Chin Up: How to be Situationally Aware

By FPL_Staff

In a world of ever-demanding technology, we sometimes forget to keep our surroundings in mind when we are out. Your happiness and safety have this in common: you’re responsible for both. Keeping an awareness of the area you’re in is important not only for your safety, but for others. While there is a balance between prepared, paranoid, or panicked, training your brain to be more alert isn’t just a safety precaution—it's a means of living with your awareness engaged.


Observation is more than seeing. We can’t help but see as we move about our day, but observation adds focus. Instead of just looking around, take note. Pay attention. Keep your head up and don't  stare down at your phone the whole time. Engage your other senses as well. What scents do you smell? What noises are there?


  • Look at behavior: Are there people in a store who don’t seem to be shopping? Do you keep meeting them? Are they being overly friendly? Are they looking around too much? Do they seem agitated?
  • Consider context: are there things that don’t fit? Do people you keep running into have an empty cart? Or are you at a café where everyone is chit-chatting, and someone seems too quiet and isolated?
  • Look for discrepancies: is someone in a sweatshirt with the hood up on a warm, sunny day? Is someone standing extremely still while others are milling about?
  • Look at relationships: are there two people who aren’t shopping together that seem to be communicating? Is there someone who looks very uncomfortable within a group?

Objects and Surroundings

  • Sensory Sweep: When entering a new area, consider where you are. A mall food court, a school, a park. See if there is anything that automatically seems “off.” Also listen to the sounds that make up the space. Do you smell something “wrong” for the context you're in?
  • Take note of furniture: if you’re in public, look for big furniture that might be out of place, that a dangerous person might use, or you might use to your advantage in an emergency. Consider alcoves, large trash cans, hallways leading to restrooms, and similar spaces for hiding. You don’t have to investigate them; just be aware if you see or hear something coming from that area.
  • Locate exits: keep at least 2 exits in your sight at all times
  • Practice prediction: whether you think there might be a problem or not, make predictions about what people around you might do. Choose 2 likely scenarios and test yourself to see if you’re correct. If you sense danger, consider possible outcomes and actions that will help you stay safe.
  • Trust your gut: if a place seems unsafe, trust that feeling. If you get “bad vibes” from someone’s behavior, move away. If you witness a situation that might be unsafe for someone else, do something.


If something looks off, speak up.

  • Ask for an escort: if you are at a store and suspect someone is following you, find an employee or manager and ask for a security escort to your car. The store should be happy to assist in keeping you, as customer, safe.
  • Consider their shoes: if you are in impractical shoes and they are in tennis shoes, you might not want to run. Or perhaps you need to leave your shoes behind.
  • Find a group: If you are alone, go into a store or walk up to a group on the street.
  • Stay in the light: If you aren’t already in a well-lit area, get there quickly
  • If someone else appears to be in a dangerous situation, it is not suggested to step up by yourself. Instead, find someone with authority who has been trained to handle these types of situations.

While some of this may seem intense, most of it is logic that just takes a little retraining of our brains so that we can focus more on what’s around us than what is on the screen we’re holding. This also means getting to “people-watch” and witness loving interactions between families or humorous scenes with pets. Bringing our heads out of our phones may open up more opportunities. As mentioned before, look for balance between being paranoid and prepared.

For more information, take a look at these blog posts, including one from our very own Frisco Police Department:

How to Develop the Situational Awareness of Jason Bourne, opens a new window 

FriscoPD’s Safety Tips for Online Transactions, opens a new window

To focus deeper on these types of issues, consider some books on developing observation and understanding strangers’ behavior:


The Gift of Fear

The Killer Across the Table