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January 30, 2022

Understanding Awareness as a Security Skill

A client of mine once told me how he was robbed at a fuel station convenience store.


A client of mine once told me how he was robbed at a fuel station convenience store. We had met years after the incident, but it still weighed on him. “What could I have done better?” he asked me.

It’s difficult to advise on how to react during a situation like this, armed robbery.  Especially when you’re unarmed. When asked questions about safety, security, and protection, like this, I always assume that your training level is minimal. I generally recommend following the robber’s commands. Avoid being a hero. Do not try to disarm him. Disarming should only be approached in a life or death situation, unless you’re highly trained. However, even with extensive training, I’m hesitant to advise disarming an attacker; it should only be approached if you’re in the right position (on the side or behind the attacker) where you have a better chance of disarming successfully and more importantly, you’re doing it to save lives.

Instead of asking, “what could I have done better,” from a security perspective, we should think about what we could’ve done differently.  This is where awareness comes in.

Awareness 101

According to the dictionary, awareness is the “knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” In security, it’s also a skill.

Here are some common questions that come up when trying to understand awareness as a skill.

Q: Does exposure to new information create awareness?

A: Yes. I know something that I did not know before.

Q: Will this new information change my life?

A: That depends. Your knowledge is expanded by this new information, but your connection to this information, and the level of threat or fear that you feel, will affect how you react to this information. With this awareness (new information received), change comes when you believe you and your loved ones are in imminent danger. If the fear from this new information is not strong enough, your awareness will be limited.

Q: Will this new information succeed to change my perspective? How about my muscle memory and mindset?

A: While your perspective may be changed by absorbing this new knowledge, you cannot significantly build awareness. To build awareness, you need to do more than just read, research, and understand facts. Change in your muscle memory and mindset comes with physical training, repetition, and significant challenge.

How can we build awareness?

Building awareness is a threefold process: education, training, and exposure.  Security training is like any sport training or craft.  Education is the first step. It’s knowledge building, which in a nutshell consists of an analysis of case studies, suspicious signs, and modern-day threats. Following education comes training, physical of course. You need to teach your body how to react in physical situations, should you ever have to defend yourself. After you’ve trained, you need exposure.  In my courses, I push real-life scenarios and simulations across all levels. Mindset is everything. You need to connect your mind and body, so you’ll know how to react during an incident, like in the gas station example.

Through this process you build awareness.  It is a result of your training, you strengthen your awareness, so much so, it becomes almost automatic.  You may not even realize that you’re using your new security skill, but suddenly you’ll realize that you notice more in your surroundings than you used to. A veil has been lifted and you will understand your environment a little bit better than before.  Awareness has become part of your muscle memory.

The goal with awareness is not to create fear through the understanding of all threats that surround you in your environment. It is to create opportunity. Exposure to threat potential gives you the opportunity to create security solutions and take actions to improve your overall safety.

What could I have done differently

Returning to the story about the gas station convenience store robbery, I want to address what my client could have done differently if he were to implement the skill of awareness.

  1. Observe: From the moment you drive into the gas station parking lot, observe the surrounding area. How many cars are filling gas? How busy is the store? How many and what kind of cars are parked in front and around the store?
  2. Think: Does anything look suspicious to you?
  3. Pause: If you see a car that looks suspicious to you, do you really want to go in?
  4. Decide: Take a minute. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, trust your intuition. Perhaps you can find another place nearby. Or maybe you should call the police.

The most important thing I stress in my courses, do not wait for a wake-up call. Do not wait for something to happen to you to start practicing safety and security. Be proactive, learn, build awareness, and use the tools you have as a means of prevention, not just reaction. This is true for individuals, communities, businesses, and organizations.

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