WTF Is Situational Awareness?

October 12, 2016 in Background Information

Take a look at the transcript from a former available video from Alex Fox at The Capable Civilian.

.If you’re looking for other articles about Cooper’s Color Code and the role it plays with situational awareness, here are a few more articles and videos that we’ve written about the topic.

The video is no longer available but you can still read the transcript of the video:

Alexander: You’ve probably heard the term situational awareness, but if you’ve ever wondered to yourself, “What the hell is situation awareness, really? And how do I do it?” well, you’re Continue reading »

Three Ways To Make Situational Awareness Second Nature

September 2, 2016 in Learning About Learning

This article was originally written for the Illinois Tactical Officer’s Association

We all know that person at work who can seemingly read every situation they find themselves in and turn it into something beneficial for them. It’s like watching action heroes like James Bond or Jason Bourne, people who can seemingly pick up on everything that is happening around them and then use that information to make better decisions than those with untrained eyes. We find ourselves in awe of those naturals who have learned how to dissect situations, find the patterns and seemingly predict the future.

Life might not be like the movies, but those same deliberate observation skills can be developed. While it certainly takes a lot of work to become skilled at recognizing pre-event indicators, for police officers looking to get and stay left of bang, here are three tips to make situational awareness second nature.

#1: Begin With The End In Mind

The way that these naturals so adeptly navigate complex and difficult situations is what often attracts our attention and carries an air of mystery. However, how they find the solution isn’t the first step, it is the last. Before you can Continue reading »

Training For Adaptability Means Creating More Options

August 27, 2016 in Applying The Observations


This article was originally written for and posted on

Picture yourself in a situation where you have to approach someone to ask a question while on patrol. You might need to ask them where a particular person lives or if they know anything about a particular person you are investigating. What I want you to think about is how you would react and what you would do when that person refuses to help you. What is your initial response going to be? What is going to happen if your instinctual response to their refusal still doesn’t drive the person to cooperate? While officers often learn how to adapt their approach to a situation like this by honing it throughout their career, training adaptable officers means that we have to ensure they have multiple options available to them to handle situations like this from the earliest points in the career.

In Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, where my co-author Jason Riley and I wrote about how the Combat Hunter program taught deploying service-members how to recognize threats, we talk about the four mutually exclusive ways we can assess an individual person based on their behavior. Since every single person we are observing can be categorized as either being dominant, submissive, uncomfortable or comfortable, these four categories become the four options that an officer has available to them when the person they are talking to refuses to cooperate. In this particular situation, the options are: Continue reading »

“Left of Bang” and the OODA Loop

August 23, 2016 in Applying The Observations



  • While explaining the OODA Loop, I misspeak and refer to John Boyd as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force. He was a Colonel.
  • While explaining the decision tree for civilians, I say that our options are to “Control, Call, Capture,” the anomaly, when the decision tree is to “Control, Call, Contact” an anomaly that you identify.
  • Further reading: “The Tao of Body: How to Master the OODA Loop,” written by Brett and Kate McKay at The Art of Manliness.

Video Transcript

In today’s video we answer one of the most frequently asked questions that we get, how do the behaviors written about in Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life support people as they go through the OODA Loop. Continue reading »

Bridging The Experience Gap: Recognizing Threats With More Time To Prepare

August 20, 2016 in Applying The Observations

This article was originally written for and posted on

When I talk with veteran police officers about what has made them successful in their careers, many bring up the fact that with five, ten, or fifteen years on the job, they have seen so much criminal activity that they have become pretty capable of identifying people who require attention. But with the rising threat of officer ambushes today, how does an up-and-coming officer become capable of ensuring their own safety without the opportunity to gain those five, ten, or fifteen years of experience? Preventing officer ambushes begins by learning how to establish the norm that exists for the areas and situations you encounter every day.

In our book Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, my co-author, Jason Riley, and I discuss how the Marine Corps Combat Hunter program was designed to help Marines recognize the pre-event indicators to attacks so that they could deal with threats proactively instead of being forced into a reactive situation. This approach to recognizing criminals and attackers starts with an acceptance of the underlying premise that the behavioral cues that will cause a criminal to stand out from the crowd are always contextual. Even though they will be identifiable using universal and uncontrollable elements of behavior, because “threat” cues are situational, improving an officer’s ability to understand and define that context, the baseline, is the most important step in the process of ensuring officer safety. This is required before we can start to talk about pre-event indicators to violence. While recognizing anomalies is the goal, being an anomaly is a relative term. To stand out, you have to stand out from something. That something is the baseline for the areas and the situations that you encounter everyday.

One of the reasons why veteran officers are typically more capable of identifying criminals is because of the experiences they have accumulated over their years on the job. With this extensive database of scenarios encountered, they are able to intuitively size up a situation and know whether something is normal (part of the baseline) or not normal (an anomaly worth investigating.) The challenge is in passing those experiences and that understanding of events on to younger officers. Since these skills have often been developed and accumulated through countless hours on the street, it has historically been a problem to quantify and package that intuitive understanding of the baseline into a concise and mutually understood terminology so that more junior officers are able to benefit from that knowledge.

While a vocabulary to clearly define the baseline may have previously been considered unattainable, the advances Continue reading »

How Team Rubicon “Knowledge Bombs” Can Help Self-Taught Professionals

August 17, 2016 in Learning About Learning

As I write this, much of Louisiana is underwater due to flooding. People in New Mexico are digging out after floods of their own, and residents in California and Utah are rebuilding their homes in the wake of widespread wildfires. Because natural disasters often don’t provide a great deal of advance warning before they hit, for the military veterans, first responders and medical professionals who volunteer with Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster relief organization, the ability to provide relief to communities affected by natural disasters is the result of ample preparation before disaster strikes. With only a minimal amount of time to ramp up efforts once Mother Nature hits, the work of each volunteer while left of bang of the storm is what allows for a fast and effective response.

To help educate their highly experienced volunteers, Team Rubicon has produced over 40 “Knowledge Bombs,” one-page infographics that educate responders about the various risks they can expect to face in their duties. As understanding risk is a crucial concept for warriors, police officers and security professionals, these easily sharable reminders about dangers on the job offer a great opportunity for professionals to deepen their knowledge about how to prepare for threatening situations. To make the most out of these bite-sized lessons and better retain what you have just read in the long term, self-taught students need to have a strong mental model to quickly make sense of what they are learning that will allow them to improve how they operate when they get to the field.

The Challenge of Being Self-Taught

Team Rubicon as an organization is comprised primarily of volunteers, meaning that the people they are seeking to educate often also have day jobs that bring their own sets of continuing education requirements and have families and other commitments that need to be taken care of before extra-curricular activities can be pursued. These time constraints aren’t unique to Team Rubicon volunteers and are obstacles that any self-taught learner faces as they seek out resources and experiences to improve themselves. This challenge is compounded by the fact that, in our current “knowledge economy,” for any topic you want to learn about there are insurmountable numbers of resources available to you online, making it difficult to filter through it all and fill specific gaps in your understanding Continue reading »

Training to the Decision and Trusting An Officer’s Judgment

August 13, 2016 in Applying The Observations


This article was originally written for and posted on

As a leader in law enforcement, there are likely many things that keep you up at night. With the recent increased public attention and scrutiny of police officers, questions about how well your officers are prepared to operate in the highly uncertain situations that characterize your field are likely near the top of your list. While having a high degree of trust in an officer’s judgment can minimize this anxiety, developing decision-making skills in younger officers has often been a challenge. While this is often because the ability to articulate the conditions for situations that are characterized as anything but black and white has been lacking, one of the original goals for writing Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life was to empower leaders with the ability to use a clear and common language to explain their intent to their organizations. While the terminology that comes from the four pillars of observable behavior discussed in Left of Bang can be applied to any situation that a police officer might face on the job, in this article I’ll show how a leader can explain to their officers what de-escalation is, why it is beneficial, when it should be applied, when it shouldn’t be utilized and how to plan their approach when attempting to calm a situation.

Step #1: Start With the “What”

To ensure that techniques are presented in the simplest way possible, all that de-escalation entails is taking a person who is displaying the dominant cluster of observable behavior and transitioning them into the comfortable cluster (here is an explanation about the clusters). For the situations that permit de-escalation tactics, defining what it is doesn’t require a complicated definition and there is a straightforward explanation that comes from the four types of nonverbal behavior they see every single day.

Step #2: Explain “Why” an Officer Would Want to De-Escalate a Situation

While there are big picture pros and cons to the use of de-escalation techniques, a discussion about the why de-escalation should be used should be focused on the benefits to the individual officer on the ground. For instance, Continue reading »

Three Questions to Assess the Tools Your Training Provides

August 6, 2016 in Applying The Observations

This article was originally written for and posted on

Has anyone ever told you, “Here is another tool for your toolbox.”  As a Marine, I hated hearing those words, and I still cringe when an instructor utters that phrase to our nation’s police officers during a training seminar. The phrase often implies that the key to professional competency is to pack as much information into a student’s brain as possible, regardless of its future usefulness. When it comes to developing an officer’s ability to make effective decisions, quickly making sense of a situation doesn’t come from having more information or even more “tools” to use, but instead from applying finely tuned mental models to adapt to rapidly changing situations. It’s through these mental models developed over an officer’s career that they can quickly identify present patterns and use the information they have more effectively.

As a police officer, the only person responsible for ensuring your professional development is yourself. To get the most out of your time spent in training, it requires that you have a process to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the topic being taught. To help you assess the tools that instructors and authors are trying to provide you with, here are three questions that can help you determine how important that tool is.

Question #1: Where in your model does the current class fit?

As a police officer, it’s Continue reading »

Left of Bang Training In Law Enforcement: A White Paper

August 2, 2016 in Books and Resources

In May of this year, Shane Wickson, a patrol lieutenant with the Cleburne Police Department in Texas published a white paper titled, “Tactical Behavioral Profiling Training For Texas Peace Officers” explaining why behavioral analysis should be taught during a police officer’s entry-level training. This paper highlights a key problem facing modern-day police officers. Despite the rising risk of officers being ambushed in the line of duty, Wickson notes, “all training that pertains to pre-attack indicators or reading situations is done on the job or via elective coursework. These courses are not usually supported by the department and individual officers usually pay for and the courses on their own.” As the concepts written about in Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life and taught in our Tactical Analysis Program are designed to take the “magic” out of threat recognition through our structured Baseline + Anomaly = Decision approach and the clear categorization of behavior into the four pillars, those components of situational awareness become the foundation that are developed throughout an officer’s career, making them more safe and more survivable while on the job.

Shane Wickson’s white paper, which was written while he attended The Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, has been added to our behavioral library and can be found by clicking here.

How Often Can I Rewatch Training Modules?

July 29, 2016 in Training

One of the questions that we often get from online students before they choose to train with us is in regards to viewing and reviewing the individual training modules included in our training programs.

One of our primary goals at The CP Journal is to get the information, content, and materials that we have built and continue to enhance into the hands of the people that truly need it and want it.  Because of that, we make our online training modules and courses reviewable as often as the individual student would like.

Early on in the feedback process we heard from online students that they often felt the need to rewatch certain modules over and over again to really internalize the material and get to the understanding of being able to implement the behaviors in their own day-to-day lives. With this feedback in mind, once you purchase an online training course from us and choose to train in our online learning environment, we want to make sure you have the flexibility to rewatch any lessons as often as you would like.

As we continue to enhance our courses and add new material, you will continue to have access. If you are unsure whether there have been updates since last you logged in, you can visit our Course Road Map and see if there have been any updates to the materials.

Thank you to our online students who continue to incorporate our training programs into their larger initiative to improve situational awareness and understanding of human behavior. Please continue to direct any questions pertaining to our online learning programs to:


How “Gates of Fire” Can Help Millennials and Their Leaders: Lessons and a Reading Guide

July 26, 2016 in Books and Resources

The millennial generation often gets a bad rap from people in the military and police communities for stereotypically asking their leaders “why” they are doing something instead of blindly doing what they’re told to do. While there are situations when there simply isn’t time to answer this question and you truly just need to trust the person to perform the task without asking questions, I never completely understood the criticism of people who ask the question, “Why?” Almost all of my training and experience as a Marine Infantry Officer taught me to seek out an understanding or the purpose for what we were doing, as the times when there wasn’t time for an explanation were infrequent. The pursuit of knowing why we were going to conduct any operation is summarized in the Marine Corps’ doctrinal publication, MCDP-1: Warfighting, where we were taught that there are two parts to a mission; there is the task to be conducted and the desired result from that action. The reason for the two parts is because the leader can only assign tasks based on the information currently available to them at the time. Yet, as the situations that police officers and military service members operate in are dynamic, the commander needs to allow for flexibility in how the task will be performed in case the situation has completely changed. By making the intent for the operation explicit and explaining why the task has been assigned, it allows the men and women on the ground to adapt to the situation when the initial task is no longer the best way to accomplish the mission. While tasks may become irrelevant, the intentions for the action don’t. So, for someone operating on the ground, failing to know why you are doing something and not implicitly understanding what the purpose is for an action is incredibly dangerous, as it means you eliminate your ability to adapt to any new conditions you face.

Staying committed to a certain task without understanding what that task is supposed to accomplish is dangerous because it means you are operating in a way that reveals you have been taught “what to do” and “what to think” instead of being taught “how to think” and “why to do.” Being tied to a task without a purpose requires that you get permission or guidance to do something because you are unsure of what your goal is. You become incapable of exhibiting initiative because the task was provided without context. The commander’s intent, which is the explanation of why a task should be done and what end state the commander is looking to accomplish in the operation, is the most important component of the mission because it allows for those on the ground to adapt to the changing circumstances. If this is the case, then why are people who seek that understanding considered insubordinate instead of being recognized as a professional in their field?

In the numerous articles that I’ve read about how to lead millennials, I’ve found that there are two types of people who fill the ranks as commanders in the military and police forces. There are those that embrace the opportunity to explain their intentions for an action (true leaders) and there are those that will always view junior members of their unit who ask why with contempt (dictators). A dictator might answer questions about why something is being done with phrases like “that is the way we have always done it here” for a number of reasons. This might be because they actually don’t know why they are doing something and are simply repeating the actions that they saw the person who had the job before them do. Or, it could be because the ability to step back from a situation and truly explain the purpose for something requires that they step off the path of least resistance and perhaps they are too lazy to put in the mental effort. While it’s frustrating to realize that, in this case, your own chain of command will not be a source of professional development for you, this shouldn’t hinder your pursuit of understanding what the purpose of your tasks are. You should instead focus yours effort on learning how to find these answers for yourself.

While it is perfectly logical that someone who wants to understand why something is being done would turn to the person in their chain of command who assigned the task for that answer, a critical skill for professional warriors is the ability to find the answers to these questions on their own. There are other sources you can turn to as you seek to develop yourself and your ability to define why something is being done that is completely within your control. The most accessible form of that wisdom within your control is in books, which is why many military leaders release recommended reading lists for their unit, as they often times provide the answers that the Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen might have at various points in their career.

As an example, consider the historical fiction book Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, which has found a home on many of these recommended reading lists, including the Marine Corps’ Commandant’s Professional Reading List for new Marines, both for new enlisted Marines and new officers. The story is about the 300 Spartan warriors led by Leonidas who stood up to over one million Persians at the battle of Thermopylae. The story is told Continue reading »

Can I Add Level 2 After Starting the Basic Course?

July 18, 2016 in Training

We’ve gotten a few questions recently from our students who have purchased our Basic course and wish to add the Advanced content before they finish the Basic course.  We thought it might make sense to share a short post about the current status of that option, the rationale for why it is set up that way, and the steps to get all of the content that you want.

At present, you can choose to train with us either in our Basic or Advanced online programs before purchasing any program.  The Basic program includes eight hours of our Level 1 content with relevant scenarios for the version that you choose.  The Advanced course includes all of the content from Basic and a second level of eight-hour content to take the training a step further.  If you choose to begin training with us in our Basic course, at present, we only make available the option to add Level 2 (Advanced) content at the conclusion of the course.

We don’t make the individual Level 2 course add-on available on our purchase page because of the pre-requisite course requirements that are set up with our online training software.  Because we offer different programs for the different client markets that we operate in, some people may purchase Level 2 of a different course, and be thoroughly confused as to why the content isn’t lining up.

At the conclusion of Level 1, you will see the option to add-on Level 2 and continue training with us.  We trust that you will continue to find the content engaging, so much so that you will still want to purchase Level 2 when the option presents itself.  We are continuing to make content and course experience enhancements to our training and greatly value the feedback that we receive from our online students.

Please continue to send us feedback on your experiences and never hesitate to let us know any time you have any other questions. We are glad to help.  We can be reached directly via e-mail at


Interview On The Capable Civilian Podcast

July 15, 2016 in Veterans, Business, and Security

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A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to talk with Alex Fox who runs The Capable Civilian Podcast to talk about our book, Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, to show how civilians can ensure their own safety in this increasingly dangerous world. I really enjoyed this conversation and we talked about a broad range of issues to include the creation of the Combat Hunter program, what situation awareness is, how to read behavior, why you should stop looking for “threats,” why you can trust your instincts and how you can develop them.

If you are looking to dig a little deeper into any of the topics we discussed, here are a few articles that expand on what we talked about.

I really enjoyed this conversation and encourage you to take a look at the Capable Civilian Podcast and follow Alex on Twitter.


How We View Competition: Part 2

July 11, 2016 in Veterans, Business, and Security

In an article I posted last week about why we don’t spend much of our time or energy here at The CP Journal thinking the competitors to our business, I explained how we use the “3 Buckets of Control” to focus only on those things that we can do to support our students. The reason why I discussed this view is not because we aren’t competitive. By defining the people and organizations who are not our enemies, we can focus on those who truly are. The adversaries that we compete with are not other businesses in our field. They are the predators who are attempting to hide within our communities and interrupt our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our clients might call this adversary a terrorist, an active shooter, a deranged fan, a bully or a gang member, and as we seek to support our clients in their fight against these predators, there are a few key considerations that make up our perspective on our true competitors.

1. This is a competition with clear winners and losers.

As we move through 2016 and consider the violence we have experienced in the past few years, the world certainly feels like a more dangerous place than it did even just five or six years ago. We have seen high profile terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and Orlando. We have seen race-related violence that led to the recent murder of five police officers in Dallas, Texas, and the murder of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. We have seen and experienced how often we turn on breaking news to listen to the reporting of an active shooter in our schools, workplaces and city sidewalks. While the “experts” appearing on 24-hour news channels debate whether this is an actual rise in violence or just a rise in the reporting of violence, the distinction is irrelevant. It simply feels more violent out there and, because of the fact that success stories where the good guys stop an attack by being left of bang aren’t reported as frequently as when attackers succeed, it feels like the predators are winning this fight.

Fighting a perception of pervasive violence is a big enough challenge in its own right and there is no room for people who think that we are doing things “good enough,” because clearly we aren’t. In their Continue reading »

The Collective Mood and You

July 6, 2016 in Assessing The Collective


Here at The CP Journal, a lot of our work centers on personal safety and security and is geared towards professions such as the military, police, and security. However, many of the concepts that we teach our clients can be easily transferred to the civilian world for anyone to use.  In two recent posts, I outlined the four clusters of observable behavior that we teach our clients and broke down the first two pillars, which are the individual and groups.  I applied a common sense language to both pillars so that they can be easily applied to everyday life.  As a follow-up to those posts, I will now walk through the next pillar, the collective mood, and explain what it is, how to recognize the mood around you, and how to use that information to make more informed decisions for your own personal safety and to improve your overall communication with other people.

The collective mood of an area is best described as the social or emotional atmosphere of an environment, situation, or place.  By assessing the collective mood in your everyday routine you will be able to set a baseline for all of the places you visit on a daily basis and then be able to more accurately assess the individuals and groups that don’t align with the given situation.  These misalignments, or anomalies, can help you recognize potential threats or people that are present with intentions other than the norm for the area. The two mutually exclusive assessments for the collective mood are positive or negative, and you can determine the collective mood by either thinking about it from a Continue reading »