Sunday, June 29, 2014

Situational Awareness - An Article I Wrote


Situational Awareness
By Brett A. Fernau ©2014 All Rights Reserved

What is “situational awareness?”  Very simply, it is knowing what is going on around you.  You may well believe that you already have this.  Of course you know what’s going on around you.  Do you really?  And more importantly, do you always know?

When you go out for a walk, do you take your smart-phone with you and catch up on your texts, listen to messages, return calls?  How is your situational awareness while you do that?  Do you plug in your headphones and listen to music while you walk?  The music inspires you to walk a little faster and it relieves some of that stress that has built up in you during the course of the day.  It makes you happy.  But how does it affect your situational awareness?

When you walk out your front door in the morning to get in your car and go to work, do you pause at the threshold and look around before locking the door and proceeding down the sidewalk?  As you walk toward your car do you focus on just going from point A to point B, or do you look around you to see what’s going on?  Of course you look in your mirrors and check for other cars before you pull out into the street.  Do you change stations on the radio, set the GPS, make or take phone calls while you drive?  How does that affect your ability to react to what other drivers are doing around you?  Does situational awareness apply to driving a motor vehicle?

You make it safely to your office and park your car.  As you exit your vehicle are you aware of what is going on in the parking garage, or on the street where you parked?  Or are you running late and just need to concentrate on getting to where you need to be?  During your work day, how much attention do you have on your surroundings?  Would you notice if an angry customer showed up looking for trouble, or a disgruntled, recently terminated, fellow employee came in seeking revenge?  You’ve survived the workday and it is time to go home.  Are you aware of who is in the elevator with you, who is in the lobby of the building as you walk toward the exit?  Is someone following you as you walk down the street toward your car?  Who is in the area around where your car is parked?  If you parked in the building’s parking garage, was there someone hanging around the entrance who is now following you toward your car?  You get into your car and drive out onto the street toward home.  Has that car that pulled out behind you been following you for quite some time?  As you approach your house, is that same car still following you?

Situational awareness is knowing what is going on around you at all times and in all situations.  To know that, you must look.  If you are preoccupied with work, or a personal problem; if you are distracted by a phone call, or a text message; then you have put yourself in some degree of danger.  How much danger you may be in depends upon the situation.  At home, in your backyard the danger may be negligible.  In a parking garage, at the local shopping mall, at 11:00 p.m. the danger may be significantly greater.  In your car, driving in traffic at 60 m.p.h., the danger could be quite extreme.  Awareness of where you are, of who and what surrounds you, and of the time of day are all elements which define the situation in which you find yourself.

We are admonished, these days, not to be judgmental.  In terms of situational awareness, you must constantly use your very best judgment to evaluate your surroundings in order to stay safe.  Judgment requires you to ask:

What are the intentions of that person following me, or that group of people loitering on the sidewalk in front of me?

Is there enough time for me to cross that street without being struck by an oncoming vehicle?

Do I open my front door to that stranger who just rang the bell?

I just heard a loud noise outside, do I go investigate it?

Is this a safe place to park my car while I’m away for a couple of hours?

I’m just going into that store for a minute.  Do I leave my GPS in its dashboard mount or put it away out of sight?

Is this offer I just received too good to be true?

Someone just bumped the rear of my car on this dark street.  Should I get out and deal with it?  Should I call the police?

You need to use judgment to make a decision.  Is the situation you are in dangerous?  How do you know?  What is there about the situation which could cause you harm?  You assess all of the elements that you see, you add that to what you know, you consider what skills you have that might mitigate the danger in some way and then you use your judgment to make a decision about how to handle it.  Do you attack, retreat, hide, avoid, or ignore it?  How do you decide?  You weigh all the factors and you make a judgment as to the danger level.  You make a judgment on the safest way to proceed and then you do something, all based upon your own best judgment.  If you don’t make a decision, the environment will make it for you.  If you take the non-judgmental route, the outcome will rarely be in your best interests.

A high degree of situational awareness gives you knowledge about your surroundings so that you can make sound judgments about how to proceed.  A low degree of situational awareness can get you into serious trouble.  Most people take for granted the idea that they know what is going on around them, but if you were to stop, at random, someone on the street and ask them questions about their surroundings, you would find that their situation awareness was quite minimal.

It is an inherent human ability.  A baby has some awareness of what is going on around him, he may not know exactly what activity is going on nearby, but he knows that something is happening.  He recognizes his mother’s voice, perhaps, and turns his head in that direction.  That baby has some situational awareness, it almost seems instinctual, but in reality it is a learned, survival behavior reinforced by positive and negative feedback.  His mother’s voice means food, warmth and love and so, of course, he reacts positively to her voice.  If he hears a loud noise, he is startled.  He wonders what it is, he is confused and defenseless and cries out.  He is aware of his surroundings.  As you grow older, you gain experience; you know what many sounds mean, you learn what things are dangerous to you, what odors indicate toxic substances; you use your senses and your knowledge to attempt to navigate safely through your environment.  When you are seeking information about your surroundings, your level of situational awareness goes up.  When you are tired, bored, complacent, or distracted, your level of situational awareness goes down.

As with any skill you have, be it running, jumping, singing, playing piano, or anything you do consciously, situational awareness can be drilled and practiced so you get better and better at it.  It is something that you do, not an instinct and not a stimulus-response mechanism.  With just a little regular practice you can get quite good at it.  Here’s how you would go about raising your level of situational awareness.  Locate a safe area in daylight hours and go for a walk.  If you have a partner or a friend with you, all the better, but you can do this by yourself as well.  Have your partner give you this command: “Look around you and find something.”  Perform the action and tell your partner what you found.  Your partner would acknowledge your answer with: “Good,” and give you the same command newly.  Continue in this way until your partner feels more aware of his surroundings and then switch roles where you give the command and your partner does the looking and answering.  Do this exercise as you walk around your neighborhood, or through the park, anywhere you might be.  You can even do it by yourself as you walk around, or even as you sit in your chair at home.  Train yourself to look around and really see what is there, not what you expect to find, but what is actually there.  You may be surprised by how much of what is around you that you were not really noticing.  Do the drill everywhere you go.  Your situational awareness will get better and better.  Expand the drill by not just looking, but, instead, use your other senses, hearing, smell, taste, touch.  What do you hear around you?  What else do you hear?  What made the sound?  What do you smell in your environment?  Can you taste anything on the wind?  How does the wind feel on your skin?  You can be more aware of your environment than you ever imagined and that awareness can save your life.

Get outside, move around, extend your senses, know what is going on around you, in your yard, on your block, in your neighborhood, in your city, in your country and in your world.  Get as much information as you can about your environment, seek truth, look beneath the surface, behind the scenes, under the rocks, evaluate the data you receive, verify the sources, question motives, and keep your own counsel.  Situational awareness extends beyond your immediate surroundings.  Find out what is going on, ask questions, communicate, look for yourself, read, write, listen, observe and when it becomes necessary to act to insure your own survival and that of your loved ones, you will have all the information you need to make decisions about just what you need to do.

Situational awareness is only the first of the fundamental skills you need to survive in the world as it is today.  But your situational awareness may well help you avoid needing any but the most rudimentary self-defense skills.  Your best defense against any hazardous situation is to avoid it.  You aren’t expendable.  If are aware of what you are getting yourself into, you can choose not to get yourself into it.  If you can’t avoid it, then you will need offensive and defensive skills and the willingness to use them.  As you become more aware of the world around you, you will soon see for yourself what kinds of skills you need to survive the worst that can happen to you and your loved ones.  Figure out which of those skills best suit your abilities and begin learning them.  Get yourself in good physical condition, get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet and you might just have a chance in whatever happens next on this troubled planet of ours.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Candidates Meet-and-Greet

Perched on the Hill

Since the location was only mile or so away, I decided to walk to it.  I felt as ready for whatever this was going to be as could anyone who hadn’t ever attended a candidates meet-and-greet event.  I had studied the issues, knew the gentleman who was hosting it, and knew something of the other candidates who would be there.  I could foresee only one problem – I don’t do “cold calls.”

If you don’t know what a “cold call” is, let me explain to you the way I view one.  You walk up to someone you’ve never met, or even seen before, introduce yourself, tell them what you are doing (or selling), talk to them with the intention of winning their support (or getting them to buy whatever it is you are selling), and, finally, make the sale.  You are selling yourself, always, as a salesperson or a candidate.  Only one problem with that, I don’t really like sales.  More than that, I have this unreasoning fear of “cold calling.”  I don’t know where it comes from, but I’ve had it for a very long time.

My first memory of being terrified of talking to someone is in the neighborhood where I lived in Chicago when I was very young.  There had been an incident in the front yard of the apartment building where we lived.  I had my bicycle turned upside down and was turning the pedals with my hand to see how fast I could get the back wheel spinning.  The little girl from next door was watching me do this and, for some reason, got curious and reached out a finger to touch the moving bicycle chain.  Apparently, she lost the tip of that finger.  I didn’t see it.  All I remember is the crying and the commotion.  I guess I am to some extent responsible for that little girl getting hurt, perhaps entirely responsible.  Just by being where I was, doing what I was doing, and not warning her to keep her finger out of a moving machine made it my fault that she got injured.  Or so it seems.  It was never really explained to me.  All I know is that I was warned not talk to the people next door because they were suing my parents for the girl’s medical bills.  I didn’t really know what any of that meant; except that there was now a place that I had to avoid so that I didn’t inadvertently cause any more damage.  As I recall, the next door neighbor’s kids were the only friends I had on the block.  Now I had none.  I was afraid to ride past their house on my bike.  Ahhh, those happy childhood memories.

After that, I really had no interest in meeting new people or making new friends.  A few years, and three changes in location later (we moved first to Morton Grove and then to Peoria and then to East Peoria), my parents decided that I needed to go to summer camp.  I don’t recall them asking me if I wanted to go.  I certainly don’t recall dreaming fondly of heading off to somewhere out of state to spend a couple of weeks with strangers.  I’m sure it would never have occurred to me.  I was given no choice in the matter.  Part of the summer camp deal was that I could earn some of the money it cost to go there by selling cookies door-to-door.  Did I mention that my father was a salesman?

My father was/is a salesman.  From the day I was born until the day he retired, my father sold things.  Up until about 1975, he sold industrial fluorescent lighting fixtures – lots of them.  He worked for a company based in St. Louis as a route salesman.  That meant that he would travel all over southern Illinois calling on customers, finding new customers and making deals on lighting fixtures.  He was very good at it, apparently.  He loved cold calls.  He loved meeting strangers.  Strangers were potential customers to him.  He stopped selling lighting fixtures in about 1975, after moving to Denver, Colorado to sell them for a company located there.  The market for that sort of product had changed.  He moved up to the mountains of Colorado and started selling cars.  That was only a passing fancy, though, to pay his bills.  Where he was headed next was real estate.  He got a real estate license and then a real estate broker’s license and from then on until he retired, he sold real estate.  I had moved away from home by then so I wasn’t a witness to very much of the real estate sales period of his life, though I did visit him at a number of the places where he sold everything from raw land to time-shares.  Salesmanship ought to be in my blood.  It is not.

Resuming our tale of my door-to-door cookie sales experience, my parents informed me that I would need to sell these cookies to earn my way to camp.  Earning, I believe, means receiving something you desire in exchange for effort.  I had no desire to go to camp and so I had no reason to expend any effort selling cookies.  And I certainly had no interest in knocking on some stranger’s door, introducing myself, etc., etc.  I was terrified.  There was a standard spiel that I was supposed to memorize and recite as I met each new potential customer.  It went something like this: “Hi, my name is Brett Fernau and I am earning my way to camp by selling these delicious Chocolate Drop Cookies.”  There was probably more to the sales pitch, but that is all I remember.  I’d usually get that much of it spoken before I got the usual “No thanks” followed by the occupant of the house closing the door.  My parents took me out selling cookies whenever we had a mutually free moment.  I knocked on a lot of doors, I received a lot of rejections and I didn’t sell too many cookies.  You’d think that I’d have gotten over my fear of cold calls by just getting out there and making some.  I did not.  Each new closed door, behind which lived someone who I had never met, held just as much terror for me as the last one I had reluctantly approached.  It never got better.  My parents made me go to camp, too.  Selling cookies was neither fun, nor successful.  Camp was horrible for the most part.

I was going to say that I’ve never been comfortable meeting new people, but that isn’t quite true.  What I’m uncomfortable with is selling something to a stranger.  An oddly specific fear, I suppose, with no psychobabble buzzword to label it.  It’s a fear akin to stage fright and, thus, is a fear of ridicule and rejection.  I don’t mind meeting new people at a party, though I don’t seek them out.  I can have long conversations with someone I just met about subjects of mutual interest and thoroughly enjoy myself.  I can walk the streets of downtown Los Angeles at night taking photographs and not feel that I am in very much danger.  But, put me in a position where I have to sell something, especially myself, and I just want to be somewhere else, anywhere else, but preferably a place where salesmanship is not required.  This is unreasonable, of course.  I know that.  I ought to be able to overcome it easily.  I haven’t yet.  And now I had a meet-and-greet to attend.

I had promised to see this candidacy through to the end.  The meet-and-greet was part of that effort, so I walked up to the house, knocked on the door and was met by the host.  I help him set up chairs and carried a tray or two of snacks for the neighbors we anticipated would be attending.  Some of the other candidates arrived.  Since I had already met them, I could talk to them.  And then the neighbors began to arrive.  The more experienced of the candidates set the standard.  They greeted people, shook hands, talked about the issues, asked the neighbors about their concerns; they had all the right moves and knew their lines well.  I sat down at a table and watched them all interact.  I could not generate any interest in selling myself to these people.  It was cookie selling all over again.  I didn’t really want to be on the Neighborhood Council and so I didn’t care if these people voted for me or not.  No, that wasn’t it.  I just couldn’t beat my fear of meeting new people.  Finally, I stood up and walked over to where one of the other candidates was speaking to a group of neighbors.  I listened to him tell them about his views of the issues and respond to their questions and concerns.  He was kind enough to include me in the conversation and I did manage to express some of my opinions.  It wasn’t much, but it was better than sitting alone at the table.  I survived the candidate meet-and-greet.  I don’t suppose I gained any supporters, but at least I was there.  I did what I said I would do, even if I didn’t do it very well.

The candidacy process was almost over.  There was one more forum to attend.