Situational Awareness: Seeing What You Need to See under Stress

Situational Awareness: Seeing What You Need to See under Stress

Situational Awareness 101

This video was taken at our recent joint class that we held with King 33 Training called The Gauntlet. We spent two days smoke checking ten motivated students in the live fire shoot house, Simunition shoot house, and during Troysgate scenarios and much learning occurred.

The scenario depicted in this video is our Armed Robbery Forced Decision Making scenario in which the student is forced to test their situational awareness and has to make rapid decisions under stress. Here the student, John, was put in to a seemingly no-win situation in which two assailants, played by James and Denis, armed with rifles take over a crowded cafe and demand everyone’s money. Everyone seems to comply and no one is getting shot…

Until an off duty officer intervenes and takes out the bad guys.

This post isn’t meant to dump on John’s performance… he wasn’t the only one to shoot Officer Rob. (I still have some welts…)

This scenario was designed to force that decision and see if the student gets sucked in to the “gotta shoot em” mentality. We had been throwing no-shoot scenarios and targets at the class all weekend at free random so they should have been expecting anything.

There will come a time to “switch it on” and start processing any and all information that is presented to you. The more you do this in training, the easier it will become.

Breaking Down the Targets: Hands, Eyes, Demeanor

Here I come barreling in to the scenario and bust a few caps on the bad guys with good effect. In my left hand is my badge, in my right is a snubby .38.  Now being a good police officer and role player I need to clear the rest of the room. This includes the spot played by our intrepid student John as his were the only hands I could not see.

Here’s John’s dilemma: Is this another bad guy, or something else?

First and foremost you have to process the situation you are in. Col. John Boyd calls this the OODA Loop.  A great break down of the OODA Loop can be found here at our friend Fred Leland’s blog Law Enforcement and Security Consulting. Here John is in the Observe and Orient phases of the loop, and is basically trying to figure out what is happening. You cannot move on to the Decide and Act phases of the loop until you have processed the problem as either a threat or non-threat. The first place you need to look is the hands of the subject.

Hands will kill you a lot faster than any other body part. They need to be your first place of observation at all times, especially during a high stress event such as this type of scenario. It can be difficult for most people to break the habit of looking at people’s eyes first as it is ingrained in our social norms to do so. What you do has to be dependent on the situation. Here  my badge was displayed along with my firearm.

The second place to look must be the eyes/demeanor of the subject. In the scenario I purposely did not say “Police” as I walked in as the threats needed to be eliminated with great haste and furthermore, if someone lights off a snub nose .38 in an enclosed space, you wouldn’t be able to hear anything else. Auditory exclusion was assumed to be in effect as a result.

The demeanor of the subject is critical. Think about it. Two assumed bad guys just got smoked right in front of you. What is the logical answer? What is the demeanor of the person who did the smoking? Seemed pretty authoritarian to me…. We can’t see the eyes of the role player here due to the protective gear but the demeanor speaks for itself.

Putting it Together

Once the hands and eyes/demeanor of the subject are processed, the student now is able to enter the decide/act phase of the loop. If it is a shoot situation, the green light is on to engage the threat. Now here the failure to observe the displayed badge changes things as the perceived threat was a lethal one.  John made a decision and I guarantee he will process situations far more thoroughly in the future as a result.

If you liked this post, leave us a question or comment in the comment box! And don’t forget to share it with your friends!


Robert Curran

Rob is co-owner of Tactical Dynamics Firearms Training and is a USMC veteran and active Law Enforcement Officer. Rob is a Sig Sauer Master Rated Firearms Instructor and holds several other ratings from various institutions.

  • Donna
    Posted at 09:51h, 03 February Reply

    Great article Rob. Im not great with staying on top of daily emails; I do however save them to a folder that I can go back to for later reading.

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