What is Situational Awareness?

A lot has been written about this topic and the tactical “gurus” all have an interpretation of it that stops somewhat short of a more scientific explanation that we can get our heads around. I recently read a great article in “Dive Training” magazine that is remarkably applicable to all walks of life, not just scuba diving and I thought I’d share the gist of it.

The basis for this recent article involved an incident whereby a Northwest Airlines flight crew, um, missed the destination airport they intended flying, past Minneapolis into central Wisconsin before noticing the oversight. This is clearly a poster child incident for failed situational awareness.

This article breaks situational awareness down into increasingly refined levels that may initially sound like a set of serial steps that are, in fact, occurring concurrently.

Level 1 of situational awareness involves the collection of information, observing what is happening around you environmentally, equipment wise and people wise from all inputs – visual, intuitive, instrument.

Level 2 of situational awareness involves comprehending the perceptions gleaned from the information taken in in level 1 or, more accurately, throughout the entire process as new inputs appear. The level of comprehension will vary with each individual’s experience in the situation we find ourselves in. As Muhammad Ali thought when being pummeled by George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, “I have been here before”.

Finally, in level 3 of situational awareness, experience truly comes to the fore when we are able to anticipate and predict what will happen in the next second, minute or the remainder of the incident allowing us to engage the appropriate response.


As we say in our classes it is impossible to anticipate all possible circumstances and responses as the possibilities are literally endless. While life distracts us, trying your best to remain aware of what is around you and how you may be called upon to respond is a good practice whether diving, driving or simply going about life where we may find ourselves involved in a critical incident.