you recognize that you may have to act in order to protect yourself or others from a threat actor. You’ve identified someone or something that could put you in danger, and you’re prepared to take action should a threat materialize. Condition orange is really just a heightened version of condition yellow. You still need to be aware of everything else going on around you, but you’ve singled out one or more potential threats nearby. When you enter condition orange, things will either escalate to condition red when the identified individual makes a threat, or the situation will deescalate and you can return to condition yellow.
You enter condition red once an identified threat attempts to commit a violent act. You know you must act in order to stay alive once the prerequisites for this condition have been met. It is our hope that you never find yourself in a situation where taking action is necessary. However, if you’re mentally prepared for it, you’ll be able to act quickly and decisively to disrupt a dangerous situation before you or those around you come to harm.
Cooper’s Color Code doesn’t only apply when you’re carrying a firearm, and your firearm isn’t the only means of taking action either. It’s simply doing whatever is necessary to defuse a dangerous situation. For instance, if you’re at an airport and you’re practicing situation awareness, you might notice that someone set down their baggage and walked away. This is cause for concern and it constitutes a potential threat. If the person doesn’t turn around to retrieve their baggage, the appropriate action is to report the event to airport staff immediately.
The OODA Loop
Originally created by the late Air Force Colonel John Boyd, the U.S. Army College gives a great explanation of the OODA loop. The OODA loop is a mental strategy designed to help you counter your adversary’s intended actions before they can counter yours. It’s about being the winner of any given contest. While originally designed for military operations, the OODA loop is a process you can implement into your own life once you’ve increased your capability for situational awareness. By mastering the OODA loop, you can continuously adapt to rapidly changing environments.
Beginning the OODA loop is directly impacted by your situational awareness. Your environment is always changing, and using all of your senses to make quick observations about what is going on around you is the first step to situational awareness. Look at how people are behaving and what they’re saying. Even a smell can tip you off to a situation that could go south.
Orienting involves making sense of what you’re observing. This step essentially boils down to identifying behavioral cues and determining if they make sense within a given context. There are innumerable cues that you could pick up on, and knowing what constitutes “normal” activities in any given context allows you to fully understand what’s going on around you. Your interpretation of these cues will be influenced by your background, past experiences, and any biases you hold.
Imagine you’re walking home at night and you can’t see any other people around you. You know your neighbors and you know they don’t smoke, yet you can smell stale cigarette smoke nearby. Since this doesn’t make sense in your current situation, it should alert you that someone who smokes is just out of sight. Since you can’t see them, but you’re close enough to smell the smoke on their clothes, it might be wise to put your guard up. This is a highly simplified example, but it shows how your understanding of what is normal in your environment can help you identify situations that are abnormal.
So you’ve observed your environment, oriented your mind towards the situations, and now you must decide. This is the stage where you decide the most likely scenario and determine the appropriate course of action you need to take to avoid or end a dangerous situation. You formulate a plan based on your experiences and the best knowledge you have about the situation.
This is where you put your plan into motion and follow through with the actions you believe the situation requires. Not only are you implementing your plan of action, but you’re learning whether or not it was the appropriate response to the situation. The knowledge you gain from acting will help you make more informed decisions in future scenarios
Know The Law
Having a working knowledge of the laws in your state is extremely important when you’re carrying a concealed weapon. First off, you need to ensure that you are legally allowed to carry in whatever you state you find yourself in. Know what states have concealed carry license reciprocity with your state. Once you’ve determined that you’re allowed to carry, you need to know what constitutes a justified self-defense shooting in your state. Two types of laws concerning self-defense are especially important for you to be aware of: stand-your-ground laws and duty-to-retreat laws.
Currently, there are 38 states that have established stand-your-ground laws either through statutes or case law. In essence, these states provide that an individual has the right to defend themselves with deadly force if it is reasonable for them to believe their life is in danger. Each state’s statutes regarding these laws may differ, and it’s important you understand the laws in the state you reside in as well as any state you visit that honors your concealed carry license.
Duty To Retreat States
Currently, there are 12 states that impose duty-to-retreat laws on their citizens. What duty-to-retreat laws boil down to is your need to retreat from a dangerous situation when you can do so without being harmed. If you were to use your firearm in self-defense, and a jury finds that you could have safely retreated from the threat of death, then you did not have a right to defend yourself with your firearm.
Call Your Lawyer
If you find yourself involved in a self-defense shooting, adrenaline will be coursing through your veins and you might find yourself in shock from the experience. Before you do anything else, you need to call your lawyer. We recommend signing up for legal defense from U.S. LawSheild. When you sign up for legal defense from U.S. LawSheild, you gain access to their 24/7/365 attorney-answered emergency hotline so you can talk things through with a lawyer before police even arrive. You won’t pay any attorneys’ fees throughout the legal process and you gain access to a wealth of educational resources that are available exclusively for members.
Exercising situational awareness is one of the most important things any person can do. Even if you don’t have your concealed carry license yet, you can practice observing and analyzing your situation to keep you and your community safe. If you think you’re ready to get your concealed carry permit, find a Legal Heat class near you and sign up today! Our concealed carry classes will teach you everything you need to know to be qualified for a concealed carry license.
Stay Aware and Stay Safe.
Phil Nelsen is a nationally recognized firearms law attorney, expert witness, college professor, author, and co-founder of Legal Heat, the nation’s largest firearms training firm.
Legal Heat offers CCW classes nationwide, and also publishes the industry-leading Legal Heat 50 State Guide to Firearm Laws and Regulations which can be downloaded on iTunes, GooglePlay, and Kindle App stores. You can purchase the paperback version of the Legal Heat 50 State Guide or sign up for a class at https://legalheat.com.
You can read more about Phil, or contact him, on his website www.philnelsen.com.