Expert advises situational awareness


Young woman with shopping bagsI’ve done it; you probably have, too. Walked out of a store, bags and/or kids in tow, and forgotten where the car’s parked. I could have been in the store for five minutes or five hours. It doesn’t matter. All I see are chorus lines of cars flashing their shiny bumpers, mocking my memory lapse. Seems harmless enough—trudging down row after row, fending off “Momma, where’s our car?” complaints and the disgruntled looks of space-hungry parking vultures. But it’s symptomatic of a broader problem: my lack of situational awareness.

Stephen Simank, a sixteen-year veteran of the Austin Police Department and general manager of Guns Plus, sat down with me to discuss the problem. In his twenty-five years in law enforcement, Stephen’s worked the gamut of crimes against people, from homicide to sex crimes, and he’s seen a specific need for women in particular to develop their situational awareness.

“When we’re situationally aware, we tend to know what’s going on around us without consciously thinking about it,” explains Stephen. “Situational awareness is what most of us don’t have.”

Stephen’s not advocating a level of paranoia; his goal is to ensure that you and I don’t become victims. “What tends to happen today is people think, ‘Everything’s okay. It’s not here, it’s not where I live, and it’s not in my town.’ So we tend to be naïve about the bad things in the world.”

To overcome that naivety, we must sustain our level of awareness at what Stephen calls “Condition: Yellow.” That means being observant of people and surroundings while anticipating what’s going to happen. He teaches a few easy steps to develop your situational awareness—just remember the three Ps.

Stephen SimankPay attention. Easy, right? Well, with the presence of everything from smart phones to TVs that pop down in your car, it’s easy to get distracted. Refocusing our attention means being intentional about seeing our surroundings. To do this effectively, play a simple game with yourself. Take a mental picture of someone and note characteristics like gender, clothes, hair color, and how they’re getting around (walking, riding a bike). Recall the image after a minute, five minutes, and then thirty minutes. I failed to recall details the first few times; but after taking a few dozen mental pictures, I can remember people days later, and that exercise helps me be cognizant of my overall surroundings.

Posture. Mom’s advice was right: head up, shoulders back. Carrying ourselves this way serves two purposes: It keeps us alert and conveys a self-assured impression of ourselves to other people. “If you’ll stand more erect with your shoulders back and your head up, you’ll present a different profile to someone looking for a potential victim,” Stephen explains. “It tells the criminal a lot about you—that you’re very confident of yourself—and he may just go on to someone else that’s going to be an easier target.”

Place. Don’t put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation or place. For example, don’t make late night grocery runs or drink heavily at parties, and consider carefully where to park your car. Look calmly at your surroundings and ask, ‘What if?’ What if there’s no one around to help if I need it? What if I park next to a windowless van that blocks my view of others? Also, listen to your gut. “What stands out, what makes you feel uncomfortable? If you’re uncomfortable, then that’s your inner sense going, ‘Something’s not right.’ It causes you to question—don’t blow that off and say it’s nothing. Act on it, change what you’re doing, or leave,” Stephen says.

Mr. Simank offers free “Situational Awareness: Refuse to Become a Victim” classes for women in groups of twenty or more. Contact Guns Plus at 512-547-GUNS (4867) or visit the store at 2302 North Austin Avenue for more information.

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