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Situational Awareness: Folks seem to suck at it

Two odd things happened recently that highlight how most folks have no idea what’s going on around them. First, a tree fell in the woods and I was there to hear it and see it. The wife and a friend were heading out of town and her friend came to our place. It was really windy. I was helping load the car when I heard a loud popping sound. It was VERY LOUD. Immediately, I looked in the direction of the sound and saw about a 90 foot tree falling in the woods beside the house. As it fell, it hit all manner of other trees before crashing loudly on the leaf-covered ground. Once again, this was VERY LOUD. As in, you couldn’t hear another person talking to you loud. Wife’s friend continues loading the car while this is going on. Doesn’t look up. Continues about her business. And after it’s quiet, we have a conversation that goes roughly like this:

Me: That tree fell.

Her: It did?

Me: Yes. How could you not have heard that?

Her: Oh. I thought I heard something.

Me: It was deafeningly loud. You definitely heard it.

Her: Yeah.

Me: You weren’t curious about what that God awful racket was?

Her: No.

Me: Good thing it wasn’t falling on you then.

I don’t see how a person can hear the same sound I heard and not even be the slightest bit curious enough about it to bother looking up to make sure something bad wasn’t happening.

The next was at a sandwich shop. I ordered a sammich and was waiting for them to get it to me. I stood there in the area designated to stand around and wait for food. And this guy there kept getting too close to me. He had no respect for personal space. He’d get too close and I would step away. Then he’d do it again. After the third or fourth time, I had enough. And I said to him, stepping away, that You’re too close to me. You need to pay attention to what you’re doing. No, he wasn’t absorbed in his phone or anything like that. He didn’t look odd or awkward or inebriated. Just a guy in business casual who seemed to be completely unaware that, yes, there are actually other people in the world. He didn’t say anything back. But he started minding his personal space a little better.

I don’t see how people go through life like that.

43 Responses to “Situational Awareness: Folks seem to suck at it”

  1. Robb Allen Says:

    Reminds me of that video of the motel worker who shot a robber. There was a lady standing there with her young child in her arms and not once did she turn to protect the child. She just stood there. Didn’t run from the danger, didn’t move out of the way, nothing. Even when the bullets started flying.

    Condition white is a terribly way to live one’s life.

  2. Justin Buist Says:

    I dont see how people go through life like that.

    Take a look at the top 10 or so prescription drugs in the US. It might start to make sense.

  3. Flight-ER-Doc Says:

    A large percentage of the population consists of obliviasses..

  4. Pyrotek85 Says:

    A number of years ago the road alongside our house was closed due to an accident, so there were cones and barriers blocking access, as well as worker in an orange vest to signal people. This woman driving along nearly barrels right into him, and the worker freaks out on her, asking her what the hell she’s doing. She says to him ‘Oh, I didn’t see you’.

    It was dumbfounding. It was broad daylight, there were markers and signs leading up to the accident, and the guy was standing in the middle of the road. I can’t imagine how zoned out she must have been to not notice it.

  5. Paul B Says:

    Explains people getting hit by cars stepping into the road way.

    I know I see much more detail in the world than my wife. Course that could be one reason she is with me most of the time 🙂

  6. guy Says:

    Heh, I on the other hand was walking through a field when a hawk let out a piercing shriek and I just about jumped out of my socks. I looked up and there were 3 juveniles playing in the air above me.

    Luckily no one was around because I must have looked like an idiot. At least now I know what a rabbit feels like.

  7. CMathews Says:

    At a 7-11 in my small hometown when I was younger. There were 3 or 4 construction contractors parked in their trucks outside. As I entered I saw a contractor talking to a dude in a black tahoe and didnt think anything of it. As I exited about a minute later their argument had become heated. I walked by slowly trying to stay out of sight and listen if it was violent or not. As I reached my car not turning my back to them I saw the tahoe guy jump in his truck and grab something and hold it behind his back. All I saw was what looked like the black magazine well of what looked like a handgun. So i parked my car at an angle to them and called 911. Turns out the guy had a air taser. As soon as I saw the yellow “muzzle” I stood up out of my car well out of his range and told him I just called the police. He jumped in his truck and hauled ass. One of the other patrons at that 711 looked at me and said “Why is he in such a hurry?” He had no idea what had just happen. I actually had to go to court as a witness.

  8. Ancient Woodsman Says:

    You are lucky that tree made noise. Some don’t make a sound until they strike. Tree strikes and you’re out.

    Once in a while, snag hazards (falling dead trees or parts of trees) are the number one killer of wildland firefighters for a particular year in the U.S. More often equipment events of some sort, but every so often the year’s number one killer is falling trees or parts thereof.

    Have that happen around you and you will forever after look up, look down, look around. However, there is a percentage of people for whom even close tragedy cannot increase their SA or ability to process it. It’s got to be a wiring issue with some folks.

  9. DirtCrashr Says:

    Explains Google employees mindlessly stepping out into the roadway.

  10. Wally Says:

    I try to notice the “SA Challenged” among us and stay out of shrapnel range from them. The Bad Guys refer to them as “targets” and they attract all sorts of bad ju-ju.

  11. Frank Says:

    I try to notice the “SA Challenged” among us and stay out of shrapnel range from them. Bad Guys refer to them as “targets” and they’re trouble magnets. I figure Mother Nature will eventually resolve things.

  12. Drake Says:

    Natural selection once would have taken out such people.

  13. Robert Says:

    Flight-ER-Doc: The correct term is “obliviots”

    And to her (minor) defense: from the dialog, it sounds like she was thinking really hard about something else, and likely wasn’t really ‘present’ to her environment. Most folks really only single-task (‘multitasking'[1] is a marketing gimmick for the human), and don’t have interrupts set to react to external stimuli. Let’s be honest — how often have we heard about car accidents “I never saw …” — they’re not lying, ‘it’ just didn’t register on their radar.

    Agreed we all should train ourselves to scan our environment regularly, and stop-and-evaluate any unexpected event.

    [1] Multitaksing — a method of performing work, in which a single instance of personal or professional excellence is replaced by multiple instances of, at /best/, mediocrity.

  14. Shootin' Buddy Says:

    “Youre too close to me.”

    Be careful! Some smugger-than-thou type will start blathering on about the “gay cooties” and how you should not be such a bigot from wanting to escape his lifestyle forced being forced upon you.

  15. aczarnowski Says:

    Sometimes a brain just needs to focus. I try to be careful about where that focus occurs.

  16. Robert Says:

    It’s much worse now than ever with folks fixated on their electronic toys. Oh well.

  17. Kristopher Says:

    The guy in the business suit was unconsciously challenging you.

    Criminals do it consciously all the time when selecting victims. They will crowd them, ask the mark for the time or for spare change, anything to make them feel dominant.

    Telling him to back the fuck off was exactly the right thing to do.

  18. Cargosquid Says:

    “You’re too close to me.”

    and then add…”I’m contagious.”

    They back waaaay off.

  19. Mr Evilwrench Says:

    My situational awareness is extremely well developed, which is good, driving the school bus. Man, do I see some people that had to have gotten their drivers licenses by sending in box tops. We have bunches of roundabouts around here. When they work, they work well, but you have to watch these dumbasses; someone will do something totally nonlinear and screw up the whole traffic pattern.

    Funny thing is, you’d think I was one of the obliviots; there could be a gunshot and I wouldn’t have a visible reaction, but I’m evaluatin’, man. Nothin’ gets past me.

  20. aeronathan Says:

    I swear that story describes my wife.

  21. mikee Says:

    I once dated a girl who watched as the SWAT team in two black vans pulled up to the bar half a block ahead of where we were walking, and 10 ninjas piled out with guns in hand and ran into the bar. She started pulling me toward the bar “to see what was going on.”

    I decided then and there I did not want to participate in the continuation of her genetic line.

  22. George Says:

    While living, there remains one thing worse than Condition White, that’s it’s subset, Condition Grey.
    Grey is stationarily oblivious, one degree – or more – than White…example: Long-time tenant in a coffee shop, in a booth by himself, reading a book.(or laptopping, or NP3ing).

  23. armed_partisan Says:

    I used to work with a hideously stupid woman. She was oblivious to the point of being a hazard to herself and others. She had this ugly maroon minivan that always had tires that were nearly flat, and a roof rack on top. One day, I noticed there was a rather large pine cone that had fallen onto the roof and sorta lodged itself in the roof rack above the drivers side door. Just one of those things you notice and don’t think anything of. I walked by that stupid woman’s minivan in the parking lot every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and I kept expecting her to remove that pine cone. After FOUR MONTHS of that thing being lodged there, it was starting to infuriate me. I walked over to pull it out myself, but I stopped myself. I decided to see how long it would take her to notice this thing that was at eye level of a vehicle she got into everyday. It was there for over a year. One day, it was gone. I saw her getting into her van at the end of the day “Finally got rid of that pinecone, huh?” I asked. She didn’t notice I was talking to her. “HEY ###! I said you got rid of that pine cone finally!” She looked at me and said “Huh? What pinecone?” I had to walk away.

  24. Jim Says:

    Projecting an image of “condition grey” serves as a great camoflauge for one’s Condition Orange.

    One can always “de-cloak” in an instant, when needed. You can be alert, but don’t need to project the “on guard” attitude of a working K-9.

    If the bad guy ain’t payin’ attention to you, then you’ve got that much more of a chance. Might not be much, but fractions of a percent can matter a helluva lot.

    My g/f always looks in wonder, as I drive in traffic smoothly, courteously and efficeintly, but move through congestion easily, and without drama. I also never bump anyone with a shopping cart, or get bumped, either. Knowing who and what is around you, pretty much 360 degrees, is an aquired skill, and is a learnable one, indeed.

    Just that most people don’t practice it.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  25. LRM Says:

    My cop nephew has incredible SA but that being said one day he took a photo a some turkeys in a field and never saw the 3 deer standing clear in the background till he downloaded the shot. Guess it depends on what you’re trained for – and what keeps you alive.

  26. comatus Says:

    If I recall correctly how sophomores discussed Phil 205, the other tree that fell didn’t make any noise, because you weren’t there to hear it. Or, as it expressed now: was the man still wrong?

  27. Mayor Joel Stoner Says:

    And people wonder why our push towards nanny state-ism has virtually killed natural selection? Like George Carlin said “What happened to the time when, the kid who ate too many marbles didn’t grow up to have kids of his own?”. Some people really shouldn’t be allowed to have kids, let alone live amongst the rest of us.

  28. Tam Says:

    Natural selection once would have taken out such people.

    Natural selection still tries, but is too often thwarted by airbags, bicycle helmets, and life-flight helicopters.

  29. ViolentIndifference Says:

    Justin B: I heard it is the G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate added to the air processors…

  30. Mr Evilwrench Says:

    That’ll quiet ’em down. Most of ’em anyway.

  31. Firehand Says:

    Brother-in-law got centerpunched at an intersection one day by a dumbass who
    Never saw the stop sign
    Never saw the guy on the full-dress Harley cruiser
    Never got off the phone
    And had no idea what she’d hit until she saw him laying the street and asked if he was hurt.

  32. Rabbit Says:

    Two things come to mind.

    First, warning labels thwart the purpose of natural selection. A corrollary to that is that nobody bothers to read anything anything anymore.

    Secondly, if I can touch you, I can kill you.

  33. Zendo Deb Says:

    Awareness is a funny thing. Consider this awareness test

    It really is true that if you aren’t looking for something, you often won’t see it. (Which is why those annoying signs about seeing motorcycles actually work.)

    I am surprised at the number of people who have no idea how things work, where they are relative to their work or home (they would be lost without a few familiar landmarks.) Situational awareness – or lack thereof – is only one more thing.

    The world must be a scary place when you don’t know where you are, or what’s going on, and everything around you is a mystery.

  34. Hartley Says:

    Actually, Zendo, I think it’s the opposite – if the world outside your bubble is always grey and fuzzy it ISN’T scary – it’s only scary when you focus on it and dissipate the fog that the dangers appear – so living in condition white/grey is a reflex to make the world a LESS scary place.
    This is particularly true if you have conditioned yourself to believe that you have no duty (or ability) to address any dangers that present themselves.

  35. mariner Says:

    Shootin’ Buddy @ 3:33pm,

    Good job!

    I wish I’d thought of that.

  36. Jake Says:

    Firehand: Even better, I got t-boned while driving an ambulance, lights and sirens, by a girl who had to cross 3 lanes in an intersection where all other traffic had stopped. She never touched her brakes, and never let off the gas. She actually hit me behind the driver’s door on an F-450 bodied ambulance.

    I could clearly see her leaning and fiddling with the radio just before impact.

  37. Mr Evilwrench Says:

    Hellz, the, um, “city” SUV hit one of the buses, and not one of the small ones, broadside at an intersection. I guess it wasn’t big and yellow enough to draw attention. It wasn’t the mayor’s son driving, really, on his way to school (not one of the district ones). Nor was it the mayor. Heck, I don’t know who else was there. I’m just glad I wasn’t driving the bus. That would’ve been kinda… awkward. Could have been rewarding, though. Just awkward. Wonder what it would be like to be exempt from property taxes. Forever. That would be kewl. Just, um, awkward.

  38. cruft Says:

    Proverbs 22:3 the prudent man see trouble and takes refuge, the fool see it contines on a suffers.

  39. Stretch Says:

    Ritalin, ear-buds, dash mounted electronics …
    I’ve seen people defy Darwin time and again. Pity.

  40. hillbilly Says:

    Today, I had to slow down for a young man wearing ear buds, looking down at this Ipad or phone or whatever the heck it was, who stepped into the street and didn’t look up a single time.

    Not one single time did his eyes leave the electronic device in his hands as he walked out into traffic.

    I work at a college, and I see this happen all the time.

  41. Justthisguy Says:

    I saw a gal once, walking along US41 here, where it’s a very busy urban thoroughfare. There was a perfectly good sidewalk right there, but she disdained to use it, instead walking in the right-hand lane, in the same direction as the car traffic, with earbuds in ears. I thought about pulling over and slapping her, or pulling over and calling the cops, but I just drove around her.

    I wonder if she is still alive. It amazes me that so many people can get through life with nothing going on in their brains but a dial tone.

  42. bobby Says:

    … had an old GF. She had very low situational awareness.

    She would walk faster than me and cut corners quickly.

    Once while walking back to my apartment, she got about 15 feet ahead of me. I saw another male further up the path oogling the hell out of her. I start yelling her name to get her attention. He looks at me and keeps moving.

    She’s looking at me saying “What?” I tell her about the guy on the path ahead of her.

    “What guy?”

  43. Joanna Says:

    I have the opposite problem — I prefer to stay in condition yellow, at minimum, but the older woman I currently live with would prefer I join her at condition white. (“You don’t need a gun, we have an alarm system!”, etc.) The house is on a wooded lot and features sliding glass doors on the side away from the street, but that little blue sticker in the window is enough for her to be “safe”. She becomes visibly agitated at the thought of active defense measures.

    The most recent example: I was all dolled up to go out for an early Valentine’s Day dinner, and she noticed something beneath my dress. I told her it was my pocket knife, clipped to the waistband of my pantyhose (it was askew, otherwise it would have been hidden). She said, and I quote, “You don’t need that! You have Him!” (Him, who she asks leave his carry piece in the car when he’s at the house.) I told her I always carry the knife (it’s very useful), so she suggested I put it in my little clutch purse.

    I told her there wasn’t room because my kubotan was already in there. I admit I enjoyed that moment. >:-) (And before anyone asks — I’ve agreed to abide by her rules re: firearms while I live there. It’s the only thing we’ve had to agree to disagree on, and I respect her too much to go behind her back. Le sigh.)

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