Situational Awareness

By Susan Callaway, Founding Publisher and Editor, written 2013
Certified NRA Instructor for firearms, self defense

[From the book, “I Am NOT A Victim” available free to those who request it.]

The best gun skills in the world wouldn’t do you a bit of good in a violent attack unless you had the time and mental preparation to bring your gun into action – or take other evasive, defensive steps. Being aware of your surroundings at all times, and paying attention to your gut feelings and instincts, is just as important as the ability to hit what you shoot at – and maybe more.

This topic is covered in detail during the Personal Protection series classes and you are urged to read/re-read the course materials or, if you have not taken these classes, register promptly to do so. These exercises are part of those classes and designed to help you optimize both your formal training and your skills for survival.

Review the levels of awareness.


  • Only appropriate at home, doors locked
  • Sleeping (Need alarms, dog, locked doors, etc. as protection)
  • In the shower
  • Watching TV or otherwise absorbed in an activity
  • Walk or jog with stereo earphones on (very bad idea!)
  • Driving, especially long distance (not good)
  • Can you think of other times YOU are unaware of your surroundings?
  • Make a list.

Aware – best if practiced everywhere – when no threat is perceived

  • You see who is near you (including behind you) and any movements they make.
  • You are immediately aware of strangers and observe their actions, what they have in their hands, facial expression, etc.
  • You are aware of the source of potential danger, such as cars in the street, loose dog, litter on the ground or increased traffic ahead of you on the road.
  • You are thinking of ways to avoid potential dangers you observe
  • You have a definite plan for what you are doing, where you are going. This plan may be very simple, and eventually will be subconscious. The important thing is not to appear lost, confused, timid.
  • Look for something that could serve as cover in an attack each place you go. Remember where your car is parked so you don’t have to search for it. These plans are often informal and almost unconscious, but it is very different than just drifting along with no clear idea what you are doing.
  • Make a list of other things you should be aware of, especially when out of your home.

Alert – Serious potential danger identified

  • Stranger walking toward you quickly, hands out of sight
  • Loose dog who is growling and showing teeth, coming toward you
  • Loud sound outside your home or car, out of the ordinary
  • Many others
  • Think about what you would understand to be an alert of potential danger and write them down. What would you do to avoid the possible danger? Make a list.

AlarmImmediate Serious threat, danger.

  • Stranger coming toward you pulls a knife or gun, making threats or demands
  • Dog jumps at you, obviously attacking
  • Sound of window or door being smashed
  • Someone trying to forcefully open your car door at an intersection or parking lot
  • Car coming through intersection against the light and headed for your car
  • Write down other situations you would consider an immediate threat and the response you think would be appropriate.

When could you, WOULD you use lethal force? What is the legal criteria for the use of deadly force where you live? (Please refer to text book or attend class with this lecture. It is outside the scope of this book to cover in detail.)

Group discussion or solo written drill – excellent part of practicing family defensive plans

  • Compare lists and discuss a few items in each category above.
  • Discuss the difference between an alert and an alarm. What are the distinguishing characteristics?
  • How would you know? How would you plan to meet each of these situations?
  • Do you have a plan for the most common ones? What do you think you would do if you don’t have a plan?
  • Honestly assess your usual level of awareness, at home and when out. Do you think you need to change that? If not, why not?

Daily exercise – solo drill – most important drill you can do!

  • Practice looking at your surroundings at all times when out of your home, getting into or out of your car. Look for things and people who do not seem to belong, are acting inappropriately for the place, time and season.
  • Be aware at all times of the people around you, coming from (or around) cars or buildings.
  • The usual “personal space” is between one to five feet diameter around you. This is the zone most people are aware of, if at all. It is important to extend that aware zone out to at least 20 feet. Measure off a 20 foot diameter circle and practice looking out to that distance frequently. Then, when you are out, practice being AWARE of who and what is inside that circle.
  • Notice their HANDS and faces. Both will tell you a great deal about their intentions and capacity to threaten you. Do not ignore women or older children! They can be criminals too. Listen to your guts.
  • Know exactly where you are going, how you plan to get there. Learn how to use a map or GPS.
  • Don’t pick up hitch hikers! If you see a road hazard or people in trouble, call for help, but don’t stop if you are unarmed and/or alone.
  • Move your head as well as your eyes. Scan your surroundings frequently. (Scan beyond normal area to get “the big picture” just as you should when driving.)
  • Walk with a brisk stride, head up and strong posture. Avoid looking lost or confused, even if you are!! If you look like a victim, you may well be one. If you look like you are aware and in control, you will probably be left alone. Remember that criminals want HELPLESS, frightened victims.
  • Make a definite plan of action for each potential danger you identify. Most will be very simple, but without a plan you will be far less apt to react quickly enough to avoid trouble.
  • Describe people and things to yourself to build the habit of really seeing your surroundings
  • If you are out with children, you will need to divide your attention. Don’t forget to be aware of what is going on around you as well as what the kids are doing. Anticipating danger is even MORE important when children are present, of course.
  • Always lock your doors and car. It’s a small price to pay for increased security.
  • Always keep your strong hand free as much as possible when out of the house – especially if you carry a gun.

If you are usually totally or mostly unaware, this may be a difficult habit to break, but persistence and determination will eventually prevail.

5 Responses to Situational Awareness

  1. Pingback: Fake and Dangerous “Self Defense” | The Price of Liberty

  2. Pingback: Stepping Out | The Price of Liberty

  3. Jody daniel says:

    I’d love to have a copy of your book….

    Thank you


  4. Pingback: More Than Just Self Defense | Mom With a Gun

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