This video analysis is part of our recently released training center content.


What Is The Setting?

We are going to do this in Grand Central Terminal in New York City.  Why GCT? Because we aren’t on the practice field anymore.  With over 700,000 people passing through the station each day (the traffic exceeds a million people during the holidays) and the constant terrorist threat to mass-transit stations, there is no better place to use as a training ground.  We will continually use this as setting for our observations because if you can establish a baseline for Grand Central, observing people smaller areas and areas with less people will become increasingly accurate.

The Way It Will Work

Here is how it will work.  The first video is going to provide an overview of the terminal.  This is your “baseline” time and a chance for you to attain a certain degree of context and understanding of the area as a whole before we focus on a specific section. Think of this as the time spent observing a marketplace from an observation post for a short amount of time to establish a baseline before you patrol in.

The baseline video clip is one minute long, so feel free to watch it as many times as you like to begin establishing the norm for the station before we shift to a more confined area.  Don’t worry about details or specifics just yet, begin with the big picture and observations from the domain of Atmospherics.

Step 1: Watch the video and establish the baseline before reading on.

Overall: I would assess this is as having Positive Atmospherics because there is a general sense of safety and security here.  Some of the observations that I think are important from an initial look are:

The Collective:

–       Noise level: Overall, the noise level is pretty low.  People aren’t really talking to each other, but the combination of the individual conversations and movement creates a low din.

–       Activity level: Is pretty high.  This is the beginning of rush hour and there are quite a few people in this main lobby.

–       Order/Disorder: The general sense of safety is pretty high, the area is clean, and no overt criminal acts are going on that are causing people to react uncomfortably.

The Environment:

–       Geographics: Area is a habitual area; anyone can come or go from here without any barriers to entry.  The purpose for people entering this area is to travel by train.  There are some tourists here who may not be travelling and therefore have a different purpose for visiting.

Groups of People

–       Size of groups: People are typically alone or in a small group with one other person.  The exception is families travelling with a few children.

Individual People:

–       Individuals: Most people are moving with a purpose to get to their train, while a few people are standing around.  Because people are typically moving with a purpose, I would assess that most people are familiar with their surroundings.

Notes – the assessment for groups and individuals is pretty light at this point because this is the first layer of observations and focused more on the collective mood and behavior of everyone present.  We are still looking at this with a wide lens.  The observations for groups of people and individuals will serve as a second lens to observe through.

For a little more context – people enter this main lobby area from the four entrances either from the city streets or from the train tracks.  The signs with train departure information are just off the screen on the left side of the frame and there is a support booth in the middle of the lobby (the lit up booth on the left edge of the frame).

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Step 2: Watch the next video and identify the unfamiliar person

Now that you have a feel for the area as a whole, we are going to make our way to the area in the box to observe people moving from the left to right.  Think of this view as a rooftop position responsible for assessing people at a closer range than from the original observation post.

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Watch the video once straight through.  The goal is to identify the person unfamiliar with their surroundings.  To identify someone unfamiliar, that means you have to compare and contrast, labeling each person that comes through as either familiar or unfamiliar.

This is what I saw:

The picture on the left is my baseline and what I would expect to see here.  Everyone is looking forward, everyone is walking in a straight line and taking the most direct route from Point A to Point B (showing they know the natural lines of drift for the area), and people have minimal situational awareness.  I look for minimal situational awareness because we need to keep in mind the definition of familiarity – it is someone who has been in that setting enough times to become comfortable there.  If someone is comfortable, they do not perceive any threats, which could cause them to reduce their situational awareness to zero.

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In contrast, someone who is unfamiliar with their surroundings will often show a higher degree of awareness.  Think about this logically from how you behave when you don’t know where you are going.  You are probably looking around for signs, looking at your directions or the map on your phone, or deferring to someone with you who does know where they are going.  This naturally raises your awareness and it is how we can identify the man in the circle on the picture on the right who is looking around and deferring to the woman with him.

Watch the video again and focus on all of the indicators that you might pick up on to further reinforce this unfamiliar point.  If you think there are more indicators that I missed, put them in the comments section below.  If you are inclined, look at the relationship between that man and the woman and determine who is likely the dominant person in that group.

Step 3: Determine If It Fits The Baseline or Not?

There are two ways to confirm if this person is truly unfamiliar with Grand Central Terminal, either to observer him further finding additional information that either confirms or denies our conclusion, or to contact him and elicit that information through conversation.  I did neither, but might classify someone dressed in business attire that is unfamiliar with the station as an anomaly since the baseline for the station is familiarity.  Of course there are numerous reasons why he isn’t familiar with the station, with the very obvious reason being that is the purpose for transit stations in the first place, to bring people into a city who don’t already live there.

Keep in mind that people often shows signs of unfamiliarity when they first enter a new area.  This is so they can get their bearings.  At a train station, trains don’t always arrive on the same track, so a person entering the lobby may need a second to figure out what section of the station they are in before moving on.  There is a woman at the beginning of the clip who does this.  She walks into the screen from the right (coming out of a track), looks at the train schedule boards (off screen on the left) and then makes a U-turn to move towards her destination.

The goal of the video isn’t to determine if this man is an anomaly or not, it is to build your file folders for people who are both familiar and unfamiliar with their surroundings.  How that applies to your field and the setting you are is a decision that you will have to make.  Watch the videos a few times, repetition helps learning and increases the likelihood that the lesson is recalled when you need it.  Go back to the first video (the baseline clip) and identify any people that you feel are also showing signs of unfamiliarity.