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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Grant Cunningham on Situational Awareness

Firearms trainer Rob Pincus noted on his Facebook page that he has seen a number of posts today related to this morning's shooting of two Virginia television staff and how it was an example of not being aware of your surroundings.  Video that the shooter took at the time of the shooting shows him standing not far from the victims, pointing his gun for what seemed like an eternity, and the reporter and interviewee (the cameraman's back was to the shooter) had no idea the shooter was there.   Pincus linked to an article on the Personal Defense Network web site titled "The Myth of Situational Awareness" by Grant Cunningham to point out that the way most people think about this topic is severely flawed when compared to real life:
It’s because awareness is too often touted as a talisman against attack, and it’s used to justify training that doesn’t reflect the realities of criminal attacks. Being situationally aware doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to see your attack coming farther out. In fact, the opposite is more likely.

Ever seen a movie or television show where someone is planning a jail break or burglary? They case the joint (usually at night), watching the guard patrol the area. They learn how long it takes the guard to make a complete circuit of the building, and just as he turns the corner, they make their move—secure in the knowledge that they have a predictable amount of time to work before he gets back.

This is the fallacy of situational awareness. You can “check your six” all you want, but if your attacker has determined you’re worth the increased risk, he’ll simply wait until your head starts to turn to the front again, and attack you from the rear. You’ll be ambushed because that’s the safest thing for him to do. He’s not going to stand 21 feet in front of you, knife in hand, and start running while your hands hover over the butt of your gun. He’ll wait until your attention is diverted and suddenly appear from your blind side.

Situational awareness doesn’t reduce your need to prepare for that ambush attack! An ambush, by its very nature, happens when you are least expecting it. Everyone, no matter how aware of their surroundings, has moments (lots of them) when their guard is down. Even if it’s only for a second or two, that’s all an attacker needs once he’s decided on his target. He’s not going to attack you while you’re looking at him—he’s going to wait until you’re not looking and then strike!

Don’t make the mistake of assuming the criminal is going to engage in a protracted surveillance of his target, giving you time to spot him. His assessment can happen in a matter of seconds, because an experienced perp uses the same kind of apperceptive pattern matching and recall that you do when you perform a task that you’re good at. That’s what makes him an expert at what he does, and it’s why he’s so dangerous.
That's not to say situational awareness is useless. Cunningham notes it can alter the criminal’s risk-reward assessment in our favor and it might reduce the number of potential attackers simply because not all of them will be sufficiently expert enough to work around your alertness. The article goes on to talk about the best training regimen to help change the risk/reward equation.  It's a good read.

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