One of the most important skills you can develop as a survivalist is the ability to pay attention, so you know what's going on around you at all times. In the military we call this situational awareness, which revolves around this simple principle. You're aware of what's happening around you.
When you're not paying attention bad things happen. Perhaps it's just an accident, like stumbling into a power pole. Or maybe by not watching where you're walking you find yourself all alone, and confronted by some very nasty people.
But you've only got yourself to blame. Walking with your head down, eyes glued to your Facebook feed, you're completely oblivious to what's going on around you. And that's when you get targeted. Criminals watch for people they can take by surprise, as it gives them an edge during the confrontation. It's up to you to never give them the chance.
Look around when you enter a room
Paying attention is a skill anyone can learn, and it's really just about looking around, and considering what is "going on" when you're in a new situation or place. I think the best description is sizing up the room, but this applies to anywhere you find yourself. The trick though, is it doesn't happen automatically, you've got to put a conscious effort into identifying what's actually going on.
Things I pay particular attention to are any entry or exit points, and if there's going to be any challenges to escape. Perhaps there's far too many people in the room, and it'll take time to file through the exit doors. I'll look to see if there's anywhere to take cover should a gunman open fire, or anything I could use to defend myself in the surrounding environment. I'll take note of the people and the atmosphere in the room, whether it seems calm or if everyone is already on edge.
Identify any potential threats or dangers
The next step involves looking for any outliers. You want to take the information you've gathered about your surroundings, and figure out if anything is out of place. Perhaps that anxious guy in the corner in a trench coat is a concern, especially if everyone else seems calm and relaxed. Or the group of loud and aggressive guys are getting a little too rough and a little too close.
You should also watch out for anyone paying particular attention to you, as they may be targeting you with other motives in mind. Like waiting for you to leave so they can get you alone by your car, or to continue following you home. Pay attention to anything that seems even the slightest bit suspicious, as it'll allow you to prepare and to react far quicker than if you're surprised.
Decide what you'd do if something goes down
Based on what you can see around you, my advice is to start figuring out what you'd do next. Should the trench coat guy whip an AR-15 out, what's your next step? Are you close enough to charge him, and strong enough to overpower him? Or would you be better off diving for cover, and trying to escape without being seen?
Should a fight break out between the group of aggressive guys and another bystander, are you close enough that you'll get caught up in the commotion, and which aggressor would you target first, and with what strikes? Or do you have a clear path to step backwards and get clear before you're dragged into the fight?
Are you able to keep watch of how close you're being followed through the reflections in shop windows along Main Street, or is it better to glance back and let him know, that you know, he's following you? Do you have a means of defending yourself? At what stage do you whip out a can of Devil Juice pepper spray and give your stalker a damn good reason to step back?
It may seem a little strange at first to imagine your reactions to all the possible threats that could emerge, but there's a real value to it. By thinking about what you would do, you solidify a plan in your mind, so that if something bad does happen, you're going to react far quicker than if you're taken by surprise. And even just a couple of seconds can make all the difference.
Learn to trust your instincts
This final point is the most important. When it comes to situational awareness, one of the best indicators you will get is your gut instincts. Your brain has been paying attention to different situations along with every event that's ever happened in your life, and it often knows that something is wrong, even before you do.
Have you ever had that sinking feeling in your gut as you cut through a dark alley? Or you get the sense that something just isn't "right" in the convenience store seconds before two criminals pull guns on the cashier and empty the till?
That's because your brain is always working to process what's going on around you, and when it recognizes something is wrong, it communicates the only way it knows how. With feelings. You just know something isn't right, even though you can't put your finger on it.
My final piece of advice, is to learn to trust your instincts. If something seems a little off, a little dangerous, or you just get a weird vibe from someone, be ready. Perhaps your brain is picking up on tells that you've not yet figured out.
Staying aware is one of the fundamental ways you can keep yourself safe at all times. Even before a SHTF event, just paying attention to what's going on around you can help you avoid careless mistakes, or putting yourself in real danger. There are plenty of bad people out there looking for targets, so keep your head up, and don't become one yourself.