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Situational Awareness and Masks – How to Stay Safe

Situational awareness is key in today’s environment.

Sadly, rioting, protesting, and personal attacks have become daily occurrences. It feels like so many people are wound so tight and capable of snapping in an instant.  There are some things occurring that are making our task of staying situationally aware more challenging. One of these is the heightened sensitivity of others in which the slightest “offenses”, which today are almost impossible to define, can set someone off. In addition, wearing masks causes us to have less information available to read people. We can’t see their faces to help us assess their intent or volatility. So how can you use situational awareness and wear a mask?

What can you do?

We all must stay vigilant and be aware of what is going on all around us, everywhere.  In today’s unstable environment it appears we must take our situational awareness skills to a new, heightened level.  Avoidance is a key skill we must hone and employ.

  • Keep your intuitional antenna on alert at ALL times when out in public.
  • Pay attention to everything and everyone.
  • Keep your firearm and defensive tools close and within easy reach.
  • Practice “what will I do if?” questions in all public settings.
  • Always know where an exit or way out is.
  • If you see people starting to gather –  turn around and leave the area. Whether walking or driving, turn around and go in the opposite direction. Riots or fights can spark in an instant. There have been accounts of rioters pulling people out of their cars while under the influence of adrenaline.
  • Leave space between your car and other vehicles at traffic lights, stop signs, and in traffic. Give yourself ample room to maneuver your vehicle in at least one direction should something ensue.
  • Let it go! Sometimes, the issue causing a situation to escalate with someone isn’t worth your safety or the safety of those with you. You may have to decide to walk away from an argument, even if you are right, to prevent a violent altercation.

Being vigilant is key! Now let’s talk about masks and the challenges they pose to our situational awareness and preparedness.

Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

Situational Awareness and Masks

Whether you believe they help or not, or whether you comply or not, is not the issue here. We know people everywhere are doing what they feel is best but we must acknowledge that masks are everywhere and wearing them impacts our ability to be situationally aware of ourselves and others.

How masks affect our situational awareness: They are a distraction.

  • Your mind is full of questions. You may be busy thinking about how people view you wearing a mask or you wonder what are they thinking?  You wonder why are they not wearing one or why they are wearing one?  Is that person sick? You may think they aren’t wearing their mask correctly. These mental distractions take your mind off of paying attention to the details around you.
  • You are now focused on fogging glasses or the uncomfortable feeling of breathing while wearing a mask or what do you do about that itch on your face!

What can you do?

  • You need to make a great effort to mentally put the mask aside. It is now just part of your attire. Yes, wearing one can be uncomfortable but try to forget about it. You need all of your senses and all of your attention to be focused on being observant and utilizing your situational awareness skills.
  • Keep your distance from others. The more socially distanced you are, the more relaxed you will be and less likely to be fretting about your mask and those of others.
  • Try to avoid conversations with others about masks. If you believe they are helpful, stay away from people who are not wearing them. On the other hand, if you believe they don’t help, don’t judge others or comment on other people’s decisions.
  • If they are required where you are and people who are not socially distanced from you are without them, don’t engage, simply change your location and if necessary, go speak with the manager. Let the establishment staff deal with those not in compliance. There may be medical reasons why some are unable to wear masks.

Human Interactions

  • With masks, we can no longer see the faces of the people around us. If you are outside and people are wearing sunglasses and/or a hat,  you can’t see their faces at all. This can be very unsettling as a person’s facial expression is key to determining their intent. Think about it, when you are surveying your surroundings and looking at people –  aren’t you paying attention to what they look like and what their expressions are? We now no longer have this key information.
  • Being able to identify people and to know their emotional state is now much harder. It is extremely difficult to quickly determine if it is an acquaintance or a stranger walking toward you. Imagine walking to your car and someone comes up to you,  “How are you, it has been so long”. Your mind is now racing to try to figure out who this person is. You don’t want to be rude so in these moments the distraction of trying to figure out who is talking to you leaves you potentially vulnerable.
  • Our ability to identify lawbreakers and attackers to law enforcement is now greatly diminished.
  • As women, we are extremely relational and depend heavily on a person’s facial expressions as we relate to others. Without the ability to see someone’s face, their expressions, and their mouth moving when they speak, greatly interferes with our ability to understand who they are and what their intentions are.

What can you do?

  • Observe people’s body language and hands. How are they moving? Are their muscles tense? Are they moving quickly with stiff body posture? This may mean they are acting on adrenaline and up to no good.
  • Look carefully at their eyes if you can see them. You can tell a lot about a person’s emotions by looking into and at their eyes.
  • Are their fists balled up tightly? This could indicate anger or rage.
  • Listen intently to the tone of their voice and how they are speaking.
  • Take note of the clothes people are wearing, their body size and form and any other distinguishing characteristics. If you are required to give a description to law enforcement, because you can’t see much of people’s faces, knowing the details of their clothing and body are very important. Do they have a tattoo or other distinctive features?

A few other things to think about:

  • Masks seem to give people boldness.  A once timid person now has more confidence because they are not recognizable. This same phenomenon can be seen with social media. What they will not say in person flows all too freely on the keyboard. What someone would not dare say or do in person, they may do when wearing a mask.
  • Make sure you have a plan. With all of these current risks and the challenges to our ability to be situationally aware, it is vital to have a plan of action if something were to happen near you. Make sure your family knows the plan and what signs to look for as well.

Final Thoughts on Situational Awareness and Masks

We are living in very strange times, please stay vigilant and keenly aware. Stay calm and keep your mind focused on your environment and who is around you. Remember though, now is also a time for patience and kindness. Not everyone around you is out to hurt you or a ticking time bomb. There are many people who are having a tough time these days and likely need a kind gesture or kind word. Your ability to assess those around you and keep your finger on the pulse of your environment can help you to know the difference and to stay safe.

30 thoughts on “Situational Awareness and Masks – How to Stay Safe

  1. Cherie says:

    Thank you. very well said, and good advice. we need clear thinking like this.

  2. I think that your article, Carrie, is extremely well written – and definitely helpful for all of us. In my opinion, you went out of your way to be tactful, thoughtful, and mindful of the fact that every single one of us probably gets frustrated at times with the whole mask/safety thing. It was amazing to me that several readers’ comments seemed to be overreactions to sensible advice. Reading your article with the goal of gleaning information would be a good idea. It seemed to me that you took a needed topic and explored it with the best of intentions. Thank you for your sound advice!

  3. Beth says:

    This is great! You are so right about getting absorbed into mask concentration and not what’s going on around you. We should be reading this for its value & insight & not dissecting the writing for personal interpretation. Enjoy the free golden nuggets of wise information to keep you safe. Thanks Carrie!

  4. Alma Wilkinson says:

    Many commenters here could greatly benefit from the last bulleted tip in your first “What Can You Do?” paragraph, which resonated rather forcefully with me: LET IT GO!

  5. Susan Smith says:

    Carrie, this is such a timely blog as I get ready to do a Part 2 of Situational Awareness with one of our chapters. It also perfectly integrates and transitions to an explanation of and discussion about the OODA loop.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Great article! I have one little thing to mention-you said sometimes it’s best to “walk away”, while I agree with that-please make sure you continue to pay attention-you don’t want to be ambushed while thinking everything was okay. There are too many videos out there of people getting knocked out from behind. Thank you for posting and helping us keep safe!

  7. Dixie says:

    Thanks Carrie for much needed information at this time. Such great points and we all need this guidance at this time to consider ahead of time how we can react , keep calm, and stay aware.

  8. elizabeth segall says:

    Sorry, Ms. Lightfoot, you didn’t use the word, “looters” – you said “personal attacks” …My bad, Nevertheless, I feel your use of. the word “protestors “ is wrong. Thank you.

    1. Carrie Lightfoot says:

      Thank you Elizabeth, I do appreciate your apology and your opinion. Sadly, protests (regardless of the issue) are particularly dangerous during these times. I used the word “protesting” not protestors. Yes, of course, our rights to free speech and to protest for an important cause is one of the blessings of being an American, but that doesn’t remove the risk and the challenges to our safety oe our ability to be situationally aware, which is the topic of my article. There is no judgment here 🙂

  9. elizabeth segall says:

    I am greatly disturbed by the very first sentence where the noun “: protestors “ is included in the list of “rioters and looters.” Last I checked, we weren’t in a total dictatorship YET although we’re almost there. The US Constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly . …..By including the word “protestors” among the list of “rioters and looters” you are subtly (actually, not too subtly ) using white supremacy phrasing. Please rethink what you wrote. AND although I know you want to be diplomatic concerning masks and your readership: Masks have been scientifically PROVEN to help contain the spread of this novel coronavirus which is AIR BORNE. Thank you for your consideration to this matter……
    #armedliberal. YES

    1. Berg says:

      As a molecular bio researcher for many years, having learned not to foolishly believe everything I’m told, I have looked up the peer reviewed published research on masks, transmission of respiratory viruses, covid etc, and the science does NOT support wearing masks by healthy people. And yeah, you seemed a bit triggered by the article.

  10. Susie Brown says:

    Great Article, Carrie! Very good reminders for all of us to always be alert and on our toes whenever we are and the masks will make it difficult to sometimes tell the bad guys from the good guys. Stay Vigilant for all of us is good advice.

  11. Jean says:

    Excellent article, something that has been weighing heavily on my mind recently. Your timing and content is spot on.

  12. N.Stevens says:

    Great advice—I really appreciate the article. Thank you!!

    1. Vivienne Clare panton says:

      Thank you!

  13. Stacey Smith says:

    Thanks for a great article! Looking forward to more great topics.

  14. Sheila Boisvert Scholler says:

    Great Advice, Thank you complicated changing time so many decisions to make and to do the right thing and remain safe. Would like to share the information? Have a Blessed day and Stay safe…

    1. Carrie Lightfoot says:

      Thank you Sheila! Yes, please share!!

  15. This is a great article and I’ll be sharing it with my students when conducting my Gun Safety Seminars.

  16. Wow this was a perfect email. I’m glad I read it. I felt I was alone on this a lot. I’ve thought about some things in this email but it gave me more to think about. thank you so much

  17. Patricia says:

    Good sound advice. Retreat does not mean you are a coward, it can mean that you are smart, resourceful and have analyzed the situation for a better outcome.

  18. Amy Gutierrez. says:

    Great article! Thank you.

  19. Thank you for this! This came at a perfect time. We are covering this topic exactly for our upcoming meeting. This will be adding so much more to it. Super important and super helpful information. Thank you, Carrie!

  20. Shannon Patrick says:

    How sad. You had me with all of your good advice u til the point that you encouraged people to go tattle on those that are none compliant. The previous paragraph told us that for those that are not in agreement with wearing one should not comment about those that are however you encouraged the reporting of those who don’t. Thanks for aiding in the tensions of a police state such as Nazi germany. I expected better and more intelligent advice from you and have always supported your cause in assisting women with knowledge and skills for firearms safety. I have been sorely disappointed.

    1. Carrie Lightfoot says:

      Shannon, I think you have misunderstood (or perhaps I didn’t communicate it clearly) the intent of the advice. My aim and counsel is rather than participate in (or instigate) a confrontation, let the manager or staff handle the lack of compliance. If a mask is required, then it is required, whether by the state or other local authorities or by the local business owner.

      1. Andrea says:

        In case you are interested, most mask requirements are by mandates, which are not laws. There are many people who cannot breath with a mask on, many people with medical exemptions, many people with religious exemptions, etc. it isn’t always indicative of a potential confrontation and should not be handled by snitching to the management.

        1. Carrie Lightfoot says:

          No need to be snarky Andrea, this is a conversation, not a fight. Yes, of course, there are exceptions which helps to makes my point, not to create or instigate an issue with others. That is exactly my point. If there is an issue – let the establishment management handle it. You have come to the wrong understanding of my message, I will take a look and see if I can clarify it better in my post. Either way – like it or not. the state, city or the business owner, each have the right to mandate masks.

    2. Andrea says:

      I noticed that and had the EXACT same thought! Thank you for pointing it out.

    3. Gina says:

      There it is, Carrie! Why can’t we just give each other the benefit of the doubt???? M’am, if you are “sorely disappointed” in what Carrie said, you need some other SERIOUS issues to worry about. We have enough things going on in this world right now….. C’mon, let’s let the little things go.

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