Blog - The KNOW

How to Become a Situational Awareness Ninja

by Mike MacLeod


This blog post discusses the importance of situational awareness on college campuses and 3 steps campus safety personnel can practice to become more situationally aware.


Most of us live extremely busy lives.  Bombarded by copious amounts of information and tasks we often rely on a form of mental auto-pilot to cope.  Looking back and trying to remember and reconstruct what happened in a week is often an exercise in futility.  Although being able to multitask, without the burden of over thinking things, is often a useful survival tactic, it has drawbacks and limitations especially for those who work in the campus security field.  By breaking routines, exiting our offices, and engaging in campus life we can be more in tuned to what is happening around us and thereby improve our ability to better understand and manage risk.

Situational awareness is a significant component in improving life safety and security on campuses. 

By knowing what is happening in a given area, how to interpret it and most importantly how to respond one can greatly improve outcomes in high risk situations. Wikipedia defines situation awareness as 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.” Andy Altizer and Ted Stafford examine the role situational awareness has on college campuses and the ways security personal can increase their effectiveness.  In their article in Campus Safety, “10 Tips for Improving Your Situational Awareness on Campus”, the authors provide three essential steps for becoming situationally aware.

1.  Know the “baseline” for the campus

 What is the normal or usual process or operation for the campus? Are the appropriate doors locked? Is anything out of place? A baseline provides the foundation to compare unusual events or circumstances to.

2.  Be mindful of the “normalcy bias”

When something is out of the norm, a gunshot or smell of smoke, we often rationalize it to make ourselves more comfortable. Maybe it was a door slamming. Maybe the computers are getting hot. “Exercises and after action reports have shown time and again that the more intensely frightening the event, the greater the urge to rationalize and discount the initial perceptions, often with unfortunate results.” said Andy Altizer and Ted Stafford.

3.  Address the issue of “focus lock”

With a variety of things competing for our attention it is crucial to see the big picture. When a situation occurs such as a civil dispute, a natural disaster, a power outage or an active shooter, it is important to also consider everything going on campus not solely that situation.


Incorporating situational awareness strategies can be daunting, but the encouraging part about the above steps is they are learned skills, not inherited. It isn’t essential to have superhero or ninja abilities. Being situationally aware is a skill which improves with practice and perfects over time.  “The ultimate value of situational awareness is that it endows the educated practitioner with enough time and choices to mitigate events,” states Andy Altizer and Ted Stafford. 

While the steps outlined in the article focus on the human components of situational awareness, we cannot ignore the role technology plays in providing a safe and secure campus.

Situational awareness technology systems deliver a cohesive view of what is happening on campus for improved life safety, security and mass notification. The integration of standalone security systems, access control systems, fire panels, audio sensors and security cameras into one powerful alerting platform streamlines security and emergency management while notifying the appropriate individuals, groups or entire campus in real time when an event or situation ensues. These all-encompassing technology tools paired with situationally aware emergency managers or public safety officials are the ticket to safer campuses.

Achieving situational awareness can seem like an intimidating task, but with the right situational awareness technologies in place combined with adopting the tips outlined in the article, we can create safe and secure learning environments for our students, staff, faculty members, and visitors.


Click here to read “10 Tips for Improving Your Situational Awareness on Campus”by Andy Altizer and Ted Stafford

Contact our inside business development team to learn how situational awareness technology can benefit your campus.


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