Friday, April 22, 2011

Situational Awareness

Safety. We all want it. Even those weirdos who like to jump out of perfectly good airplanes or climb up to the top of insanely tall mountains want some measure of safety. It's a normal, every day thing to want to feel safe. We do a lot of things to make ourselves feel safe--lock the doors, install an alarm, move across the street from a police station--but there's one thing that most people ignore. It is called situational awareness. I may have blogged about this before, but I plan to keep yammering on about it. It is important.

A lot of people out there don't pay attention to what is going on around them at any given moment, and they therefore don't see things coming at them that might hurt them. The jogger/walker wearing ear buds that are blaring music, for example, is not going to hear a car coming or an attacker running up behind them. They've lost situational awareness, have no idea who or what is around them and are therefore vulnerable. A perfect target. I know--the music helps you 'zone out' so you can get through your workout and get back to eating pizza and watching Jersey Shore. It's the 'zone out' that is the problem.

The reason that texting while driving is a bad idea doesn't have a thing to do with perpetuating bad grammar. When you are texting, or talking on your cell phone, or trying to find the perfect song, or even trying to get a pacifier to your screaming child in the back seat, you have shifted your attention away from the extremely important job of driving without crashing. Driving is a complex task because not only do you have to pay attention to what you are doing, you also have to pay attention to what every other driver is doing so that you can respond if they do something stupid like text while driving. When you shift your attention away from the act of driving, for any reason, you have lost situational awareness in a large metal box on wheels that may or may not protect you in the event of a crash, depending on several factors over which you have no control because you aren't paying enough attention to respond. Add into that mix another person, like a random semi-driver, who is not paying attention, and it's very easy to see the recipe for disaster. It happens to even the most conscientious drivers.

People who own guns are more likely to shoot themselves or a family member because the gun makes them lose situational awareness. They rely on that gun to solve their problems and make them feel safe, and think that is all they have to do. It's a false sense of security that leads people to ignore other signs that something is going to happen until it is too late. When do accidents happen? When people aren't paying attention. You hear it all the time--about how they 'just took their eyes off the road for a second', how they 'just stepped out of the room for a moment'. A moment is all it takes.

Paying attention isn't even that difficult. Keep your head up and look around. Try it. Next time you're out there walking, look around. Know who is around you and what they are doing or not doing, and adjust your behavior accordingly. If someone makes your 'spidey-sense' tingle, pay attention to that feeling.

If you're driving, and you see someone who is texting or talking on the phone or trying to put eyeliner on, put some distance between that person and yourself. If the person putting on the eyeliner or texting is you, pull over safely and then slap yourself.


  1. I really need to work on paying more attention to the situational awareness around me. Focusing on this has always been a challenge for me and may very well continue to be that the rest of my life.


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