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.
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.
- 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.