Travel Risk Management & Specialist Risk Consulting
Situational Awareness
February 25th, 2016

I’ve been reading an interesting book lately, titled Left of Bang written by Patrick Van Horne. The author was an Infantry Captain in the Marine Corps who completed several combat tours and was instrumental in developing the USMC Combat Hunter program. The book goes into great detail explaining the skills that have become crucial in protecting US warfighters in combat zones around the world. They were originally developed to help with identifying attacks and IEDs before they happened.

Van Horne realized that the ‘intuitive skills’ developed in training was also useful in areas such as Corporate Personal Protection (EP) and for individuals working in conflict zones (NGOs, government employees, oil and gas employees, etc.)

The book uses terminology and acronyms that military and security professionals adore, such as ‘situational awareness’. This is a common term used by security practitioners and in my opinion, a fundamental skill for all protection teams, no matter where they operate.

The book explains that ‘bang’ is the moment an attack, explosion or incident occurs. The ‘right of bang’ is the result, aftermath or reaction. More important is the ‘left of bang’, the time when detection and evasive, offensive or protective actions can be implemented. Left of bang is proactive, but at the same time stimulates a reaction. It requires quick identification and instantaneous decision making, which is only developed through repetitive training and experience.

Situational awareness is a tool that can never be sharpened enough. After years of working in different environments, from hostile to those considered relatively safe, security professionals acquire the unique ability to recognize, and react accordingly to imminent threats or attacks. The purpose of the training conducted by the USMC and outlined in Van Horne’s book was to provide some situational awareness skills to those who had never operated in a hostile environment.

Situational awareness is not just a skill for security or the military. Most people who operate a motor vehicle have, hopefully, developed a certain level of situational awareness while driving. We instinctively react in certain ways when we see a vehicle braking ahead of us, a traffic light changing, etc. These reactions have been developed through driver training. One of the great challenges when driving is to avoid being distracted by mobile devices, car radios, passengers or anything else that takes your attention away from the road.

These same distractions affect security professionals and/or protection teams. We have become a society that depends on continuous flow of information. When we have quiet time, the immediate reaction is to look at our devices for email, messages, Twitter, Instagram and all of those other services we have come to depend on. When we are occupied with our devices, we are completely unaware of the situation around us. It takes only a split second for something to happen.

Situational awareness is imperative when traveling on business or leisure. While we would easily notice something that was not right in our everyday atmosphere, warning signs in a non-familiar surrounding are not that easy to identify. Some sort of situational awareness training should be part of the Travel Risk Management Program of companies and organizations with employees travelling outside their home country, as it is a company’s duty of care.

Reading this book helped me think hard about how I practice situational awareness. It reminded me to assess situations and think about actions and reactions. It has made me pause to identify emergency exits when I enter a restaurant, theater or unfamiliar building instead of being distracted by my phone. It is critical to be aware of your surroundings and think of how to escape, evade or protect yourself if something should happen. Some might say this is paranoia, I say it’s just ‘good training’. I plan to stay alert and stay Left Of Bang, and hope you do too.