Reading The Signs: Survival Situational Awareness

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By Joel Jefferson •  7 min read

Survival “situational awareness” is a key component in your ability to survive almost any situation including a SHTF disaster or a TEOTWAWKI life changing event. Being prepared with the proper gear is only half the battle, you must also be aware of your surroundings.

“A man has got to know his terrain.” Burt Gummer (Survivalist – Tremors Movies and TV Series)

Situational Awareness 101

We might call this ‘Situational Awareness 101′.  We’ve all seen the guy who walks out in front of cars and doesn’t even know they are there. Or the good ol’ boy who has crossed those train tracks hundred of times and there has never been a train coming…..

I will preface this by saying I’ve spent a lot more time in an urban environment than in the ‘tall and Urban Survivoruncut’ over the last 2 decades so this will be a blend of both sets of ‘terrain’.

Paying Attention

Louis L’Amour taught me some things in his books and on a few occasions it kept me out of trouble. Consider a basic scene where the good guy approaches a clearing and several birds take flight on the other side. The hero sees no reason for the birds to fly at that particular moment so he ‘assumes’ some predator (2 or 4 legs) is on the other side. He skirts the clearing and avoids a trap.

Approaching a clearing doing a low level recon in Viet Nam, a large group of birds took flight well 12.7mm Anti-Aircraft Gunbefore my helicopter could have spooked them. I did as hard a 90 degree turn as I could and the really, really BIG GREEN tracers (when they are headed your way they are as big as basketballs) missed me. My gunship supports were better shots and we picked up several 12.7 mm AA guns. Louis was right; it was a trap.

The point is to know how animals, weather, and terrain behave Surviving a flash floodin your area. Yes, terrain has a behavior. If you are in the woods and find an area clear of undergrowth, maybe just some small boulders and lots of pebble sized rocks, the kind of place that would make the perfect camp site – GET OUT OF THERE FAST!

You have just walked into the path of repeated flash floods. When I was in AZ we lost several campers every year who thought these were great overnight sites. Sometimes the rain feeding the flood is miles away and perhaps even a day old.

Back Trail

When you are walking, always stop and check your back trail. In the woods the way back will look different than the way in. You want to remember what the way back looked like as well as what might be following you. If a bird approaching to land on the trail behind you suddenly veers off you should wonder why. Is there a predator behind you, maybe stalking you?

Urban Environment

In the urban environment you are looking for what doesn’t fit. Why are those 3 guys wearing long Assaultcoats in Houston in July? What is under those coats? Why did 2 of them suddenly cross the street and walk ahead of you and go into the alley?

Why has that dog that has been running feral with a pack for the last 3 weeks stepped in front of you on the walking path and just sat down? Where is the pack it has been running with? Yes, feral dogs in a pack will attack humans.

If you’re driving somewhere (and it is available) check the street brawlInternet for street closings. If a street that is supposed to be open is closed for no obvious reason, ask yourself why. If there are barricades but no work has been going on, is it an attempt to stop you?

What do you do if a car suddenly pulls in front of you and slams on the brakes while another blocks you in from the rear? When you pull up to a red light, do you pull as close to the car in front of you as you can, or do you do what the police do and leave enough room to maneuver out of that spot if it turns into a trap?

Learn from Others

Experience IS NOT the best teacher; it is only the most expensive! You use experience to stay out Survival Blogof trouble but you gain experience by doing dumb things. I know from experience that a shattered heel does not improve my survival chances. You should learn from that and take care when climbing to avoid behavior that leads to falls.  The wise man learns from his own experience. The fool fails to learn. A survivor learns from others.

The hunter who isn’t willing to take his time, go slowly, and stay below the military crest comes home empty handed. Learn to walk in the woods quietly.  An interesting fact is that woodsmen have a difficult time adjusting to the military.

They watch where they put their feet; you can’t do that and march. It is difficult to pass on a good game animal because the range is just a little far, or the angle is wrong or the wind is too gusty for a certain shot at that range but it is the right thing for a hunter/survivor to do. You don’t want to be the reason the deer spooks or the birds fly. Walking is a lot more than just keeping yourself from falling down. Learn to move as a whole, not just walk.

Notice cover and concealment where ever you are.  Know the difference between them; a mistake can get you killed. Recognize that you can’t cross a ridge line without silhouetting yourself. If you don’t know what a ‘military crest‘ is, find out and find out why it is important. Pay attention to your feet, your back trail and the overhead.

The true survivor has often been called the ‘gray man’. He blends in, whatever the environment. SurvivorIf he walks across the room at your party, you may remember he was there but you won’t remember what he was wearing or how he looked.

At the range he won’t have the most tricked out space gun. His weapon will be serviceable, well cared for, and suited to the task.  No NRA bumper stickers, no “UZI 4 U” license plate (Burt Gummer’s plate in Tremors) , nothing that calls attention to himself.

In the woods, you may be able to find his camp site if you get there within 15 minutes of him leaving it. After that the vegetation will have recovered and only an expert tracker could find it. In one article, or one book or even in a series of books it would be impossible to express everything you need to know in every situation.

Wrap Up

Awareness is a life style. You have to think about the unthinkable at all times. The color coded alert systems help but aren’t enough (never be in condition white).

If you don’t walk into a room and find at least three weapons within a few seconds, you are not aware. If you are comfortable in a room with fewer than 3 exits, at least one of them not a door, you are not aware. As you read this, where is the nearest fire extinguisher? If you have to think, you need to train yourself a little better.  Situational awareness or the lack of it, kills.  It kills pedestrians, drivers, pilots, hunters, gun smiths, bikers, and motorcyclists.

Know your wildlife, your plants, the habits of predators (2 or 4 legged) and watch for changes in the normal. If the normal changes without obvious reason, something is wrong. Always assume it is bad news for you. If you’re mistaken then you can feel good about being prepared and about good fortune. If you are right, you are prepared to survive.

A man has got to know his terrain.

Photos By:
Kaptain Kobold

Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here.