How to Maintain Your Situational Awareness and Avoid an Ambush - ITS Tactical

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How to Maintain Your Situational Awareness and Avoid an Ambush

By Jeff Gonzales


Not long ago I wrote an article here on ITS discussing the importance of maintaining situational awareness when you’re in public. It’s hard to make any decision, much less a critical decision, without accurate and timely information. This is why eliminating distractions, like putting the damn phone away, are key to ensuring that you have the time to properly respond to incoming threats.

Unintended Consequences

Many cities in the United States are starting to regulate mobile phone use and require “hands free” devices while driving a vehicle; you would think this would be a good thing. These regulations are intended for public safety, though we have no way of knowing if these new laws actually increase safety or just increase the feeling of safety.

For now, we’ll assume they do increase safety, but the unintended consequence is the rush to get to all of those notifications read as soon as you’re free to do so. For many folks, myself included, the act of checking mobile devices is pretty addictive. So much of the world has been brought to our fingertips, literally.

Paying Attention and Timing

As a public safety announcement, reserve using your mobile device while operating a vehicle to emergencies only. It’s normal for many folks to want to engage with social media the moment they park the vehicle, or worse when they’re temporarily stopped.

Here are some further tips that you can employ to avoid being ambushed. The criminal element will target those who seem to be “aloof and unaware,” over those who are paying attention to their surroundings.

Perpetual Low Alertness

It would be nice if everyone could be switched on and in a constant state of high alert all the time, but that’s just not realistic. If you think it is, you’ve never been in that situation long enough to recognize the deterioration it has on your body and faculties.

There’s a time and place for everything and as part of your personal security plan, given the persuasiveness of these mobile devices, you need to incorporate some simple steps. The first step is probably the most important; before you look down, look up.

Make this a habit like brushing your teeth. An old Frogman taught this to me years ago. Anytime you’re distracted by something, you need to quickly refocus and find the threat. If you can make that one change, you’ll see a consistent peak in your situational awareness.

The Barrier

Now that you’re consistently incorporating this new approach, let’s tackle the “when.” It should go without saying that no matter how safe your environment, lock your car doors the moment you and all your occupants enter and only unlock them after you’ve scanned the immediate vicinity.

Having your doors locked and windows up creates a “barrier.” I put barrier in quotations because if someone really wants to get at you, it won’t be much of a barrier. Review your options for weaponry, as you may not have access to your primary right away.

Always consider what’s available and don’t forget weapons of opportunity. Once you’ve set a safe condition, take care of the immediate responses, or those that take less than a few minutes. If the response takes anything more than that, wait until you’re in a more secure location. From time to time, come up for air and scan the area.

Back Against the Wall

If you’re on foot, it can be a little more difficult to employ the advice above, considering you don’t have a barrier. Again, there’s a time and place for everything; checking your mobile device has its place. Remember, before you look down, look up.

Now step out of the traffic flow and put your back to something. If you absolutely must read or respond to a message, this will limit the available options bad guys have and hopefully give you a little notice as they approach you from the front.

A good rule of thumb is that if you have to exchange more than a few texts, call the person on the other end. It’s amazing how much time is wasted texting or replying to emails when compared to just talking. If you’re going to talk, investing in a hands-free type device is a sound idea.

I’m sure most of us can multitask, but we’re also easily distracted. If you take nothing else away from this article, just remember how a phone can impact your personal safety and situational awareness.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Jeff Gonzales was a decorated and respected US Navy SEAL, serving as an operator and trainer who participated in numerous combat operations throughout the world. He now uses his modern warfare expertise as President of Trident Concepts, LLC., a battle proven company specializing in weapons, tactics and techniques to meet the evolving threat. Bringing the same high-intensity mindset, operational success and lessons learned from NSW to their training programs, TRICON has been recognized as an industry leader by various federal, state and local units. Organizations interested in training with TRICON can call 928-925-7038 or visit for more information.

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  • Darlyne Hayes

    “Put your phone away and pay atttention” …..GOOD ADVICE

  • Teddy Smith

    I use my phone as a way to make others think I am not watching them. I use it as an excuse to walk a few steps away and put my back to a wall or backdrop. It’s not always a distraction. It just depends on how you use it. It also put my phones camera on and as a guy started walking towards me I looked up right at him and took a picture. He was up to something because he just froze. I started shaking my head no. He walked away. I try to always know my surroundings. But use everyday things as ways to still monitor my surroundings as well.

    • Talen M. O’kane

      Maybe he just wanted to ask the time and was put off by the fact that you took his picture with a suspicious look on your face. Also, why do you go around watching random people? Are you looking for terrorists or just really paranoid?

  • Darlyne Hayes

    most of these dipshits are using their phones and not paying attention. They are like sitting ducks. Your idea of taking a picture as someone is walking towards you was a good one. I’ll have to remember that. Well, I did use my phone’s camera once to take a photo of a group of high school kids because they had jumped a girl and beat her up. I took the pic and called 911 and described all the kids in the group. They were walking after her to do it again and my call bought the cops exactly to where the kids were.

  • Rick Burkhart

    Taking out your Phone and holding it down by your side- Like it’s something to use for protection. Distracts someones focus.
    Allowing you to control the’re attention.
    If it comes to it. you can release the phone for a snap strike. with your hand. as they will focus on the phone that just fell as you move

  • Zabrewolf

    As usual, short simple steps, but damn it will improve your SA.

    Thank you for pointing them out.

    And as a short aside point the “stepping out of the flow of traffic” to use your cell phone can also make you a politer cell phone user.

  • Michael Watkins

    Amy, pay attention to your surroundings instead of that PHONE !! One of these days……

  • kikimugi

    At my townhouse, where there are more than a few kids that cause
    “trouble”, rather than verbally engaging them, when they see me lift my phone
    and take a picture they scatter like roaches when the light comes on – there
    aren’t any denial arguments and best of all, they don’t come back.

  • Stacy Little

    Left mine at the house today, unknowingly, and was actually quite pleasant and relaxing.

  • Mark Hueser

    Don’t be a slave to the phone.

  • Lepeagle

    “before you look down, look up” – excellent

    Decades ago in an article about lions, I read that they are not fast enough to run down prey; they hunt by stealth. Such that if an antelope or similar animal sees a lion lounging nearby they are not concerned, as they know they can outrun it. The author included this phrase:

    “It is not the lion you SEE that will kill you”

    Ever since, I have incorporated that concept into my driving. Whenever I see something developing in the middle distance ahead of me, instead of immediately focusing on that I first make a quick scan for anything ELSE that may be developing. More than once that has kept me from hitting some other object, or vice-versa. 

    The idea applies equally well to traveling on foot, particularly in crowded situations.

  • ODG6Actual

    Nice article. I am curious if someone might write a situational awareness article or series that focuses on common joe/jane. With active shooters and terrorism I tell people all the time to really LOOK at what is around them. Look at faces, watch for behavior that seems ‘odd’ or ‘out of place’, do you know where the exits are? Sure, plenty of people say its PTSD or paranoia when I like to be seated in public ‘facing’ the bulk of the room but I just feel better knowing that I can see to protect myself and my friends/family.

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