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“I don’t want people to think I’m paranoid.” In many cases, that is how my conversation with some of my students starts when I bring up the subject of situational awareness. This comes after I have given several examples and asked how many of my students exhibit certain behaviors.

From using their phones while walking to texting at stop signs or lights (or worse—while driving) to sitting in any booth or table at their favorite restaurant, they all show signs of the lowest level of awareness of their surroundings.

Texting or talking on the phone while sitting still can be dangerous. Pay attention to your surroundings.

Texting or talking on the phone while sitting still can be dangerous. Pay attention to your surroundings.

These behaviors also make you a target for someone who might wish to do you harm. However, maintaining situational awareness doesn’t mean living your life in fear; it means living your life prepared.


While most people would think that going to dinner at a nice restaurant is a routine thing, there are many things to think about during your night out. Where you sit and the type of table you sit at are things to consider. You should be able to see the entry and/or exit. It’s optimal to have a direct line out if you need to get yourself and your loved ones to safety.

Think about where you are sitting and how it might affect getting to your defensive weapon in the event of trouble. For example, sitting in a booth might make it more difficult than sitting at a table. Take note of the material the table is made of—will it protect you from gunfire or flying debris? You should also look for things that might seem out of the ordinary, such as a heavy coat in the summer or someone trying to hide their face. Watch for that disgruntled customer or employee: If they return to the establishment; they might intend to do someone harm.


The mall can be a fun place. Who doesn’t like to shop? (Probably all men, unless there is an outdoors store!)
But the mall can also be a very dangerous place. For some reason, people seem to let their guard down while shopping. Maybe it’s all those endorphins that are let loose while filling your bags with the latest fashion wear. In addition, most malls are gun-free zones— and the bad guys know it. Whether they are waiting to pick your pocket or purse, they can spend hours waiting for the right target. In addition, they blend in with the shoppers.

There are many things you can do to harden yourself to prevent being a target. You must be like a tiger, not a lamb.

The easiest fix is to get off that phone and pay attention to your surroundings. If you notice that someone has been outside every store you have left, they could be following you to assess if you’d make an easy target.

A couple of key pieces of advice: First, don’t fill both arms up with bags; leave your strong arm free to access your weapon. Second, don’t shop alone, if you can help it, especially if you’re going to be leaving in the evening. Last, avoid paying with cash.

Both hands are full; there’s no way to get to a firearm, even if you had one. At a minimum, keep your strong hand free.

Both hands are full; there’s no way to get to a firearm, even if you had one. At a minimum, keep your strong hand free.

Be particularly mindful when it’s time to leave and get to your car. It’s best not to leave when it’s dark outside, especially in a secluded parking lot. Pay attention to the parking lot lighting. If the lights are out where you are parked, go back inside and ask for a security guard to walk you to your car. The same goes for parking garages.
driver door is against one of those shopping cart returns. It allows me a greater field of view. Also, be aware of parking next to the parking lot landscaping, because it’s a good place to hide.


For many people, their cars are safe places. You can lock the windows and feel relatively safe.

But are you? Most drivers don’t pay attention to their surroundings while driving. Make sure to keep proper distances from other cars to avoid being boxed in when you stop. Most people I ask don’t do this. When the average person pulls up to a stop in traffic, they tend to pull up close to the person in front of them; the person behind does the same. This leaves the chance of escape unlikely.

Also, pulling up to the multi-lane stop and being in the middle lane leaves you trapped. The outside lanes give you an opportunity to get out and around in an emergency such as an attempted carjacking or theft.


My last piece of advice: Do not make situational awareness your only tool. You need to seek out other training. Learn how to defend yourself with and without a weapon. Just knowing what is around you won’t help when something happens.

Maintaining situational awareness won’t prevent bad things from happening, but it will hopefully give you those precious seconds to react.


Levels of Awareness

There are four levels of awareness in most defensive circles. Years ago, Jeff Cooper identified them and used colors to define them.


The first color is white, which is associated with being relaxed and unaware of your surroundings. You might have seen videos of someone falling in the fountain at the mall or walking across a busy street while texting. This is the lowest level of awareness; it is also the one most criminals look for.


You are relaxed but aware of your surroundings. You recognize and avoid people and places that could cause trouble.


This level puts you in alert mode. This is when something has heightened your senses to a situation and increases your awareness. It might turn out to be nothing, but you are prepared just the same.


This is the last and most dangerous level. This is where the possible threat in amber has increased the level of a threat toward you. It still might not be to the point at which you might draw a weapon, but you should at least be prepared to.

It is also important to maintain 360-degree awareness and not allow someone to approach you from behind. The best remedy is to always attempt to get out of the area and survive.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the January 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.