Situational Awareness And The Walking Dead


Situational Awareness

Wikipedia (because we always cite unimpeachable sources) defines situational awareness as: “Situational awareness or situation awareness (SA) is the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status after some variable has changed, such as time, or some other variable, such as a predetermined event. It is also a field of study concerned with understanding of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic areas from aviation, air traffic control, ship navigation, power plant operations, military command and control, and emergency services such as firefighting and policing; to more ordinary but nevertheless complex tasks such as driving an automobile or riding a bicycle.”

Some say I stress SA way too much. I disagree. I don’t think it can be stressed enough. Knowing what’s going on around you is necessary for survival. It’s what keeps you from being hit by a car when crossing the street, falling into a hole when you’re walking, or being taken by surprise and assaulted. If the Neanderthals had walked around looking at their phones instead of paying attention, they’d have been stepped on by mammoths. So yeah, SA is important.

The Walking Dead

To try and connect SA with modern day events I’m going to use the wildly popular, post-apocalyptic soap opera The Walking Dead to illustrate some points. If you’re not familiar with the show, a select band of people are navigating their way through a world turned upside down by an unspecified event that causes people not to lay quietly and decompose after they die but to shuffle their way from one brain buffet to the next.

Yep, zombies. Now, nowhere in the show are the zombies (Walkers in the parlance of the show) ever described as fleet of foot or wily. Yet they regularly manage to trap and eat cast members. (I’m assuming the ones eaten didn’t have an agent that was a shrewd contract negotiator.) Be that as it may, this is the enemy.

Now, while this guy may have been an engineer in the employ of NASA prior to his becoming a sack of wet bone splinters, he’s definitely not drawing up the plans for the next space station. So how does he manage to get his daily dose of vitamin gray matter?

Cause & Effect

Because the victims aren’t paying attention to their surroundings. They have the situational awareness of a rock. (The acronym for that is SAOAR for you active duty types and veterans.) How many times on the show have you seen three people standing and talking or looking at something when one of them is grabbed by a zombie? How does that happen? You can avoid the walkers by maintaining a modest ten-foot buffer between you and them. How hard is it to look around before you stop and make sure one or two zombies aren’t lurking about? A little look see before you put your heads together to try to figure out where that damn Carl went THIS time can save a lot of embarrassment.

So here’s the first lesson. When you’re out in public, get your head out of your phone and look around. Look at the people around you and pay attention to what they’re doing. You want to have a half way plan formulated and the reaction time to implement it when the guy in the mall riding a Segway with a monkey on his shoulder decides that hilarity and mayhem starts now.

Then there’s the matter of preparation. If you find yourself wandering through a landscape populated by mindless creatures that would like nothing more than to eviscerate you, you want to be equipped with the means to fend them off.

Above you see both ends of the SA spectrum. Michonne has armed herself with a shotgun and a katana. She’s perfectly capable of defending another member of her party at a distance and has the means to go berserker in an up close and personal manner with a horde of zombies.

Morgan has a stick.

The second lesson? Have the means and methods to defend yourself to the extent that the law allows. Your SA should have told you what potential threats exist in the environment you’re going to have to operate in. Need cash at midnight but the lights are out around the ATM you plan on using and there’s a decidedly unsavory looking crowd hanging around it? Go to a different one. Turn a corner and you’re confronted by a guy with rattlesnakes wrapped around a baseball bat? Hope you brought your gun.

The simple expedient of paying attention can help you avoid situations you’d rather not find yourself in, or at the very least allow you to react to them in an appropriate manner.

Don’t let this be the last thing you see.


The Tactical Pirate

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President and lead instructor. Follow me on Twitter, and check out our blog.

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