Situational Awareness - Paying Attention can make all the difference
When Brianna Jimenez arrived at her waitressing job in Seguin, Texas in the early hours of December 30th, she had no idea that this would be the day she helped prevent a mass shooting. That morning, a man named Tony Albert entered the restaurant and asked, “Where’s the Baptist Church?” The question itself wasn’t alarming; it was Sunday morning after all. Yet, when Tony left the restaurant, Brianna immediately phoned the police and Tony Albert was arrested.
So, what happened during their brief exchange that alarmed Brianna so much that she felt compelled to call the police? Perhaps without even realizing it, Ms. Jimenez used deductive reasoning to determine that the situation was wrong. First, she noticed that Tony Albert was wearing poorly concealed tactical-style clothes. She then noticed that he had pistol on his hip. So, when he asked about the local Baptist church, she became concerned. She gave him the directions to the closest church, but he said he had already visited that one and it wasn’t the one he was looking for. He described the particular church he had in mind and mentioned that he was going to “fulfill a prophesy”. When Brianna considered all of these factors together, they painted a scary picture of pending danger. Though Brianna provided the information he asked for, she refused his requests to drive him to the location. The moment he left the restaurant Brianna locked the doors and called the police. With detailed descriptions of both the incident and the man, the police quickly apprehend him, and he was charged with a number of offenses.
Brianna used situational awareness techniques to assess what was taking place and she determined that this person was a potential threat to the restaurant as well as the church. Through reasoned thinking and decisive action, Brianna prevented a tragedy that was about to unfold without endangering herself and others.
Unfortunately, many people in a similar situation would have simply answered the man’s questions and never pick up on the indicators of pending trouble.
The key takeaway from this incident is - Situational Awareness is crucial in keeping you safe
In reality, most attackers have poor tactical skills and employ sloppy clandestine techniques which make them easier to identify. Unfortunately, this is offset by the fact that the overwhelming majority of people have limited to zero situational awareness skills. Those that do rarely employ what skills they have on a daily basis.
Keen situational awareness put into practice daily is crucial to living a more secure lifestyle. Awareness is a skill that can be learned, but it requires focus (i.e. taking you eye’s off your phone and looking around).
Effective situational awareness focuses on context. Context looks at factors such as environment, setting, and demeanor to identify threats before they develop into active incidences. This means quickly evaluating indicators of potential threats. Don’t expect to see a glaringly obvious indicator that flags a person as threat. Dangerous situations are seldom accurately identified by a single, conspicuous indicator. That single, glaringly obvious sign that everyone easily recognizes typically appears as the attack begins, and too late to take preventive action. More often, there will be several subtle clues or indicators that taken as a whole (in context) indicate that trouble is brewing.
Of all of potential signs of trouble, there is one in particular that is often misinterpreted as a singular sign of threat, and that is seeing a person with a sidearm (pistol). The fact you encounter someone carrying a holstered firearm isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. There many reasons people carry firearms in public; off-duty police officers, plain clothes officers, certified trainers, guards, concealed carry license holders, citizens opting to legally open carry, etc. The fact that you see a holstered weapon typically implies the person is actually not a threat. Usually when someone’s planning the belligerent use of a firearm, they’ll keep the weapon hidden until they’re ready to act. However, as in the situation Brianna Jimenez experienced, this is not always the case. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules, which is why you need to put all the pieces together, don't just overreact because a person has a holstered firearm.
Environment: This is the social setting and physical space where you are located at any given time. It’s important to understand your present environment and use it as a foundation for other situational awareness inputs. Every environment is different and will have unique characteristics. For example, the environment within a local garage is much different that a local restaurant. Both will have their own typical population, pace, language, and code of conduct.
The environment of the restaurant where Brianna Jimenez works has its own environment including typical clientele, dress, and pace for a Sunday morning.
Setting: The setting is the variables within the environment at the time of the incident. This includes variables such as what, where, when, and how many along with dozens of other significant inputs. But, remember, it’s important not to hinge your entire assessment of the situation on one variable.
For example, Seguin is a small Texas town, and people carrying sidearms in public is not uncommon. A person with a visible sidearm at a diner near a gun range isn’t particularly noteworthy, however the same individual appearing at a school PTA meeting should get your attention.
Demeanor: A person’s demeanor broadcast a lot of information to those paying attention. What captured Ms. Jimenez’s attention first wasn’t that he was armed, but the he came in specifically asking about the local Baptist churches. Again, the question wasn’t that odd, it was Sunday after all. But asking the waitress to drive him to one and muttering about “prophesy” is unusual. That oddly specific question coupled with the other factors such as he was armed and wearing tactical clothing, raised the red flags which compelled the Brianna to contact the police.
Ms Brianna Jimenez's story is an excellent example of how an ordinary individual can make a difference be simply paying attention. It's important to remember, taken on their own, most indicators can be easily disregarded as unimportant, or misconstrued . But looked at together and in context, small details can uncover hidden threats. Its important to make such deductions quickly, but not too hastily. It would cause a host of problems for you, the other person, and your business to jump to an incorrect conclusion too quickly. However, by paying attention, and deducing their meanings in context, you can make a more accurate conclusion. Then if your conclusion requires action, then act, and do so with decisiveness. Lives may depend on it.