Expanding Situational Awareness

by | 15 December 2021 | Skills Development

There’s an old English adage that states, “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” This means that a person is so preoccupied with things that take place in his or her immediate surroundings that he or she loses sight of the larger context.

Anyone who’s had any degree of security training is likely familiar with the term “situational awareness.” This concept is foundational to security. In fact, the Panoplia.org Soft Skills and Tactics online course devotes one of its 45 topics to Situational Awareness (SST: 02.01.03).

The problem is that when a foundational concept as important as situational awareness, or “SA,” becomes part of one’s life, the tendency is to focus on it in a narrow way. In other words, for some SA comes to mean cultivating an awareness of what’s happening in one’s immediate surroundings at the moment when he or she is present. This is, of course, a very important part if situational awareness, yet it’s far too narrow in scope.

Those who serve in areas of extreme risk and who’ve become specialists in Soft Skills and Tactics add what’s known as Area Familiarization, or AFAM, to situational awareness. The SST course noted above addresses this in SST:01.01.01 (Area Familiarization: Pre-Op) and SST:02.01.02 (Area Familiarization: Operational). The topics on Cultural Context Research (SST:01.01.02) and Actor Mapping (SST:01.01.03) are closely related.

All of these subject matter areas are intended to place situational awareness into the context of one’s area of operation. For example, while walking down a street in Washington D.C. it would be unusual and alarming to hear someone crack off twenty rounds or so of automatic fire from an AK-47. On the other hand, during a wedding celebration in parts of Central Asia this would be quite normal, and would be little cause for alarm.

This may be an extreme example, yet it illustrates well the fact that context is critically important to effective situational awareness. The problem is, context is not static. Humans tend to be creatures of habit. This being the case, it takes discipline and wisdom to know when one’s operating environment changes enough that one’s situational awareness needs to be expanded.

We suggest that individuals living in the United States and other western nations are now experiencing a time of unusually rapid cultural change. Things that were normal for many years have changed dramatically over the past two years. We suggest that this will continue in 2022 and beyond. In the online SST course (01.01.02) we define culture as, “Normative thought and behavior based on shared knowledge, values, and expectations.” There’s no question that shared knowledge, values, and expectations have been undergoing foundational changes in the West.

So how will this unusually rapid cultural change impact situational awareness for us in 2022 and in the years that follow? We suggest than now more than ever we need to see the forest beyond the trees that immediately surround us.

As illustrated by the image above, the forest representing the operating environment in which we now find ourselves can be a dark place. We can no longer base our situational awareness on the cultural expectations that were normative a year or more ago. We need to expand our awareness based on the new realities of increasing violent crime, political polarization, and a developing focus on people being treated based not on their character, but on the color of their skin.

By no means does expanded awareness mean that we need to treat people with less kindness and love. In fact, the opposite is true. We need to be more aware of the people around us, and to live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on us. And yet, we need to be aware that not everyone in the forest in which we move has good intentions.

The entire online Soft Skills and Tactics (SST) course offered by Panoplia.org is intended to train individuals how to thrive in the most extreme environments. We suggest that the same principles and procedures that enable specialists to operate in hostile international environments in such a way that they can avoid confrontation and thus achieve their operational objectives are now necessary for those living in the West.

Only by being acutely aware of both the forest in which we operate and the trees among which we move on a daily basis will we have the best chance of avoiding conflict and confrontations. Doing so allows us to protect those we love and many others. Doing so also informs us of how and when we need to prepare for contingencies. And doing so gives us the best chance of having a positive impact on the communities in which we live.

Without expanding our awareness in 2022, the chances increase that we and those we love will be negatively impacted by the political, economic, and cultural changes that are taking place around us at an almost unprecedented rate. Expanding our awareness, on the other hand, will help enable us to thrive no matter how dark the forest in which we find ourselves becomes.

A major focus of Panoplia.org is to help you and those you love thrive, stay optimistic, and have a positive impact on all those with whom you interact. Let’s commit to learning from one another as we strive to grow in awareness, confidence, and kindness in 2022 and in the years that follow.


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