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There's much more than Situational Awareness to Consider

Many of you most likely are already familiar with the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) and in Canada those familiar with the National Use of Force Model may use, Assess, Plan and Act when entering into a given situation. Our first go to when using these models and navigating the situation is to fall back on situational awareness to often times avoid and if unable to, prepare ourselves for what we may encounter. However, often times, what is lacking when assessing, deciding or planning are the consideration of impact factors.

Impact Factors are broken down into six categories;

1. Environmental Factors which include weather conditions, time of day (daylight or darkness), location, physical position during the situation such as being inside of a vehicle or elevator, and other factors which may provide cover and/or concealment.

2. Number of potential assailants as well as friendlies usually referring to our multiple assailant situations but also taking into considering the ‘plus 1 factor’*.

3. Perceived abilities of our opponent as well as ourselves including the influence of alcohol or drugs, physical size, strength and skills, the emotional state and proximity to weapons, improvised or otherwise.

4. Knowledge of the individual that you are having the encounter with as they may be an intoxicated friend or an unknown assailant.

5. Time and Distance refer to those conditions that determine whether an individual must act immediately or may be able to apply other tactics such as de-escalation or avoidance and are based on; imminent threat, must you act immediately, can you create space and time to further assess and, identify escape routes

6. The ability to recognize potential attack signs such as invasion of personal space, aggressive verbalization and adopting an aggressive posture.

Although above are the primary impact factors that one should consider in a potentially violent encounter, we must also consider these lesser known and often overlooked factors which impact how we process the situation;

· Your strength and overall fitness at that given moment. You may be fit, both mentally and physically, but does your regiment align with the current situation that you found yourself in. What I mean by this is that you may be able to bench press your bodyweight for 10 reps or be able to run a marathon in under 4 hours, but can you tap into the explosive speed and strength required to fight off a violent attack under duress?

· Your personal experience with that given situation. Individuals who have experienced real world violence such as law enforcement, military and security operators are more likely to navigate a similar situation with what appears to be a calmer demeanor. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t feeling the same sensations as someone who has found themselves in a violent encounter for the first time, just that they recognize that they have been here before and can push through the initial onset more efficiently.

· Your personal skills, abilities and transferable training. Again, this principle aligns with the previous two in that you may have acquired certain skills and abilities through experience or realistic training that has prepared you the situation. A chef trains in a kitchen to prepare themselves to perform in the same environment, so should those who may have to prepare themselves for violence.

· Your fears, perceived or real, and more importantly, your ability to manage them. One should understand that Fear will be present regardless of your training and experiences. Through the ‘amygdala hijack’ it will either fuel you to ‘fight’ and/or ‘flee’ or have you ‘freeze’ in the moment. It is your ability to identify and manage Fear that will assist you in getting through the situation proficiently. Two exceptional resources to better acquaint yourself with Fear are; and

· What is your level of fatigue and your mindset at the time of the encounter? Many don’t consider this but the reality is that you are more likely to be vulnerable to an attack when you are fatigued and your thoughts are elsewhere. Reflect back to a time when you had just completed a hard shift and are completely drained and what it felt like walking out to your vehicle in the parking lot or if you are on patrol and in the last half hour of your shift when you observe an incident in progress or are dispatched to that last minute call.

· Whether you are suffering from any injuries, ailments or disabilities. This is a given and should be included in your assessment of options and is often referred to as ‘tactical considerations’ when deciding or planning your best recourse.

· Do you have potential triggers subsequent to traumatic stress? It’s one thing to recognize that you have potential triggers and are seeking treatment to identify the trigger itself and reduce the symptoms. It’s another to be aware that certain circumstances may trigger a response, negative or positive and prepare yourself in advance to that situation. Certain triggers may include attending a location associated to a traumatic event or running into an individual who played a role in the incident. How you view and use these triggers may alter your ability to respond to the situation and subsequently, the level of force required.

· Your cultural background and religious beliefs. Unless you are an individual who has been a victim of, or have witnessed biases directed towards yourself or others of different culture or religious beliefs, it is difficult to see how this may impact the situation. However, when facing adverse situations, their culture or religion may impact their perception of the responses available to them. It may also put them at a higher risk within certain environments, forcing an escalation of force and limiting de-escalation strategies. Think on this…if your culture or religion frowns on violence, this may create hesitation and doubt when facing violence and hinder your ability to effectively protect yourself or loved ones in certain circumstances.

Not to inundate you with too much information that goes into an assessment when we consider situational awareness, much of what we just discussed can be done in advance as preparation. For example; those of us who are faced with winter driving prepare by putting on winter tires in the late fall, having the vehicle maintained with fresh oil and tire pressure, ensure that the block heater chord is working properly, place a window scraper in the vehicle, have the fuel above half should we become stranded, properly warm up the vehicle in advance of departure, leave earlier than during summer months to navigate treacherous road conditions, and often listen to local news reports to plan our morning route to avoid reported accidents or road closures. Should we encounter an obstacle on out way to work, most of the impact factors have been addressed and the immediate issue is usually easily resolved. The same can be applied to self-defence.

Despite the breakdown of factors that impact this assessment, we need to focus on our intuition to guide us to safety. That uncomfortable feeling that we all have before something terrible happens. By paying attention and trusting our intuition and instincts, we can more often avoid the situation or at the minimum, prepare ourselves in advance to respond appropriately. See the “Red Light, Green Light” article previously shared.

*’Plus 1 factor’ implies that when you are facing one opponent anticipate that another will be present.

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