Awareness: the cornerstone of personal safety
Updated: Feb 17
Being aware is being continually conscious of your surroundings. In daily life our brain accumulates, filters and processes data while prioritizing the importance of a situation. Sometimes when we conduct habitual tasks such as taking a shower, washing the car, walking the dog or cutting the grass, our brain disengages. It runs on autopilot. The longer you allow your brain to operate in the subconscious mind, the more at risk you become as your awareness levels drop. You look but don’t see.
Learning every principle of personal security in terms of what to do and what not to do is useless if you never see the threat coming. Self-protection is a state of mind built on the foundations of having good awareness. When we are focused, our body language exudes confidence and we tend to operate with more purpose. Criminals prefer an easy target, and by becoming more aware, you can reduce your chances of being singled out.
Awareness can be broken into two categories: situation awareness and threat awareness.
Situation Awareness refers to the threats in your immediate surroundings such as dark underpasses, hiding places, alleys, and other secluded areas. It also refers to identifying escape routes, populated areas, parking spots and safe-havens such as police stations. Good situation awareness will not only help you identify potential dangers, but it will also help assess the possible options available.
Threat Awareness describes the ongoing recognition and interpretation of our surroundings and evolving circumstances. It is the ability to assess for potential dangers that cause us harm, such as being aware of people, vehicles, uneven pavement or open manhole covers. Imagine driving a car. Before you switch lanes or make a turn, you’re not only looking ahead, but also behind you and to your left and right. Situations change and often at a moment’s notice, and negative changes in our environment may increase our exposure to risk if we are not paying attention to evolving circumstances.
Good personal awareness is important for your protection because it reduces your exposure to a range of threats. These threats result in incidents that can be harmful, costly, embarrassing, and disruptive. Maintaining personal awareness is especially important to security professionals who are not only protecting themselves, but also creating a safe space for their client. In May 2019, Arnold Schwarzenegger attended a public event in South Africa to promote sports and fitness activities. During the event, Arnold was recording a video with fans when a man kicked him from behind. The venue was held in a school gymnasium –a low risk facility made up primarily of young children. The agent assigned to Arnold’s protection team was distracted while the picture was being taken, and instead of maintaining rear security, he let his guard down. Although this security breach was a minor incident resulting in no injuries, the assault was embarrassing for the protection officer and the company he represented.
Effective personal awareness will help you and your organization avoid or minimize damaging consequences. The earlier you’re aware of a potential problem, the more likely you’re able to overcome it efficiently with minimal disruption. Consider a smoke detector: although everyone is aware of this potential life-saving early warning system, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms in the U.S. between 2012-2016. If you allow a problem to go unmanaged, it is likely to escalate into an actual threat that leaves less available options to deal with it.
You are responsible for your own security. Although this seems like a simple principle, you only need to read the news each day to see how many people expose themselves to unnecessary dangers due to negligence or thoughtlessness with their safety. In our daily lives we must rely on ourselves, not the police, to ensure a safe environment. When in the office, it’s our responsibility to comply with the rules and regulations to maintain a safe working environment. Safety and security starts with you.
Good awareness is the foundation for personal safety. It enables you to handle a threatening situation more effectively or allows you to avoid one altogether. This is an important step in reducing your exposure to a range of threats that could be harmful or embarrassing. You are ultimately responsible for your own protection. By being more aware, you can increase your chances of avoiding an incident. And when witnessing unfolding circumstances, you will have more options available to you to deal more effectively with a situation. By not paying attention to your immediate surroundings or evolving circumstances, simple problems or situations have the potential to evolve into larger threats, and instead of responding to a situation, you may end up reacting to one.