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Personal Safety and Situational Awareness

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Personal safety and security

Personal safety and security are things that we sometimes take for granted. 2021 has proven to be one of the most violent years in recent history. While it seems to be concentrated in low-income communities, no demographic or location is exempt from its often-devastating impacts. Violent crime can happen anywhere, at anytime and to anyone.

When we think about personal safety; usually our first thoughts are seat belts, defensive driving, proper use of machinery, or wearing personal protective gear when doing dangerous things. When recreating we often focus on wearing helmets, proper placement of ropes, winches, climbing gear, and when in the water having proper flotation devices and being aware of the weather. During the cold weather months, we often make sure our car has good tires, a maintained battery and is fully stocked with windshield wiper fluid. When we think of personal safety and security from a violent crime perspective, we need to shift our focus a little, thinking deeper than what the weather looks like this week. We do this by recognizing certain threats, hazards and dangers can actually exist. If we ignore or deny that there is any danger, we develop complacency bias that can lead us to miss identifying, avoiding, or even preventing a bad situation from occurring.

Situational Awareness is understanding and seeing what is going on around us. It requires a deliberate approach identifying proactive measures that we can use to detect potential threats and dangers. Maintaining our safety at home, work, and in the public is much easier if we adopt some simple situational awareness measures. It begins by increasing your awareness to your surroundings at all times. I really like an approach that the late firearms instructor Jeff Cooper used to explain how to remain situationally aware. He used a simple color code that lets us know how aware we are at any given time. His color-coded system has been utilized throughout the world for many years. He broke down the color system into four colors escalating degrees recognizing and preparing for what is happening around us. This is a mental process, not physical, and it may help you avoid potential deadly threats.


In condition white, you are relaxed and unaware of what is going on around you. A white environment is often when you are at home or in some other environment that you assume is safe. Unfortunately, we are also quite often in condition white when we are looking at our phones, while walking (or even driving) in public. In condition white you are oblivious to potential crime or other dangerous events. I try to avoid being in this condition.


In condition yellow, you remain relaxed but you are aware of who and what is around you. You are paying attention to sights, sounds, and smells. You are actively paying attention to vehicles, clothing, and behaviors of those you are around. If you are jogging (while listening to your favorite tunes), you are still aware and actively looking. If you are attacked while in condition yellow, you will most likely be able to identify the problem first and take appropriate steps to avoid the situation. Sometimes people mislabel condition yellow as paranoia. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While in condition yellow, you are enjoying life, and actively participating in your environment. I find that when I think about it this way, I tend to enjoy walks, drives, and daily interactions a little more because of the active participation.


Condition orange usually indicates that you have identified a potential problem, something is wrong, so you are paying more attention to the situation. This could be anything from a vehicle driving erratically on the road, to a person acting strangely. In this situation it is very important to follow your gut instinct. In a book titled “The Gift of Fear”, author Gavin De Becker identifies the importance of following your initial feeling about a person or situation. In this book he interviews and reports on many victims of violent crime, detailing when they “knew” something was wrong. Often, it is quite early in an exchange, and could have bene prevented if people would have followed their gut instinct early on. We are taught at an young age to not be rude, to be polite to all, but sometimes, we know something is amiss and we are better served by taking action, even if it involves a direct or terse behavior.


In condition red, you have identified an attack or imminent danger and you are required to take action! In condition red, you will need to commit to action to potentially save your life or the life of others.

A good way to exercise situational awareness is to think about leaving work today, walking to your car. Your mental state should be yellow, aware of the surroundings, looking for anomalies, for things that might not belong. If you see something that doesn’t look right, follow your gut instinct. If a stranger is by your car, wait or respond with an appropriate action. If nothing happens get in your car and be on your way. However, if something does happen, you have already prepared your mind and body to take a different action; this puts you ahead of the game. This situational awareness is free and for me personally it has allowed me to live a more fulfilling life, aware of my surroundings and in a potential position to render aid if required.

Awareness Color Code Chart

A couple other things I do to stay situationally aware:

  • I check my weather app before I drive any distance, to include road conditions and accidents on the UDOT app.

  • I read the local news and try and identify any protests or large groups gathering (mostly for traffic, but also personal safety).

  • When focusing my attention on my environment I also identify the location of nearest exits and stairwells, identify unattended packages or unusual belongings, the location of any law enforcement of security personnel.

  • I generally have a safety plan in mind in the event of an emergency situation that will include the location of a stop the bleed (first aid kit) and calling or signaling for help.

Trusting your intuition is a critical component of situational awareness. Quite often our subconscious mind notices subtle indications of danger that our conscious mind hasn’t figure out yet. Do not ignore this intuition.

Finally, situational awareness is something if practiced regularly becomes second nature. You aren’t being paranoid, just mindful. Practice your awareness and be safe!

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