Excerpted from the book “A Guerrilla Guide To Self-Defense”

Environmental Awareness

“When the invader pierces deep into the heart of the weaker country and occupies her territory in a cruel and oppressive manner, there is no doubt that conditions of terrain, climate, and society in general offer obstacles to his progress and may be used to advantage by those who oppose him. In guerrilla warfare, we turn these advantages to the purpose of resisting and defeating the enemy.” —MAO TSE TUNG

Let’s get into the heart of some things you can begin to do to increase your safety by reducing your risk. You’ve already taken the first steps in that journey through the earlier assessment questions.

What is Environmental Awareness?

Environmental awareness is another facet of awareness and should be a big consideration as it directly relates to the other aspects.

This type of awareness is predominately concerned with environmental considerations. Trying to learn to take into account terrain, location, weather, and even legal climate.

Where situational awareness focuses specifically on what is developing between you and the potential individuals as we’ll discuss in the next section, this is an awareness of the actual environment you are in and it makes sense to give it a bit more specific focus.

For example, the environment can be urban or rural and takes into account terrain, location, weather, structures, obstacles, light or darkness, etc.

Of course we can nerd out even further and break these categories down even more. For example terrain could be hilly, rocky, grassy, having gravel, pavement, cliffs, trees, boulders, etc.

Weather is fairly obvious and will not be a constant but it can completely change your need for awareness seasonally. It can cue you in to clothing oddities, concerns on how it impacts the environment like wet leaves, snow, and ice for example.

For simplicities sake I would include within this the time of day to include daylight, darkness, low light etc.

Structures, again is fairly obvious and takes into account doorways, alleys, elevators, hallways, overpasses, buildings, bridges, etc.

And finally, obstacles and refers to things like guardrails, street signs, chairs, tables, glasses, bottles, and a hundred other things.

As for location, it could be a state or country, bar or club, pool hall, gas station, etc.

The list of these environmental areas would be huge if we tried to formally write them all down.

Essentially, Environmental Awareness can be summarized with the question of “Where am I?”

Then secondarily asking yourself how often are you there? If it’s frequently, then you may naturally know your environment and you may not need much practical guidance in identifying its peculiarities.

If however, you do not frequent the space as much, it may take a more direct and patterned approach to understanding that environment.

Knowing What You Know

The most fundamental way of getting to know your environment primarily consists of using your senses. It’s really that simple and you’re going to get tired of me telling you this most likely, but engage in the life around you.

Step #1 through #20,000

Put down the cell phone and look up. Look down. Look left. Look right. Look under. Look over. See what you can see and as an exercise, every time you do that try to find something you’ve never noticed before. Do this regularly.

Then, take out your ear buds. Be silent. Spend time listening to the sounds around you.

Hold on, we’re not done. Take an extra minute and close your eyes and just enjoy the smells around you. You’ll also find that this will likely heighten what you actually hear too. Again, do this regularly.

Lastly, take the time to taste everything in your envir…. maybe not. No the primary three are see, hear, smell.

Everything about your environment is unique and the more familiar you get with it, the more armed you’ll be in recognizing when something is goofy.

Knowing What You Don’t Know

This is a bit tougher. You can certainly follow the previous 20,000 steps as outlined earlier and I’d recommend that if you are able. Take the time to see, hear, and smell.

But in cases where you are not as familiar and you don’t have a lot of time to study an environment, then it’s best to spend just a few moments considering what might be potential hazards.

For example, if you’re walking across a mall parking lot and it’s unfamiliar then you may want to notice any panel vans that might be parked near your vehicle. Or consider looking for places where someone might consider waiting. A lot full of cars is a lot full of areas where someone can hide.

Essentially, begin to think more like a criminal by scanning the environment, listening more intently, and yes, using your nose.

But what about…

In terms of very personal types of predatory crime, you must learn to use this idea differently. You must for example, set boundaries that are normal for you.

Ensuring that you are, not only aware of the environments you are in, but also controlling the environments you allow yourself to go to or be brought into.

For example, it may be perfectly normal to go for a jog at night. That may be your preferred or only time to do it, but choosing to do that through a dark, wooded, park may not be wise—even if you normally do that during the day.

Opt instead to find a new route that is well lit and has more traffic.

If you are just starting a new hobby or new experience take some time to get to know the area. Search for criminal activity in that area or even stop by a local police station and ask questions.


Tools you can use to help you identify what types of criminal behavior is most common near you:




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