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Personal Situational Awareness

Developing situational awareness skills will help you to recognise the early signs of a threat and enable you to react and respond quickly to potential danger

Last Updated 15 April 2024

What is situational awareness and why does it matter?

Situational awareness is being aware of what is happening around you and recognising whether there could be a threat to your safety or security.  Well-honed situational awareness skills help you to recognise the early signs of a threat and enable you to react and respond quickly to potential danger.

At times, when we have lots of things going on around us, we may fail to notice signs that a situation is changing and becoming more volatile. Sometimes these signs may be very hard to pick up on and, even if we don’t spot something, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.  When we are in noisy and busy environments, such as reception areas or public transport, we can become absorbed in our own thoughts and fail to see and hear signs of a threat.

Personal situational awareness is different to organisational situational awareness, which aims to help staff to identify suspicious activity at a site. Personal situational awareness is especially important for individuals who have heightened risk to their personal safety and security, arising from national security threats, such as those from state-backed actors and terrorists.

What can I do?

It is your responsibility to take reasonable care of your own safety, and those around you. Recognising you might be at heightened risk, and paying attention to what you are seeing, hearing and feeling can alert you to signs of danger. Every situation and every person’s circumstances are different and so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach that can be applied in all cases. The following section outlines general principles that can help you to develop your personal situational awareness skills.

The earlier you can spot the signs of a potential threat arising, the more choices you have to avoid risk.

Top tips

Number 1

Avoid Complacency 

  • Acknowledge your circumstances may place you at heightened risk. Try to be unpredictable.

  • Try to vary your routine and timings (e.g. to and from work) to make it harder for those seeking to harm you.

  • Do not advertise your home address online or in print materials (such as business cards).  

  • Do not become complacent in your usual surroundings. Be alert when:

    • Arriving to and departing from your home or workplace

    • Entering and exiting a vehicle

    • Travelling to planned events

    • On regular journeys

    • In unusual or new surroundings

  • Display an air of confidence (even if you don't feel it).

number 2

Plan Ahead

  • Plan exit routes within your home and workplaces and consider where might be considered safer areas to use in the event of an incident. Additional guidance is available on request from NPSA on the measures you can take to protect your safer area. 

  • When travelling, try to identify the points of your journey where you may be most vulnerable.

  • If possible, undertake visits, meetings and journeys accompanied. 

  • Tell someone where you are, what time you expect to finish and what to do if you fail to return at the expected time.

  • In new places, identify entry and exit points and plan how you are going to get away to safety if needed.

  • Avoid displaying valuables and devices, keep your possessions secure and your keys separate from anything with your address on it.

  • Carry a fully charged mobile phone, personal alarm or lone worker device.

  • Know when to decide it is time to leave to a place of safety.

Number 3

Understand the situation

  • Notice other people around you and watch out for people whose behaviour is unusual or unexpected in the circumstances – outside the "baseline". 

  • Know what is happening around you. Look up, look out. Use observations skills to SEE, not just LOOK.

  • Understand what you see and be aware of changes in your surroundings.

  • Use all your senses to understand what is going on, avoiding distractions such as the use of earphones or devices.

  • Know what to look out for:

    • Do I see anything that concerns me? (e.g., someone who seems agitated, tense, or pacing back and forth.)

    • Can I hear anything that concerns me? (e.g., shouting, threatening language, swearing.)

    • Is someone behaving suspiciously? Have I seen them before?

    • Question everything. Is this genuine?  Am I being tricked?

  • Consider the situation you are in – is there a threat emerging?

  • Trust your instincts (if something feels wrong, don’t ignore it – act to avoid risk).

  • Situations develop quickly, so re-evaluate to manage any developing threats.

number 4

Act

  • If you think you’re being followed, don’t go home, go to a busy area and don’t be afraid to seek help. Avoid confronting the individual(s).

  • In an emergency, and if a threat or danger is immediate, you should call 999.

  • Be mindful of your strengths and limitations – seek help if you feel unsafe or at risk. 

  • If confronted/challenged, be polite but confident and try to remove yourself from the situation. 

  • If anything causes you to feel uncomfortable, then move to a safe location and report concerns (always dial 999 in an emergency and ask for the police). 

  • For more information, see Know What To Do and the Blue Book.

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