Taking Care On Campus: Applying Situational Awareness as New Semesters Start This Fall

By MR. MATT LIPTAK, Staff Writer

Situational awareness can be described as assessing the characteristics of your environment in the dimension of time and space, understanding the meaning of what you are perceiving from those characteristics, and then accurately forecasting the situation in the near future so you can make effective decisions.

Having good situational awareness is vital in many circumstances for those who serve. It can also be useful to retain situational awareness when Airmen and their family and friends head back to school this fall. It is just one way to keep your learning experience safe as it becomes time to hit the books once again.

According to Mica Endsley’s article in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, situational awareness can be further broken down from the elements provided in the initial definition. Level 1
Situational Awareness
Assessing the characteristics of your environment. This level is comprised of recognizing the parts or elements that, together, work to determine the situation. Level 1 identifies critical parts of the circumstances and their meaning so enhanced understanding can be developed at further levels.Level 2
Situational Awareness
Understanding your current situation. This level is the result of converging all Level 1 characteristics to develop the larger picture, pattern, or tactical situation. Level 2 is used to ascertain the present circumstances in operationally valid terms to allow fast decisionmaking and action.Level 3
Situational Awareness
Forecasting the future situation. This level is achieved by advancing current circumstances into the future in order to try to predict how a tactical situation is going to evolve. Level 3 bolsters short-term planning and the evaluation of options when time allows.
Doing so may help you modify this skillset so you can apply it to your campus experience.

So how does all this situational awareness apply to a carefree stroll around a campus quad or studying in a classroom? Sexual assaults and active shooters can be grim realities on today’s campuses. In order to avoid becoming a victim when confronted with such a threat, situational awareness can be used to mitigate the danger and devise potential solutions in an apparently no-win situation.

The prevailing strategy amongst law enforcement thinkers on how to avoid violence for those confronted with developing situations seems to be: run, hide, and fight. In other words, the first and best response to a developing confrontation should be to evade the bad actor. This reaction may be counterintuitive to the military ethos, but in a campus situation, where you would most likely be without a weapon to defend yourself, evasion is thought to often be the best policy.

Concealment, or hiding, is akin to evasion. Examples can be seen in the mandatory lockdowns that often take place at schools that receive a threat. If a predator cannot find you, they cannot attack you. Law enforcement is most likely on the way and can confront the perpetrator.

After assessing your situation, you may decide that going on the offensive is your best chance, or only chance, of survival. As has been evident in some attacks this year, this strategy can also save lives by delaying the perpetrators’ advancement and, hopefully, by disabling the target.

Situational awareness can be used at all times, not only when the threat is clear and present. Keeping your head up and eyes open and away from your mobile device will allow you to assess your current situation. Trouble assessed from a distance can be trouble averted before things get dangerous.

Although situational awareness and the mantra of run, hide, and fight can help to keep you safe on campus, school officials are looking for other ways to prevent or deal with threats. Increasingly, in 2019, they have been turning to technology.

According to the magazine Campus Security and Life Safety, tip lines, digital checklists, cameras, access control, and communication tools are all legitimate technological assets to bring to the campus to keep it secure. Added to a situationally-aware student body and faculty, campuses of the future will hopefully always be peaceful places to be educated.

Tip lines can take advantage of the eyes and ears of the people who are often the most perceptive and prolific on campus—the students. Colleges offering a tip line app to students can eliminate threats before they are acted upon.

Formatting safety checklists for a digital format or even for the Cloud is also an advancement. Using digital forms for safety procedures makes the process both more accessible and more transferable. This format provides easy access to the safety guidelines and it is easily shareable.

Cameras are essential to campus security. They can identify issues in real time wherever they are placed. They can enhance the situational awareness of law enforcement arriving on the scene.

An access control system secures entryways and controls who can get where. They can be vital to a sprawling campus that has thousands of students, faculty, and visitors.

Communication tools are often critical to keeping the campus as secure as possible during an incident and can be effective in not allowing a bad situation to get worse. Streamlining a communication system to provide alerts to students and faculty along many channels is vital to campus security.

Technology may be advancing to keep our colleges safer, but situational awareness can offer no-cost and very effective security. Assessing your environment in the moment and evaluating the right decision to make is the most reliable way to stay safe this semester.