Situational Awareness

Travelers will face different challenges as they move from a location where they understand the local safety and security atmosphere and take usual precautions, to locations where the safety and security rules they usually apply in their daily lives may need to be adjusted and / or enhanced.

One of the standard recommendations travelers get from security experts when they travel internationally is to maintain situational awareness.   Depending on the destination, this is expressed in different ways, such as:

  • Remain alert to your surroundings
  • Maintain situational awareness at all times
  • Remain vigilant at all times
  • Remain alert to local conditions and signs of danger
  • Remain aware of your surroundings and local events
  • Maintain a high level of vigilance
  • Exercise caution

But what does this mean? A way to look at situational awareness can be:

Low situational awareness: You are at home, sitting at your couch, reading a book.  Everything around you is familiar, you know you are in a safe environment, you can take your attention away from your surroundings and immerse yourself in your book.

Medium situational awareness: You are driving to work or school, your eyes and mind are on the road, you can hold a light conversation with your passenger, or listen to the radio.  You are familiar with the traffic laws, street names, and potential hazards on your way to work or school.  However, you are alert to the traffic lights, signs, the cars around you, and any potential pedestrians or road hazards.  You keep your attention on the road.

High situational awareness: You are walking in a city at another country, you are not quite familiar with the commute, the neighborhood, street names, spoken language, body language, culture, laws, public transportation, road safety.  You are alert to people around you and cars coming your way.  You maintain your focus on the environment around you so you can find your way to your destination, while making sure to avoid being hit by a car, walking into the middle of a demonstration, or getting too close to that shady character up ahead.  Your earbuds and phone are stashed away in your bag, which you keep in front of you.

Practicing the right level of situational awareness for each situation allows you to keep yourself and others safe.

Some effective techniques to help you practice high situational awareness while abroad can be found at the following posts in the Traveler Toolkit.

Some final advise

  • Trust your gut.  If something feels wrong, find your way to safety.  Sometimes your brain can identify a potentially dangerous situation faster than you can articulate it to yourself.
  • Assess your destination in advance.  That will allow you to identify potential risks and plan to mitigate them.  Find some great resources at the Traveler’s Guide.

The risk information in this post is retrieved from sources as listed in the post. It provides general guidance for UT Dallas travelers. Please note the published date of this post,  and go to the direct sources listed in the post for the most up-to-date information.  The information in this post may change without prior notice.