One of the most important things we stress to our Critical Incident Response Training (CIRT) participants is the importance of having a solid understanding of the different elements of the environments in which they may find themselves. This is especially important when in crowded public spaces. Identifying and understanding the different strengths and weaknesses of these environments, from a vulnerability standpoint, can make you much more efficient and effective in navigating a critical incident should you find yourself experiencing one.

Critical incidents, especially violent ones like mass shootings, can be very disorienting. Typically, people can easily process all the information our senses are sending to our brain when we are in calm and peaceful settings. In violent or chaotic scenarios, it can become very challenging to process the huge increase in information our senses are sending. The inability to process this sensory information is commonly referred to as sensory overload. Additionally, stressful and dangerous events can cause an elevation of the heart rates of the individuals that are nearby. Elevated hearts rates can negatively impact an individual’s decision-making capability.

Someone who is both disoriented and has a diminished decision-making capacity is going to have a very difficult time making the right choices to protect him or herself during a violent incident. That is why it is so important to gain that environmental awareness. Knowing details about where you are can allow you the ability to remain at least partially oriented. 

Asking yourself a few simple questions about your environment when things are calm and peaceful can assist in making the right choices if things become dangerous and chaotic.

Getting a good awareness of your environment, as it relates to critical incident response, does not have to be an exhaustive process.  It can be as easy as asking yourself 4 to 5 basic questions such as:

  • Where are the exits near me? (Identifying at least 2-3 is preferable)
  • Where is the closest securable space to me? (Identifying 2-3 is preferable)
  • Are there any materials around me that I can utilize to quickly cover or conceal myself?
  • Are there any materials in close proximity I could utilize to help defend myself?
  • Where is the best place for me to go during a severe weather event?

At SEC, we firmly believe that committing to making a habit of developing environmental awareness can potentially make a huge difference if you ever experience being part of a violent critical incident.