The myth of situational awareness, illustrated.

The myth of situational awareness, illustrated.

This story has been making the rounds over the last few days, and some people in the training business have been using it as an example of why situational awareness is So Very, Very Important: “if this guy hadn’t been texting and been aware of his surroundings, he’d be alive today!”

Bull twaddle.

Frankly, I think it’s a perfect illustration of a controversial article I wrote a few years ago called “The Myth Of Situational Awareness”. In it I explained why situational awareness simply isn’t the magic wand that everyone wants it to be. Not that it’s bad or completely useless, mind you, just that it doesn’t do what you think it does.

In the article I pointed out that if the attacker is sufficiently motivated (i.e., there is enough reward in the crime relative to the risk he’s taking) he’ll simply wait you out until you eventually succumb to a distraction. Since then I’ve expounded on that concept, but it boils down to the fact that sooner or later you’re going to stop being ‘aware’ and start living your life. Whether it’s reading the menu or watching your kids swing or admiring the form of the Hot Thing walking past, you will become distracted many times every day no matter who you are. The savvy criminal knows that innately and will simply wait for his opportunity unless something better comes along.

In this case we have a professional gang hit. The shooter, as we found out, got to that parking space several minutes before the victim and waited for him to pass. This suggests that there was active surveillance and that they were in contact with the killer. Short of a round-the-clock five man protective detail, there was very little chance this guy was going to survive that level of dedication to his demise.

He could have had his “head on a swivel” and been in “condition orange” all he wanted, but at some point he would have looked down at his watch or stopped at a store window or done something that would have allowed his attacker to pierce his invincible cloak of situational awareness. He was very obviously a high value target, his attacker was skilled and motivated, and it was just a matter of time before he got nailed.

(About the texting: yes, I think texting in public is a good example of allowing oneself to be distracted – and managing distractions is really at the root of so-called situational awareness. In most cases we could look at this and conclude that texting contributed to the crime. But this case is different, and I contend that his distraction was the least of his problems.)

This isn’t an example of why situational awareness is a great thing; it’s an illustration of why it’s not the panacea so many make it out to be. Just so we’re clear: this doesn’t mean it’s completely unimportant or that it has zero value, only that it needs to be understood in context and subject to critical analysis instead of defended with clichéd one-liners. (Or color codes.)

-=[ Grant

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On December 12, 2012