“Today, I hope to be as mediocre and average as possible!”

– Said no one ever who made a difference

To me, a baseline isn’t just the starting point for recognizing threats. It is also a way to structure my personal learning by seeking to identify the “why” and “how” behind all of the things that I observe each day. Establishing the baseline jump-starts the process of understanding what I am looking at so that I can begin to look for elements of behavior that I have not seen or observed before.  This process is how I structure my learning so that I can be continuously building and expanding my file folders needed to make recognition primed decision making a reality.

Whenever I go into an area, I always start by going through the baselining process used in the practice videos to quickly establish the patterns that are present (see how we establish a baseline for a McDonald’s.) Once I have completed this process and am reasonably certain that there isn’t anyone who requires some additional attention or observation, I transition my search to begin finding new elements of the baseline that I might have otherwise missed.  This information often comes to me from the visual observation of certain behaviors that lead me to contact a person, but I was reminded a few weeks ago why it is so important to consciously consider the information that all of my senses are gathering when establishing the norm for the area. I was walking through an airport terminal on the way to a class and noticed a very strong smell of kettle corn coming from a store and I realized that my behavior had responded to the unanticipated smell. My walking slowed as I passed the store, my interest shifted from being directly in front of me to the source of the smell and I wouldn’t be surprised if the expression of disgust was on my face as it is not a smell that I enjoy.  Observation and behavioral analysis is a game of understanding cause and effect, so as soon as I realized that my behavior changed, I decided to stop and watch to see how the smell of kettle corn affected the other people walking past. Here are some of the observations I made:

  • For many, the smell had no affect on them at all.
  • Others glanced in that direction, but there was no significant change in the pace that the people in this group walking or spent an extended time looking in the direction of the store.
  • When couples passed by and the smell was acknowledged, sometimes the woman would indicate that she was enticed or interested in the smell, the eyes getting wide and gesturing towards the store.
  • A few times I saw a quick expression of disgust or a shake of the head in response to the request, perhaps indicating that he wasn’t interested in getting any because he didn’t like the kettle corn and the couple would walk right past.
  • Other times, I saw a head nod and the couple would turn off the path they were walking and enter the store to get some kettle corn.

As I sat there watching the people walking past the kettle corn store I realized that I hadn’t previously included the smell of an airport terminal in my baseline. It led to the following train of thought.  For one, the scent of kettle corn is not present everywhere in the airport, making it a variable. When people were exposed to the new smell, it caused some of them to change their behavior while others passed without noticing. Recognizing that there were two groups of people (those who responded and those who didn’t response) also helped me to assess who was familiar or unfamiliar with this airport terminal.  People who travel through here everyday or work in the airport would likely not respond to the smell at all because they intuitively expect it to be there.  Those unfamiliar with the terminal or the smell would respond to it because it was an unexpected change in their environment.  From here I found myself wondering if changing the smell of an area is a tactic that could be used by security providers to help identify those who have mission focus?  Mission focus is when a person is so focused on closing the distance to the target of their attack and using up all of his mental channel capacity in that effort.  Therefore they might not even recognize that the smell of the area had changed from when they did their rehearsals or surveillance.  On the other hand, those passengers who were not using up their cognitive capacity would display behavior that showed them responding to the smell in some way. I acknowledged that controlling the smell of an area is something that would require more thought, but I realized that I have no idea how I would even attempt to control or modify the smell of an area in the first place.  As I thought about that, I wondered why the smell was so strong from this store since I never really noticed the smell of any of the other restaurants in the terminal?

The fact that I hadn’t noticed the smell from other stores finally gave me a very specific thing to focus on and was something that I could investigate further. You aren’t going to be able to expand upon your baseline without having a goal, and for me in this situation, uncovering the reason for the strength of the smell was what I wanted to figure out.  From a short (and fairly amusing) conversation with an employee, I found out that they put a fan behind the counter to blow the smell into the terminal and entice customers.

You might read that and say that as a security provider, that is a pretty meaningless fact, but you wouldn’t be more wrong.  The store manager’s attempt to intentionally control the atmospherics for the area through the smell in the most cost-effective way possible (a simple fan behind the counter) could be the same way a criminal attempts to mask the smell created when mixing homemade explosives or trying to cover the smell of narcotics.  Would a small fan blowing a cinnamon smell out the window of an apartment mask the smell of drugs or at least prevent any interest from law enforcement? In the case of the kettle corn, the smell was being used to induce a proxemic pull from people walking through the airport and draw them into the store, but controlling the smell of an area might be used to ensure that law enforcement is not proxemically pulled to a building because of a strong odor of chemicals that could be used to make explosives.  The point of this observation is that whenever a person has consciously attempted to influence my behavior, that person immediately warrants some further attention.  All that is requires on your part is to be alert to any unexpected changes and to be curious enough to investigate them to uncover the underlying cause and effect.

By establishing a baseline, I build a set of facts and assumptions about an area that allows me to notice changes. When I observe something that I didn’t expect, it shows me what I don’t know about the area.  This is what I mean when I say that baselining is a form of structured learning, it gives me something to investigate further and learn more about.  This allows me to become a more effective observer of human behavior.  In this case, I watched how people responded to the smell of the kettle corn and what led me to start observing was the smell itself.  If I had been in an observation post or a building further away from the store, I would not have been able to smell the kettle corn, but because I took the time here to watch and understand how people interact with that smell, the file folders for that interaction will help me recognize the same behavior in other situations.  Understanding the behavior that shows when something has attracted the attention of people passing by an area could reveal an element in my baseline that I haven’t account for yet, but reflects something important.  This curiosity and investigative style of learning lets me structure my observations by letting me know what I don’t know, which is a crucial first step to learning and personal development.