Situational Awareness is Vital to Self Defense

Published by the LearnAboutGuns.com Author on September 3, 2010 at 12:01 am
LearnAboutGuns.com > How-To Guides and Other Info > Situational Awareness is Vital to Self Defense

When it comes to self defense, I write mainly about how firearms are the most effective method of self defense yet invented by humanity.  I mention how guns allow everyone, including the elderly, the disabled, and the physically weaker members of society, to save themselves from even the strongest criminals.  However, guns alone are not enough to guarantee safety – Being aware of one’s surroundings is also vital:

Situational awareness defined

Situational awareness is defined as “the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future.”  It involves “perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future.”  In other words, situational awareness is the perception of one’s surroundings, and the understanding of what those surroundings mean insofar as one’s safety is concerned.

Why situational awareness is so important to effective self defense

While it is true that armed self defense can work even when the victim is caught totally off guard by a well-prepared attacker, the odds of the victim successfully defending themselves are higher when that victim is themselves prepared to act in self defense.

This shouldn’t be too surprising, as a victim who is expecting an attack to come will not spend as much (if any) time incapacitated by the shock of being attacked.  Additionally, a victim who is expecting an attack will also have had at least some time to consider a self defense strategy, rather than having to make up that strategy the instant the attack begins.  In the case of armed self defense, a victim who has even a few seconds of warning can ensure that their gun is in their hand, with a round in the chamber and safety off, rather than having to worry about picking up their gun and making it ready to fire as they are being attacked.

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Improving situational awareness (while still enjoying life)

I’ve noticed a recurring myth, often perpetuated by those who oppose gun rights and believe effective self defense to be impossible for ordinary citizens: The idea that having sufficient situational awareness is incompatible with enjoying life, and that one must choose between being aware enough to defend oneself and leading a normal life.  Such people seem to believe that the only way to be safe is to wall oneself up inside a house that has been converted to a virtual castle, and never leave the house for so much as getting the mail.  That is not the case.

Instead, simple and inexpensive steps can greatly increase one’s situational awareness.  The result is a much greater chance of effective self defense, all while still enjoying life:

  1. Buy an alarm system – Having an alarm system at home can provide warning that an intruder has entered.  While at home, the alarm siren can give the homeowner time to grab their gun and get ready to defend themselves and their family, rather than only noticing the attacker when coming face-to-face.  An alarm system that notifies the homeowner by phone/email of an intrusion when the home is unoccupied can prevent the homeowner from walking into an in-progress burglary.
  2. Adopt a dog – Dogs, like alarm systems, can provide notice of an intruder’s presence in or around the home.
  3. Properly secure doors and windows – Locking one’s doors and windows makes it more difficult for an intruder to enter, and perhaps most importantly, makes is more likely that the intruder’s entry will create enough noise to alert one to the intruder’s presence (shattering glass is louder than an unlocked window being slid open, just as a door being kicked open is louder than one being quietly opened by the turn of a handle).
  4. Listen – When walking outside, forgo the iPod/headphones and listen to one’s surrounding.  Doing so may allow one to hear approaching footsteps or vehicles, and react accordingly.  Inside the home, listen for unexpected sounds.
  5. Observe – Pay attention to the people and things that are nearby, and to anything that seems out of the ordinary.  Noticing a potential threat before it becomes an immediate threat can go a long way.  This holds true both inside and outside of the home.
  6. Think – Taking a shortcut through a dark alley might save 90 seconds of time, but depending upon the area it might be rather foolish to take that shortcut.  Leaving one’s car running with the keys in the ignition might also be convenient, but doing so is asking to have one’s car stolen – or worse.
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An example where situational awareness proved vital to effective self defense

As reported: a woman was out for a walk, along her usual walking path, when she heard the footsteps of someone about 8 paces behind her.  The woman realized she was being followed, and considered her options, which included using her cell phone to call for help, or proceeding to walk to the safety of a nearby house.  She also made note of the fact that she had a stick in her hand, which she carried to fend off any potential dog attacks, and that the stick could be used against a human attacker as well.  The woman decided not to reach for her cell phone, as she was concerned that doing so might hasten the man’s attack or distract her from defending herself, and instead proceeded toward the house.  As she got nearer to the safety of the house, the man attacked the woman and began to grab her breast – but she was ready to defend herself with the stick.  After being hit multiple times in the head, the would-be rapist fled.  Commenting after the attack, the woman stated “That is a lovely walk to do everyday and I will never walk it again. And I usually walk with my iPod. I’m so thankful I didn’t have it with me as I never would have heard him.”

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In this example, the woman was able to defend herself, thanks to the fact that she was aware of her surroundings.  She noticed the attacker approaching, and as a result, had time to formulate a self defense plan, prepare herself, and then act when the moment was right.  Had she been caught off guard (e.g. with headphones in her ears), it is much less likely that she would have been so successful at fending off the attacker.

My thanks to Anders for pointing out the above story from Northern Ireland (Which I finally got around to writing an article about, more than a year after Anders emailed me about the story :) ).


  • LT Gary M. Smith

    When I think about situational awareness I am always reminded of one particular example. It involves an old man, a speeding car and three young people. Back in the 1990s I was a deputy sheriff. I was walking through downtown to my bank. Just in front of me walked an older man, about mid to upper 50s. He had on an old fashioned London Fog raincoat and hat and appeared deep in thought. We approached a busy intersection. The "Don't Walk light was against us, but the man was oblivious to everything. Before I could utter a warning he stepped off the curb into traffic. At that moment a car came along. The speed limit in downtown was 30 mph, but this car was doing well in excess of 60. It was occupied by three young people – two guys and a girl. I could see the look of horror on their faces as the man stepped out in front of them. There was no time to even think about hitting the brakes. There wasn't even time for me to yell a warning or try to grab the man. I just grabed for my cellphone so I could dial 9-1-1 for what I was sure was going to be one of those bloody accident scenes where we would have to find all the body parts. The car missed, but the side mirror hit the raincoat and flipped it up high up to the guy's shoulders. He kept right on walking as if nothing happened. When I caught up to the guy he never even realized what happened. He said he was just taking a walk to clear his head. Now that is serious Condition White. Yet, people inhabit that state of mind all the time. You see them leaving work like zombies or jogging down the street or in the park while jamming to some song on their headset radios. You see the mothers at the park who get engrossed with talking to their friends and don't watch their kids and don't notice the stranger who is watching their kids. Carrying a gun or anything else for protection is wise, but if you don't see it coming then what good is it?

    • http://www.learnaboutguns.com The LearnAboutGuns.c

      That is an excellent example!

  • Anders

    I don't even remember sending you this one.

    I worked out just fine any how. I haven absent for some time now, lots of things going on in my life, but I hope to be back soon, gotta get a cornputer first.

    • http://www.learnaboutguns.com The LearnAboutGuns.c

      Good to hear from you, and hope everything is going well.

      Oh yeah, you sent me the link to that story in the middle of July 2009, and I started to write this article but got sidetracked. Last week, I noticed that I had over 60 halfway-finished articles sitting in my drafts folder, and thought it was time to finish some of them…