Situational Awareness – Finding Your Edge

Understanding your environment provides a mental blueprint. It opens your mind to what is just below the surface and provides you with the opportunity to provide services or prevent mishaps before people are consciously aware of either or both.

by Pete Ferguson

In security and law enforcement, the term situational awareness (SA) is used to describe your environment and what is right – or wrong -with that mental image.

In the first Mission Impossible film, you may recall later in the movie when “Ethan” replays the party scene at the beginning of the movie in his mind and suddenly realizes there was a second team at the mansion observing him. His SA was turned on, but he had initially filtered out the abnormalities.

Developing a more keen SA is a blessing and a curse. I’ve been in the security field since 1996 when I took my first job as a student officer for the Museum of Art at BYU. In the museum, security cameras were placed inside of track lighting fixtures so as not to be too obvious or distract from the decor.

Every spring time as love was in the air, we would have to go back into a remote gallery and alert the “snogging” couples that there were multiple cameras pointed at them and could they please remove themselves to a more appropriate place.

It was funny to be in the control room where we only had video, no audio. We’d watch as our fellow officer walked toward the room. On hearing the approaching footprints on the wood and granite floors, the couple would quickly sit up as though nothing was going on, grab a book and pretend to be studying.

The officer would point up at the cameras and you could see the body language of the couple change immediately. Once the officer retreated, the girl would usually start shoving her boyfriend/fiancé and we could observe the body language and very easily guess what was being said. Upstairs we’d see a very blushed and embarrassed couple – no longer holding hands – depart.

Their SA had not picked up that they were being watched.

It always gave us a good laugh. It has also made me a bit paranoid, and I pay very close attention to where hidden cameras may be everywhere I go.

SA is akin to a “sixth sense.” It is having a deep understanding of the nuances going on around you. It is developed by paying attention to traffic flow, reading body language, and looking for hardware such as cameras, heating vents, exit signs, etc.

In business, SA is very useful in anticipating the expectations of your customers. It is also key in understanding what additional services or products can be offered.

Two quick examples: On Singapore Airlines, I’m never asked if I want a drink, I’m educated on what options there are. If I ask for a pillow, I’m offered a blanket and asked if I would like my dinner right now so I can sleep. My needs are anticipated.

When it comes to electronics, I never knew I wanted a device the size of a deck of playing cards that could be used as a phone, a music player, video player, GPS, portable bank, camera, video conferencing unit, and email and text communicator to replace the big bulky grey box and monitor that used to sit on my desk.

There wasn’t an overwhelming need for smart phones ten years ago. But Apple and others read the environment and imagined the possibilities of releasing us from the tether of our desktop computers and found or created the technology to produce smart phones.

Learn: As you look at your personal and professional environments, what is just below the surface that you are not seeing? Don’t ask people if they enjoyed their meal, ask them if they’d order it again or recommend it to a friend. Dig deeper.

Act: Spend time in the shoes of your customer, employees, or family members. Turn on all of your senses and actively record everything around you. There is a very funny email rant from Bill Gates when he tried to update Microsoft Movie Player and how he outlines the frustrations we’ve all felt in using his products. Don’t hide at your desk unless you are on the phone to your customers. Otherwise, get out and experience what others are getting out of your business.

Share: I like to do site evaluations with a partner. I try not to say much (a real challenge for me) at the time, but then go back to the hotel or for lunch and discuss our observations and how something could be better. In the back of my mind, I’m also thinking of what I should change or do differently. This is why I read about four blogs for every one I write when time allows.

Have a fantastic weekend, and turn on your SA!


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