Situational awareness: practical safety tips

Here are 4 simple tips  to improve your situational awareness and to reduce the likelihood to become a victim.

Situational Awareness - radar image

Soft awareness - awakening the senses

We don't live in a war zone and there is no need to become paranoid but I thought it would be nice to share a few tips to help reducing the chances of an unfortunate event in the street. When it comes to crime prevention and trouble avoidance, awareness (and trust in your instinct) is the number one factor.

So, Be aware of your surroundings!

Again, not everyone is out to ‘get us’ so when talking about awareness, I am not referring to these sophisticated, colour-coded, "levels of awareness" that are advertised by many security experts. What I am talking about instead, is the kind of soft awareness we develop when driving a car. You know, looking right-left, a glance at the mirror, etc. So, on foot, in the street and particularly at night, it does not hurt to have a look, from time to time, over your shoulder to see who's behind you, and to pay attention to your surroundings as you would do while driving your car.

Headphones: lost in the sound, drowning out the noise

In our daily, hectic modern life, two things greatly reduce our level of awareness: headphones and mobile phones.

As the increase of accidents involving pedestrian wearing headphones shows (Huffingtonpost, Live Science), with headphones on you might not hear the car or the bus or the train, you certainly won't hear the bike, and it is fair to say that you won't hear anything either if anyone is coming in your back. For these reasons you should consider taking off your headphones in certain circumstances or areas at least.

Your phone: that object of desire

Mobile phones are another distraction. Worse, they tend to attract thieves (see this articles about phone snatchers: Guardian )and that CCTV footage). So, when you're talking to people on the phone in the street, think about using the headset.

Many of us text while walking or waiting for the bus making ourself easy target for phone thieves as can be seen there: Thief on bike snatches smartphone from texting woman.

CCTV footages show that phone snatchers are usually on bike and that they go back and forth until they find a target. They approach their victim from the back or the side but always towards an exit route often crossing the road.

So, if walking try to stay alert to your surroundings and not completely immersed in your texting (that will also prevent you from being run over by a car).

If waiting for a bus try to position yourself in a way that would make it harder for a ill-intentioned person on a bike to grab your phone from your hand without having to stop. For example, in the second CCTV footage the victim can clearly be seen close to the road, outside the shelter and on an open route for the guy on the bike, making herself an easy target. If she had been standing closer to or under the shelter, it would not have been so easy for the thief to grab the phone without stopping or taking the risk to collide with another person or the shelter itself which would considerably increase his chances to get caught.

Other uses for mobile phones you hadn’t considered

Many people feel safer chatting on the phone while walking at night and/or deserted streets/areas. The problem with this is the distraction and the low level of awareness it creates. The problem can be turned around simply by letting the other person know where we are first thing when they call us or, alternatively, describing what you see to the person you're talking to. Think of it as a game. No need to go into details, just a simple description of the street/houses/cars would help keep your level of awareness to a decent level.

While we are at it with mobile phones, it worth mentioning apps, such as ReactMobile, that turn your smartphone into safety device that get you help with the touch of one button, sending alert through text, email even Twitter or Facebook account, to pre-set contacts including the police. Using your phone GPS the app is able to indicate your precise location to your contacts. See this recent article for more information and a comparison of the 5 most serious products. I haven't tried any of these apps but it might be worth testing. Please, share your experience here if you decide to try one of them.

One friend has recently brought BSafe to my attention. Among the interesting features are the GPS tracker, the alarm/siren and the video recording: if alarm is triggered you set off a siren, and bSafe starts recording video and voice as well as broadcasting your location. Video, voice, location and time stamps are all stored securely in BSAfe servers. You always have access if you need to share this data with the police.

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