Imagine a killer is going to a hospital to carry out a mass shooting. You cannot stop him from going to his target, but you can determine when you observe his presence. When would you want to make this observation?

At the parking lot, or main entrance? Obviously the parking lot.

                             Main entrance, or in the lobby? Main entrance.

                                         Lobby, or in the hallway? Lobby.

So how do you recognize Possible Attack INdicators (PAIN), before the shooting starts?

Situational Awareness. Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening around you. More of an attitude than a hard skill, Situational Awareness is something we all have some of the time, and something none of us have all of the time.

Jeff Cooper pioneered the concept of levels of awareness. Cooper was a Marine and innovator of tactical training. He pioneered a system to illustrate levels of alertness that reflects Situational Awareness. This system is called “Cooper’s Color Codes” and it has been used to train military and law enforcement for decades.

Cooper’s Color Codes

Gift of Fear

Intuition is an element of Situational Awareness that can provide clear and direct communications to warn of a potential attack. Intuition is not magical; it is an educated hunch based on your knowledge and experience. In his best-selling book “The Gift of Fear” Gavin De Becker documents the value of intuition.   True fear (not anxiety) is a messenger for intuition and can help identify threats to safety.

Your intuition raises concerns based on several factors, but there are PAINs that are more relevant to active shooter attacks. PAINs can include attire, subtle gestures and/or overt physical actions. From a pre-attack standpoint, examples of PAINs include:

PAINs do not always equate to danger and are typically consistent with perfectly innocent explanations. Recognizing PAINs is simply an element of Situational Awareness and their observation is the first step in a decision making process.

Tactical Decision Making

When you observe behavior that deviates from normal operations, quickly analyze the situation. A valuable system to make rapid decisions under pressure is the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) Loop (sometimes referred to as Boyd’s Cycle after its creator, retired U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd).

According to Boyd’s theory, conflict can be seen as a series of time-competitive, Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) cycles. Conflict begins by each side observing the events creating the conflict. Orientation is next. Orientation can be thought of as snap-shot approach to obtaining perspective. Once orientation is gained, it is time to decide. The decision considers all factors that were known at during the orientation phase. Lastly, act on the decision.

The “loop” occurs when our actions have changed the situation.   The cycle continues throughout an incident. Throughout your day, identify changes to normal operations (from Yellow to Orange), and apply the OODA Loop. In most cases, your Orientation will eliminate threat and you will revert to Yellow. For the very rare instances that require immediate response, move to Red and initiate emergency response (Act).

Nothing interests us more than our own survival and Situational Awareness is a tangible skill that, with a little work, can enhance your safety in any situation. Consciously apply Cooper’s Codes and the OODA Loop in daily operations and eventually you will transition between colors and decisions seamlessly and Situational Awareness will become a habit.

.This post may be republished with citation to Brad Spicer of SafePlans.


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