Possessing situational awareness is a step in the pursuit of proactively identifying threats. But awareness, in and of itself, isn’t good enough.  The goal of the Tactical Analysis training program is to create informed awareness.  To know that you should be looking for something doesn’t mean that you intuitively know what you should be looking for.  Last week I was giving a course to a team from 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion in Camp Pendleton and a comment I made about the need for informed awareness prompted one of the most engaging conversations of the week. One of the students, a school-trained sniper who has conducted countless observation exercises and related training throughout his career, led the conversation off with a couple statements to me during a break in the class. He said that when he first heard that he was going to attend the class he was skeptical because he had always been observing the people on his numerous deployments. After more than a decade of fighting a counter insurgency, focusing on the people was not a new concept.  At the end of the first day, he pulled me aside before we went out in Oceanside to practice these observations to say that he was wrong, that he already realized there were things he had been missing on his previous deployments. He was looking, but not seeing.

Chris Bausch, a good friend and one of the owners of Sensemakers, LLC, refers to this as the difference between information hunting and information hoping. Our nation’s protectors know to be in condition yellow and know to be looking for threats. That is part of their job and getting them to begin searching their surroundings isn’t the purpose of the class. But there is a difference between knowing what specific cues you are looking for and simply hoping that a fairly obvious pre-event indicator will present itself before an attack occurs. We have all been “people watching” our entire lives, but very rarely are we taught specifically what to look for, why those observations are important and how to set the conditions to observe those cues more readily.  As Gavin de Becker says in Gift of Fear, “We evaluate people all the time, quite attentively, but they only get our conscious attention when there is a reason.  We see it all, but we edit out most of it.  Thus, when something does call out to us, we ought to pay attention.  For many people, that is a muscle they don’t exercise.” Information hunting means that we execute this observation process at the conscious level, we aren’t just relying on passive observation to solve problems.

In heuristic decision-making strategies, information hunting it is referred to as “the search principal.”  The search principle is knowing what information is going to inform your decisions in the best manner and actively search for those cues while ignoring the information that will only distract the observer and slow down the decision-making cycle. To use the search principle to the greatest extent possible, there are two elements to consider: knowing what to look for and knowing how to observe your surroundings.  The four pillars of observable behavior in the Tactical Analysis program teach students what to look for at a conscious level of awareness and what the sub-elements of those assessments are, but those only become fully utilized once these observations are put into the systematic and repeatable process for baselining an area.  This is what sets the conditions for success for an observer.  It isn’t simply going out without a goal and hoping to identify a criminal, a terrorist or an insurgent, it is about conducting purposeful observation that allow police officers, Marines, soldiers and security professionals to hunt for the cues that are present before attacks occur.