Reading The Signs: Survival Situational Awareness

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)

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’.  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 rock, 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.

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?

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?

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, what ever 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.  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

Written by 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. Read more of Joel's articles.

89 thoughts on “Reading The Signs: Survival Situational Awareness”

  1. Very good article especially the eye-opening "Military Crest" term. Today I've learned something new – thanks Cpt. Bart!

  2. So often we get wraped up in everyday chores we forget to pay attention to everything else around us. Its important to, sometimes, just slow down and take a breath and look around. Very good read, sir. Thank you.

  3. Wayyyyy back when I learned to drive a car, (no, it wasn't a Model T, a '61 Impala 🙂 ) both my dad and my school instructor gave me advice that doesn't seem to be that common any more, i.e., "don't focus your eyes on anything very long,You have to see everything, just keep scanning everywhere."

    This was reinforced later as "keep your head on a d*mn swivel" and by a shaman-teacher's description of "hunter's eyes" = "If you look for the bear only where you expect it to be, you won't notice that it's eating your lunch outta your pack behind you, Focus when you have it in your sights."

    Most people also need 'learning" in the area of 'trusting their gut". We all carry very old genetic programming that probably once kept a "Fred Flintstone" ancestor from being something's lunch. No one is going to tell you "You are approaching a dangerous situation. Danger.. Will Robinson.." , except you.

    If a situation gets you feeling "that feels bad" or "that shouldn't be there" or "this is stupid" or "what's that smell/noise/movement?" and there is alternative, ummmm.. GTFO there. One of the less-evolved parts of your brain may well be telling that it's time to save your butt, even though the conscious, civilized part has not recognized the danger yet, and you can avoid cutting/shooting your way out of something unpleasant by taking a detour.

    We tell our kids "don't be afraid of the dark" and it's BS . The fear is "ol' Fred's" genes telling us "there are big critters out there in the dark that are hungry and our night-vision is crap, but it's just a physical red flag that means it is time to pay attention, be prepared and don't do anything dumb"

    • You do understand, sir. When I was 12, my daddy starting teaching me to fly. He taught me the art of 'sectioning' the sky and scanning each section effectively so that you would actually see something out there in all that sky. Same process works on water or land. Especially at night, looking directly at something is a good way not to see it.
      Something I can't prove but believe to be very,very real – staring at a person or animal is a good way to ensure they know you are there. I've been told that it isn't real but I've seen many instances where staring at someone results in them turning their heads and looking directly at me.
      You are right about the dark as well. I am NOT afraid of the dark. I AM very concerned about the things that may be in the dark that I can not see – things that go bump in the night rarely are good news. History International even did a 2 hour special on why we are afraid of the dark. There were/are very good reasons to be very careful during the hours of darkness. Without our electric grid we are in the same boat as our 1800's ancestors.
      Trust your gut! If you are wrong, you may be slightly embarrassed. If you are right, you are alive.

      • CaptBart, I discussed this very same topic with a friend a few months ago, he is admittedly MUCH smarter than I am when it comes to scientific explanations for things. After a few hours of discussion, and bouncing ideas off of each other, we both came up with this theory –

        Because our eyes reflect light, as you can observe with the "red-eye" in pictures, it is possible that when you look at someone, your pupils actually reflect some of the light needed to be able to activate the rods/cones in your eyes onto that person. The reason that they may be able to pick-up on this, is the same principle behind how you can feel the radiant energy from lights/sun on your skin. Though this reflection of light off of your eyes might not be strong enough for someone to recognize immediately as radiant energy, if you stare at someone long enough, their autonomic nerve/sensory functions may register this radiant energy, and stimulate a subconscious part of the brain to look around and see if anything is watching them. Which could be a survival function, used in our ancestors to detect predators they might not have been able to see. Even if the person/animal looking at that person might not be readily visible, it might be enough to trigger the person to be more aware of their surroundings, and could possible signal other parts of the brain to heighten other senses (ex. hearing and smell).

        Even if this is complete "hog-wash", it certainly sounds plausible… at least to me it did!

        • Not at all hogwash, Chefbear – if you have ever taken a night flash-pic of a housecat, they don't have redeye, they have glowing gold/silver-eye. The night-stalking critters that old "Fred Flintstone" used to run from on a regular basis ( cats, wolves, etc) have an extra layer, behind the retina, that we poor humans don't have, called the "tapetum lucidum" that reflects light for better night vision and makes those 'shiny eyes" (very low-tech, but very effective, light amplification)

          My bet would be that someplace in the genes we inherited from "Fred", there is a pattern, way down at the lizard/mammal level that triggers a "uhoh, something is looking" reaction.

          • Interesting theory and I wouldn't bet against you. I learned from the military flight surgeon that I have a mutation in my eyes – seems to be hereditary as my son is the same way – I have over twice the number of rods and cones as the average human. Sort of like HD instead of standard TV. I actually do see things (finer detail) that many others miss (even needing glasses the higher density is there). One interesting side effect is that I see better at night than most. I also seem more attuned to being stared at than most I know. Related? I don't know, it could be a lifetime of paying attention to 'gut feel' but whether it is a reflected light thing or some sort of electrical connection based on the intense focus (thought is electro-chemical) and a sensitivity to electrical fields or ??? There is much in nature that I don't understand but I have seen enough anecdotal evidence that I act as if it is true.

    • On a side note in every day life if you happen to be a witness to a crime having better awareness skills would probably increase your chances of being a bigger help to the police later on. (You wouldn't believe how horrible a humans observational and recall skills are until you hit that section of a criminal justice textbook).

      • We actually had a discussion about that very topic in my "Criminal Evidence Procedures" class, because of the way that a traumatic situation can change the way a person remembers events/details eyewitness testimony has become much less important in criminal prosecution.

  4. Great article. When patroling the streets (whether here at home or on foriegn lands) you start to see paterns. You will notice when those paterns are “different”. Some take that as a time to kick back and catch up, but some take that “down” time as a perfect time to “hunt”.

    Everyhing has paterns once you are dialed into those paterns when they are broken they will stand out.

    • Just so. When the pattern changes, find out why. The reason will probably be benign but on those cases where it isn't, you may have just saved your own life.

  5. One thing I wonder about , does anybody else notice this ? All survival sites seem to be overly pre occupied with combat situations and go into great detail about guns , knives and assault /defence situations and gear for that purpose . However , with all the discussion about weapons , and situations ….. VERY little is said in really any detail about having to deal with the results of that . You may become injured , shot , etc . or have to care for somebody that is . Way too little is said about medical preps in any detail ( if at all ). Out of 30 survival sites I found only ONE that actually got into this subject in detail and that was , http://www.urbansurvivalskills.blogspot .com . They even go into another seldom approached subject that survivalists need to address , that is what to do with prisoners . That is a reality everyone may have to face also . Hats off to CaptBart for bringing in more topics like this one and the psychological topics to the forum . Guns , knives and ammo are fine but its beating a dead horse in discussion boards .

    • We have considered doing articles on medical stuff, but nowadays their is such a big liability problem that we have not carried through with it. If we give instructions on how to treat a certain ailment, and then John Doe goes out after reading our article, and tries to treat his own wounds the way we explained, and hurts himself even more, then we are liable unless we put out a BIG disclaimer saying that we are not at fault for anybody being stupid with what we say. It is just a big hassle, and you might as well just go to which can explain it as well as we can. If you can understand a word that I just said, I am amazed. I am having difficulty understanding what I just wrote, and I am the one who wrote it.

      • True but what I was actually referring to was itemized kit suggestions in forum which is what urban did , how to use is something else entirely .

        • Main reason is for the experienced people on the forum to add their suggestions so the less experienced could benefit from the ideas on how they prep .

        • Could you please fix the link in your previous post? It does not go any where. We will see about some type of kit list in the future. One of those things that is on the backburner until further notice though.

          • Josh,
            I think he was referring to which is a good site. Since I plan to bug in I do spend some time there.

            I suspect part of the problem is that many folks have not faced the high probability that they or members of their groups will be seriously harmed. We all tend to think of ourselves as invincible. In all the action shows and westerns, the hero usually isn't killed or seriously hurt. It is the other guys that get hurt. At 62 I am perhaps more aware of the fact that sometimes the good guy gets hit. A 20 to 30 something may never have come face to face with their own mortality. We see ourselves as John Wayne or 'the man with no name' and only 'they' get hurt/killed.
            One of the serious problems is that in a SHTF scenario we may well be stuck with 'primitive medicine'. Using kerosene to treat amoebic dysentery or maggots to clean wounds or Aloe Vera plants for burn treatment is not usually discussed because we have more modern methods. Most people are intimidated by things medical. We are out of our comfort zone with no way to gain skills. I don't have the time to become an EMT and even if I did, without modern medical tools, I'm limited to first aid and not much more. I do study and I have my medical kits but it really isn't possible to practice taking out an appendix or tonsils for someone not in medical school. I can practice marksmanship, orienteering, fire making and even first aid. Learning to extract a bullet from a person is more difficult. I recommend mading friends with a vet. They have the skills, aren't worried about you 'practicing medicine without a license' and you can pick up some pointers (practice suturing on a ham for example – you can eat the patient for supper the next day as well). The problem is that we expect medical care to be perfect which is truly the enemy of good in this case.

          • Part 2
            As to things like prisoners; that is a very tough call. In the old west, there were only a couple of punishments possible. Execution (typically hanging), visible branding so that everyone knows a bad guy is a thief or cheat, and expulsion from the area were about the limit of what was possible.In a survival mode, long term incarceration is simply not possible. This will force some extremely difficult choices – how much risk are you willing to accept to protect someone who has tried to harm you? I suspect it will be a combination of how much risk and how much benefit they might bring. Medical personnel might merit a second chance. In Patriots, the two refugees caught with the remains of cannibalistic behavior were simply executed on the spot. No trial, plea, excuses – just executed. Those are the kinds of decisions that haunt our dreams. By the grace of God, we won't be faced with them. It is one of the reasons I try to remind folks we are prepping to survive, not fight a war.

          • Agreed , also one thing that is a possibility nobody wants to think about ( with good reason ) is being captured themselves .

    • There is a definite syndrome, frequently found among younger folks ( absolutely no offense- meant to Josh and like-thinking young folks, who actually think) and the retired fighter-pilots I used to work with in the Pentagon ( yes, I AM being silly to make a point), often-referred-to to as "10 feet tall and bulletproof" that can lead to VERY bad results.

      No, You aren't. Yes, You (and your friends, and all the 'good guys" ) CAN get hurt, and very well may. It might be something as simple as not paying attention while moving a piece of furniture, or as dumb as thinking that the other folks in the bar are your wingmen when you tug on a biker's earring (this happened…) .It still hurts. Better to be ready.

      Learn First Aid and CPR. If you can get an EMT course,, take it. It, if you can get the Red Cross Mountain Medicine course, it is worth the time off. If you find a Chinese or Indian traditional medicine teacher who isn't a scammer, well, 150 years vs 4000 years – it's your choice.

      Get all the books you can,read them and store them. Pick and choose what you think you need to know.. Saving someone's life could be pretty cool – saving your own is ( the newly-proverbial) "priceless"

      • I used to call it 'the Ace of the Base' syndrome. There has to be some of that, I guess, since strapping my warm, soft, pink body into a high tech machine and flinging myself into the stratosphere to travel at high mach to a place where I can get shot at has GOT to be classed as an unnatural act and not at all conducive to survival. In my case it was a turbine powered, magnesium flares configured to look like inverted ceiling fans but the principal is the same. It takes a certain level of hubris and ego to do that day in and day out. You have got to KNOW you are the best there ever was or you go nuts. When you figure out you are not bullet proof and that you can die it's time to get a ground job. There is an old song from WW2 that says "Give me operations, way out on some lonely atoll, for I'm too young to die, I just want to go home". When I got there (I figure I'd used up all of my luck when I DIDN'T break my fool neck – came close enough that it eventually led to my retirement but no break) I moved over into a missile unit. It made so much more sense to plant my backside in the middle of ground zero for a nuclear strike – I never said I was particularly smart in my youth. It just amazes me that so many of us survive it. God watches over kids, idiots and second lieutenants.

  6. While I actually enjoy guns, knives and ammo, in general, the "ideal" post-TEOTWAWKI/SHTF scenario. as well as pre-SHTF would seem to be never having to shoot anything you don't want to eat, and leaving the "zombie biker gangs riding on laser-eyed grizzly bears" stuff to be "Somebody Else's Problem" because they never find you.

    Learning how to get to that point is (IMHO) more important than arguing 7.62 vs .223 forever.

    • Well said, sir. I enjoy shooting, especially black powder guns, but if my preps are successful I will never again have to engage another human being in a fire fight. I carry a concealed handgun and I pray I never need to use it. You do understand.

  7. Agreed , My father was a WW2 veteran and I will always remember one thing he did say about his experiences , and that was ” the guy with the biggest balls in any war is the combat medic .”
    That is probably true , he runs into the line of fire , stays there as long as is needed , etc , etc , …..doing this the whole time unarmed !

  8. Great article! Reinforces many habits I've practiced since I was a kid. I have always had a knack for spotting & remembering alternate exits & routes of escape. I can go in a structure 1x and draw a map of the layout & exits within minutes. Strange trick & I have no idea where I aquired it. I would like to add that everyone should learn to use all 5 senses as well. We tend to be very visual but smell, touch, hearing & taste are equally important. We are often so tuned into our inner monologues that we forget to listen. Turn if off & really listen to what's going on around you. Also humans & animals have a unique scent. People especially forget that the cigarette they just smoked, the deoderant or lack of, toothpaste, cologne/perfume, soap, wood smoke & food odors can carry quite a distance & tend to cling to clothing & hair. Most hunters are aware of this when hunting but tend to forget that humans have a pretty decent sense of smell too. Practice using your peripheral vision. People will often give themselves away if they think you are not looking directly at them. Also never underestimate the usefullness of a good dog.

    • Excellent points, sir. It is amazing how strong the sense of smell is to memories as well. The smell of a jungle is something I have run into only a few times since Viet Nam but it always brings on the old alertness. Having been an aircraft accident investigator "burned beyond recognition" is a smell, not a visual thing.
      I had a gunsmith tell me that the deer have begun to recognize the smell of Hoppes #9 and leave an area where the odor is found. Hunters have started looking for odorless cleaning agents for their deer rifles (Say it Ain't So! That smell is almost an aphrodisiac for a gun guy! Oh, the humanity…..).
      The longer you are away from 'civilization' the more acute your sense of smell and hearing becomes. Our noses are assaulted by the scents we use to block natural odors and our ears are deafened by the constant noise we produce to avoid silence.

    • You both bring up good points, I know I have a hard time dealing with some of the crazy scents people use all over themselves. I am a "super-taster", which means that my taste-buds are more sensitive than most folks, which is pretty handy being a chef! The problem with it is that when I come across folks who use WAY to much cologne/perfume or lack thereof, I can actually taste it… which is pretty nasty! Especially when I walk past places like that "bath & whatever they call it" place they have in the mall, that joint has so many different, extremely strong smells that it makes me feel ill and gives me a headache!
      CaptBart, I know exactly what you mean with the smells triggering memory… and there is no smell quite like a humid, hot and musty jungle; The only place I have been here in the States that has a similar smell (not exact), was at a zoo in a simulated jungle exhibit… and like you that smell immediately put me on guard!

      Supposedly the reason behind the strong ties between smell and memory, is because of the size/location of the occipital lobe of the brain. It is one of the largest sensory sections of the brain, has the shortest connection between the sensory organ and the brain, and is "hardwired" from the nose into the brain near the part which supposedly controls memory. At least that is what they taught in the psychology class I took last year…

      • This guy I used to work with had very little to no olfactory senses ( nasal surgeries ) , as a result , he also had no sense of taste either . Amazing how those two are tied together as well .

      • Your sense of smell is processed in the limbic system (or limbic area – depending on which textbook you read) of the brain. This is also the same area that, to the best of our understanding, controls emotional processing and memory. This is why smells evoke memories and moods. The jungle smell- I'm assuming – brings memories rushing back to you as well as a "default" frame of mind that goes along with that.

        • Thanks for the correction… if you couldn't tell from my comment, I didn't learn much from that psych teacher! Something about that guy just made my brain block out most of what he would say, could be because he was SOOOOO boring, or maybe cause he was a jerk, either way at least I passed and don't have to take another class with him… EVER!

          • I had to pay attention in that class more than I wanted to (going into a medical field). It does bring up an interesting point, however. If we can create a default frame of mind (think of it as a profile or template) for a certain setting, the trick becomes developing our default template to be one of awareness. Wouldn't it be ideal if the smell of your coffee or your aftershave in the morning brought out a level of awareness that people like Capt. Bart experience with the "jungle smell?" – Something I've been pondering on since I first read this post a couple of days ago.

          • An interesting idea. The trouble is that all 'alertness' is not the same all the time. I'm not sure (don't know, understand, but just not sure) that it is healthy for people to be on a combat trigger at all times. You can get into serious stress issues if you are in a combat mind set during your every waking hour. That failure to de-stress is part of what causes PTSD (again, I am not sure but I think this is correct). If you dropped into that mindset every day and you were not in one of the world's many combat zones, it would lead to problems I fear.

          • CaptBart, as always, you provide valuable perspective. I guess I'm not trying to suggest that we be in a "combat mode" but more that we develop an automatic heightened sense of awareness of our surroundings and not walk around like sheep. Do you just put your head down and march to your car when you leave the store or do you keep your head up and see what / and who is around? Does the unusual vehicle parked down the road jump out at you or do you just assume its nothing (or not even notice it)? My original comment was aimed at developing an awareness to where you would notice potential threats, not a hyper-paranoia. I think you would be correct in that potentially leading to a PTSD risk.

  9. I see a post by CaptBart in the comments rss feed, but not here. (probably a bug in the system)

    "Never pick a fight with an old guy. If he is too old to fight you, he'll just kill you"

    Another similar quotable popularized by Waylon Jennings, "Old age and treachery always overcomes youth and skill."
    Basically, if you're old enough to know you can't win the fight fairly, you'll just cheat.

      • Cheating is defined as taking unfair advantage. The only unfair fight is the one I don't win. Ergo, I don't cheat. Q.E.D.

    • my uncle used to say that all the time, old age and treachery always overcomes youth and skill, i think it was cause i got bigger than him kinda early, lol. its always stuck in my mind though. sometimes harsh teachers are the best.

  10. Ever since I was a kid I have been told (and have noticed myself) that I have a knack for noticing things other people tend to ignore. I can typically walk into a store that I frequent, a friends house, or almost anywhere I have been before and recognize minute changes within a short period of time. I have also always had a pretty decent ability to "read" people; I can usually see a person and combine their body-language, with the way they speak and their facial expressions, and be able to predict with some accuracy, their "next move". Unfortunately I still have trouble noticing when a woman changes her hairstyle, and the "typical" things us guys seem to overlook!

    This pension for noticing behavior and changes in my environment has helped me avoid collisions while driving, prepare for someone about to start a bar-brawl, and even avoid being mugged a couple times. I find that the most important time to maintain/practice situational awareness that almost everyone is confronted with in everyday life, is while on the road… Especially here close to D.C., people drive like complete idiots, and being aware of your surroundings can not only literally save your life (by preventing collisions), but also save your wallet, from insurance premiums & deductibles!

    Living near big cities, and unfortunately having to venture into them, also has provided me plenty of opportunities to practice my situational awareness and implement new strategies. I used to attend classes in Richmond VA, in a not-so-good part of downtown, I found it especially important to "keep my head on a swivel" during that time because I would get out of class around 11pm, and have to walk several blocks to my vehicle in the dark and alone. I have been followed more times than I can count, by some pretty unsavory characters… and the few times that some of them actually tried something, my awareness of my surroundings (one time I actually smelled the guy coming, he had been smoking REALLY cheap cigars and pot, very distinct smell!) is what kept me from getting hurt.
    Paying attention these days keeps getting harder and harder, I like most folks have an MP3 player, a cell phone and a couple other gadgets, but these things tend to distract/impair our ability to "focus on everything and nothing". I have actually seen people become victims of crime in Richmond, simply because they had their headphones in their ears, rather than listening to what was going on around them… Just something to think about!

    Great article, as usual CaptBart!

    • I'm a pipe-smoker, so I admit I have diminished-senses, but never underestimate the capabilities of a lit cigar and a (preferably-paper) cup of hot coffee in an urban encounter.

      Before I moved to the vague-DC area, I lived and worked in a "bad" area of pre-gambling Atlantic City, NJ. I always picked up a cheap cigar and coffee, when I left the store at midnight, and enjoyed the coffee and stogie on the way home, and on several occasions, discovered that while many urban predators might well be prepared for a knife, gun, or MACE, few expect a "harmless" item like a redhot cigar end in the eye, or a *squeeze* that delivers a faceful of hot liquid.

      In the city (I grew up in the South Bronx) in the 60's) think like a ninja. Be as invisible as you can (or look crazier than a sh*t-house rat – that works too) , and use the most vicious improvised weaponry you can. In the worst case, the cops/judge will be happier hearing "I dumped my coffee in his face, then kicked him in the head" instead of "I emptied both combat-tuned .45's into his a*s"

    • I chew tobacco and enjoy the occasional cigar myself, I have noticed that over the years my sense of taste has diminished slightly… I assume that it is a result of the tobacco use (it returns to normal within a couple days of not chewin'/smoking), so I know what you mean.

      I do like the idea of something as innocuous looking as a cup of coffee being used as an improvised weapon; and I have been burned by a big ol', reeking cigar before (some guy put one out on my arm, he was trying to start a fight with while I was hanging out with some friends (it seems to happen to me alot) at a dive outside VA Beach)… NOT FUN! SO!!!

      I have to say even though you are probably right, about the coffee v .45's… I personally, prefer the second choice myself!!

    • As far as the things women expect us to notice , Crap I dont either unless its drastic . Just find a Russian woman to date , they tell you bluntly what they do and think without the guessing game .works well for me .

      Her : ” Aye colordt mhy hayir toodeey ”
      Me : ” I thought so , looks good ” ( lie )

      that is also a survival skill lol .

  11. living in the largest city in ak, ive used situational awareness many times to keep my wife and children safe. i know that even somethin as benign seeming as a pan handler can become a danger to a woman or a child. i interpose my bulk and fierce scowl (as well as multiple weapons and training) in between the fam and any strangers who show interest in them. situational awareness is great, prevents more injuries, assaults, robberies, etc than anything else.

    • 'She who must be obeyed' complains that I get treated better than she does in many places. Being 6ft 2in and trained in the proper use of 'command presence' by my favorite uncle, that is true. Size and attitude do make a difference. That plus a willingness to use overwhelming force quickly (how that willingness gets communicated, I don't know but the predators seem to understand it is there) usually defuse a situation.

      My daughter went to a merchant marine school. Before the freshman year she went on the 'summer cruise' to various islands in the Caribbean (what she now calls '3rd world sh*t holes). At one port of call she and several of her friends were walking along and 4 locals asked the two freshmen boys she was with how much they wanted for her. My daughter had just encountered the fact that red hair, blue eyes, and a 5 ft 2 in height was a 'desirable' combination in certain, shall we say, markets. Fortunately for everyone but the locals, there was a senior on the ship who happened to see what was going on. As the locals pulled their knives this 6ft 8in tall, 350 lb weight lifter walked over and asked 'Any problems, little Red?' The knives vanished and so did their owners. I suspect they were afraid that if they stabbed him, he'd just get mad.

      The group had been totally oblivious to their surroundings until they hit trouble. After that, the ex-ranger who would become my son-in-law, the 6ft 8 in hero, and several other seniors decided they needed to watch out for her. She was lucky all the way around but luck is an abysmal survival plan.

  12. This is the best article to come out of Survival Cachet yet! The reason Special Ops survives in really bad situations is SITUATIONAL AWARENESS.

    This morning I saw a high school girl almost get run over at a crosswalk because she was paying more attention to he dam texting than the 4500lb SUV that almost got her. Teach your kids!

    For the record Capt. only the Grunts march… We moved low and slow most of the time.

    Key item to watch for an ambush is channelized movement… Your movement being restricted by terrain or obstacles.

    Weapons are great but only if you can get them out in time… In close proximity you must learn to defend yourself using your body. Learn the techniques of balance, force, and areas of vulnerability and practice them.

    Stay aware… Stay Alive.

    • Thank you, sir. Expanding on the 'close proximity' comment – it is also necessary to decide what part of your body you will sacrifice to protect the rest. For example, I can kill a dog (even a large one) with my bare hands but it will cost me a lot of damage to my forearm which will be jammed as hard and as far as possible into it's jaws. The arm will get chewed but my neck and jugular vein will be protected. Of course, in a SHTF scenario I am now injured (see comments above) but I am still alive and functioning.

      • Pepper spray hits a dog where they live ! right in the nose ! One thing That I ware in the woods often are thick leather vambraces on my forearms . Ive done enough medieval weapons training as a hobby to know that small things like that can keep cuts and even breaks from happening . Never forget to explore the old ways and equipment . They were designed for a reason . Some of it does cross over . A tube of japanese 6 on 2 chain under your cloths wont stop a bullet , but it WILL stop a knife .

      • Same goes for a knife attack… If they get close you will get cut. The boney part of the forearm can save your life. Then you can pin the knife hand, take his balance away, and follow the attacker to the ground with your knee on his ribs. Once you hit the ground the fight is over.

        Same goes for a knife attack… If they get close you will get cut. The boney part of the forearm can save your life. Then you can pin the knife hand, take his balance away, and follow the attacker to the ground with your knee on his ribs. Once you hit the ground the fight is over. Perhaps you could write an article about real self defense. Not the pain submission BS stuff. Maybe a brief description of different styles, advantages, and disadvantages… Something like that?

  13. This article is excellent. I glad to be part of a community that thinks like this. My wife often asks me what I am thinking about when we go out. I tell I am thinking about what the best plan of action is if…. What we should do when…. This is what keeps us alive.

    • I just tell my wife; "Nothing" or pick something out of the scenery to describe. She already thinks I’m out there. Then when something goes wrong or the situation exceeds her abilities I’m her rock… And she is surprised by it.

      • Ditto. Most of the time my wife "tolerates" the survival "stuff." But she is pleasantly surprised when it comes in handy. 🙂

        • My ex wife was one of these women that you couldn’t prepare with , had no will to survive and would panic and cave in every-time something happened big or small . A man can only take so much of that , and now I have a strong , unshakeable Russian woman that is on board with prepping . Growing up in the Soviet Union wasn’t fun and she had a lot of experience with shortages of every kind as a girl . Brains , beauty and internal strength , what more could a man want 😉 ( and NO …. we met by accident at my barbers shop as she is also Russian )

    • I'm the wife that is always thinking, planning, or preparing for potential situations. I'm usually aware of exits, hazards, and weapons. My favorite when traveling, a tightly rolled magazine held firmly in my right fist.

  14. I do NOT endorse i ANY way the original source of this book, but it should probably be part of everyone's survival library. "The Barefoot Doctor's Manual" ISBN 978-0894718106 – translated by John E. Fogarty..

    back in the 60's/70's the Red Chinese govt realized that the majority of their population was many days walk from any sort of medical care. They started training 'peasants" to be local "Barefoot Doctors" to keep local people alive in the absence of "professional" medical care.

    Emergency medicine, both Western and Eastern, herbalism , acupuncture/accupressure etc. Many dangers, like local snakes can be ignored, many remedies need access to native Chinese herbs, but, if I had to limit myself to only 1 "medical" book, this would probably be the one I pick.

    What we Americans consider 'traditional' medicine is approximately 150 years old. (the American Medical Association was founded in 1913. Search on the term "hoxsey" if you want to know why 'non-herbal doctors' thought they needed a trade union). Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurveda have been around closer to 4000 years.

    I may be totally naive here, but, in general, "if you kill you neighbors, they kill you back".
    Those "other tradition" doctors knew something, I suspect.

    • Herbal medication works , the problem I have with chinese and other remedies from asia is that they are too seeped into Horse-shit superstition and trying to separate what is legit herbal and witch doctor herbal can be difficult . Example : Tigers are hunted and poached almost to extinction in areas , so some dumb a$$ can get the dried organs to feel like more of a man by getting the ” essence ” of the animal . Even I’m smarter than that ! These are the same type of people that will put their butt in the air , and bow down to a rock !

      • I fundamentally agree with you, but (you knew there was a "but") it can be important to sift through the dross to get to the silver. My family physician is from China and also uses acupuncture and such. American med grad but uses the best from the East. Post SHTF I suspect that many of the American Indian medicines (we grow the plants here) could be quite useful. As to the shaman stuff, we do enough of that ourselves with our placebos, white coats, massive tests, etc. Both groups of healers often enough treat the symptoms and let the body heal itself. While I understand your point, the placebo effect is real and you can never tell is Tiger organs might prompt testosterone production in older men for example. Not defending it, but suggesting that studying what the local healers did in our geographic areas before the advent of modern medicine might be helpful. Aloe Vera plants for example are excellent for burn treatment.

        • Good point as usual CaptBart , as far as the Tiger stuff in old men goes , modern medicine has an easy cure for low T . Not to mention the biggest problem the world has is that we BREED TOO MUCH ! Not a lot of respect for the 3rd world with me I’m afraid . Yes psychological aspects in medicine is half the battle , but its like survivalism itself , you have the will to survive or you dont . Those that dont will have a difficult time adjusting to adversity . Life is adversity , some good , some not , its how we deal with the changes . I live in the southwest and as you know , plant life is much more sparse than other places . I know some native remedies really do work , they had 1000’s of years to perfect it . Alo Vera is proven , I have used it right off the plant but others things , I have to question and take with a grain of salt untill I know for a fact it works . Some herbal medicine uses trace elements of plants that are so small , they do no good as using more is a poison . A lot of debunkers have shown that some are horse $hit . Modern medicine …… well we all know its just a racketeering job set up by doctors ,drug companies , and insurance companies to screw us all any way they can . I get most things I need to stockpile in Mexico because you can haggle with price and no prescriptions . Just sayin lol

          • Something else I've run across is the use of veterinary drugs for humans. A great many (not all) vet meds are the same with only dose differences due to weight. They can be purchased on line in many cases, quite legally, for use on your pets without any prescription. There are books out there that explain the how and how not to use these meds post TSHTF. Since I am not a physician, I won't tell anyone to use these; if you think it might be prudent, you can find the books on the internet and the meds as well. Use or don't use at your own risk and discretion.

  15. Great article CaptBart, as usual when you write. All the weapons and training in the world won't save your hide if you do not see the threat coming. Planting cover crops or certain berry bushes to draw birds into your retreat will be an inexpensive security system as well.

    • Most hunters (at least most of the ones I know, myself included), have had a situation where they scared up a bunch of birds which in turn scares off their quarry. I know I have kicked myself on more than one occasion for moving to quick, taking the wrong approach or making a little to much sound while moving; which have scared the little birds between me and the deer I was stalking more times than I care to admit! Good idea with the bushes, a "quick fix" might be to have some bird feeders filled with bird food, might give you an advantage if you are expecting something or if you are waiting for the plants you mentioned to grow/produce.

      • <DIV>Chefbear,</DIV> <DIV>I used the crackers from my MRE and/or the rice from them on several occassions field expediate “birdfood”. There are plants they talk about planting that omit a scent when stepped on. This can also be used, as you can plant them in different locations and actually have a “directional” alarm system as well. I have not personally tried the plants yet to confirm this.</DIV> <DIV style=”FONT-FAMILY: times new roman, new york, times, serif; FONT-SIZE: 12pt”> <DIV style=”FONT-FAMILY: times new roman, new york, times, serif; FONT-SIZE: 12pt”>

      • Geese , Guinea hens , and believe it or not , Peacocks make good ” watch dogs ” , all are noisy and dont care for strangers on the property .Geese can actually be very aggressive .

        • Geese are great – Peacocks are a pain because the few times I've been near them they 'nuisance' alarm all the time. It's like a dog that always barks, you get to where you don't pay attention. No real experience with Guinea hens.

  16. GREAT article. This is exactly what I do every minute of everyday. When people ask me what i'm thinking I usually respond with "nothing." While they are thinking of all the stress in their life, all the chores and errands they have to get done, I'm looking for exits, weapons, potential threats in the room, people that could be a threat, who I could take down if I have to and more importantly who I DON'T think I could take down (know your limitations!) and just in general all the what ifs that could happen. One of my favorite parts of a movie that deals with this frame of mind is in the first Bourne Identity movie. He and the lady are sitting in a dinner and while looking her straight in the eye he rattles off how he knows all the vehicle plates in the parking lot, where to find a gun, his physical limitations at that particular altitude and a few other details….but sadly he still doesn't know who Jason Bourne is.

  17. Great article Capt Bart! One thing that I see frequently with many of the younger generation is they will get so involved in TEXTING that they have no idea of what is going on around them. I once watched a youth texting while walking through a store. He walked head first into a steel support beam. He was not injured but I wondered if he learned anything from the incident. YMMV.

  18. Believe it or not, my Mother In Law gave me a great "situational awareness" tip: When driving at night or in Fog or both, when you get to a railroad crossing, don't just look. ROLL DOWN YOUR WINDOWS and LISTEN. Saved my ass once. It could save yours too.

    • Excellent point. Those of us with vision tend to focus on that alone, forget about smell, sound and feeling. Flying helicopters, they vibrated and made a ton of noise all the time. That was fine – but if it CHANGED then you had trouble. I once detected a total electrical failure because the faint hiss in the headset went away. Went to backup and continued just fine but the warning system failed to detect it. Use ALL your senses if staying alive is important to you.

  19. Great article. I find myself becoming complacent in my daily routine, be it work or non-work related. That's when you slap yourself and say "wake up and pay attention". Done it to myself more then once and I now try to keep a wary eye out.

  20. Well said. I am always amused at the 'modern' who is willing to look down their nose at the 'ancient'. How silly it was to talk about the earth having an affinity for the rock which is why the rock falls to the ground. Everybody KNOWS it is gravity. where those old Greeks funny! Of course ask any physicist in the field and you basically get the same answer. Telling me it's gravity when you can't tell me what gravity is (the mutual attraction between bodies is a circular definition – the thing that causes the rock to fall is the attraction of the earth on the rock – sounds a lot like an affinity to me) doesn't make you smarter than the ancients. Einstein's 'cosmological constant' was removed from his theories because it was too much like an 'affinity' to expand. Now we talk about 'dark energy' like that is scientific. We do know more things, but we don't necessarily understand any better and sometimes the 'new' knowledge is not as good as the old. Perhaps that is why modern researchers spend time in the jungles and among the 'primitive' peoples looking into their medicine. The stuff did work, with or without the mumbo-jumbo.

  21. when my wife and i go out to dinner. she makes fun of me because i wont sit any where with my back to the front door. i could never explain to her why without her shaking her head at me. now i think she understands after reading this article

  22. I found that my awareness increased when I began riding my bycycle more than driving. In the car I expected others to follow the rules and often would cruize thru the light just because it was my green. On my bike I always slow down and look for cars that may not see me. I have gained an insight about situtioanl awareness I didn't have before. It has transformed into my everyday awareness too. Looking for tell tell actions in others.

  23. One thing I was very impressed with in this article was the mention of the necessity of being able to look in all directions at the same time. In other words, "situational awareness". It's part of staying alive on a motorcycle in traffic. It's not something you can teach … it's has to be something you're able to just "do".

    Very good article. Well done.

  24. I attended SERE School in Brunswick, Maine in 1987. We got the first day to “relax” (training in the one room school house on the top of a mountain and some outdoor practical application exercises that night. The next day the “enemy” invaded our camp and we had to bug out. (All the invaders were Navy SEALs and none of us wanted to be the first one caught! I ended up being "War Criminal Number 5".)

    We spent the next three days building evasion shelters, learning to travel using the lowest profile possible, meeting “Partisans”, eating off the land (not much in Maine if you are unfamiliar with the territory…iodine water in rice turns it blue! Unsettling!), staying calm during an enemy night patrol (they shook our shelters up pretty good…it had to be laughable for them finding our amateurish evasion shelters, but as long as we didn’t panic they moved on to the next camp). Very realistic and spooky training.

  25. When moving along a ridgeline, walk a third of the way down from the ridge top. If you are spotted or need to evade, you only have to travel a third of the way to get to the top, and can run downhill from a third of the way down. Walking the ridgeline is a terrible idea due to silhouettes. Walk with hands up when visibility is low (arms out bent at the elbow) to protect your face, especially your eyes. Train yourself to walk “Indian style”, landing on the ball of your foot first, then heel. Tough to maintain but makes walking in leaves and twigs much quieter.

    Can’t say enough about maintaining situational awareness. Spent almost 15 months in Iraq and learned to watch for anything out of the “ordinary”, but knowing what is ordinary and not ordinary requires being in the area for a while. Learn who you can trust (often the answer is “no one but yourself”, and in some cases not even then like when suffering from hyper or hypothermia). Use more than your eyes….smell is important, hearing is very important. Not hearing anything may be more dangerous than hearing something you shouldn’t. Silence should make you even more cautious, as it is unnatural.

  26. You can’t maintain total vigilance 24/7/365. Your brain needs rest and you cannot stay vigilant for extended periods of time. After being in country for almost a year we got very sloppy (complacency is your worst enemy). We went from strict mission rehearsals with briefings, walkthroughs, radio checks, and checklists to a 5 minute muster before missions. We got out of country just in time. Less than two weeks after we left Iraq two members of the MCT (Mobile Collection Team) we went on missions with were killed when a planted intel lead led them to a booby-trapped house.

    Stay alert. Find fellow preppers. Set up your shelter location now. Talk to family and help them get ready. They think I’m nuts; they might thank me later (but I hope they don’t have to)!

  27. Find myself watching store front glass and walking between vehicles looking back through the rearview mirrors.
    as well as looking through and in vehicles GLANCING and very aware of trucks and down windows.
    dogs like to spring up from.

    Situationally aware ? maybe too much I do not enter a stop & rob or store until I have checked it through the window
    as I drive up and before I enter.

    I always try sit near an exit and facing the entrance stand at an angle so I can see better at a counter.

    Before I walk out to my vehicle I scan the lot for anything out of place If I cannot park near the door I do another
    errand and come back building fronts have cameras the further out your parked the less camera visibility and that
    plus there are customers entering and leaving make it less probable that criminals will be comfortable.

    scanning is always beneficial looking at anything out of place people on roof tops nervous ticks body language
    so many but if you deal with people you get to notice some people never do in a business it is good to watch the entrance before the customer enters and look them over as you welcome them diverted eyes looking at the floor
    hoodie up face down hands in pockets should give you a inkling to be watchful.

    We live in a world full of dumb turds so you cannot pull on everyone that looks out of place or Wally world would be
    hip deep in dead bodies.
    you should not telegraph any emotion other than a slight smile you want to seem unaware even if there is a problem
    the longer a potential felon thinks your ill prepared the more time you have to be ready.

    None of this means squat in the real world people get shot for no reason all the time attacked stabbed there are people that are mentally ill or just psycho doped out or drunk anytime of the day in a hallucinating mind they can be thinking of gummy bears and next thinking you insulted them or think your going to attack them.

    I have worked with the criminally insane and dealt with alcohol fueled and drugged out problem is they are everywhere we do not have enough money or facilities { if you listen to the politicians or media} to house them all
    so it is catch and release until they have done something so heinous they are locked up for life.

    Many people look normal but are on medications that keep certain actions or feelings in check until it stops working
    or they become paranoid and stop taking them.
    People face epic personal horrors all the time family dying cancer / unexpected illness in families divorce alienation of children financial reversal hate vengeance in their heart and act out like the copilot that supposedly took his life as well as all the passengers on that plane recently.
    We never know when people will snap due to mental or physical stress or illness it is a hard and complicated world
    you have to be aware and be ready to evade or defend yourself or family at a moments notice.

    I watched a show where in Alaska in a small place I would not even call it a town but a man decided to kill all his neighbors by bushwhacking them with a rifle and in some cases he went over knocked on the door and murdered them ? so you know people for years and they are found to be child molesters / murders well you name it and
    the neighbors just say, " he was always nice kept his yard and volunteered at the food pantry".

    We live one moment at a time death is always at our elbow natural or by some other means the human mind cannot
    function under condition yellow all the time that is why city folk are detached mentally or seemingly oblivious as they have information overload and crazy people are everywhere all the time.
    in order to survive mentally they have to focus on self and their island of friends and push out the world around them.

    I have lived in some the largest cities in the world if your too aware you have to take it spells at a time another reason why people are leaving cities as well as fear and loathing of things to come stress avoidance and welfare of their children.

    The more complicated and fearful as we wade into whatever comes I think pressure and stress will take its toll on
    people as well as the need for some to be different or shock or inflict their ideals or pain on everyone around them.

    a lot of great info on these posts all we can do is our best, pray relax and take it all in if God is on your side who can be against you ? that does not mean to be an oblivious dingbat but do not turn into a paranoiac either.


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