Situational Awareness

Life Guide: Situational awareness in the physical and online world for Directors, High Net Worth Individuals and Senior Executives

By Mark Stanhope and Dr Sally Ernst

Directors, senior executives and high net worth individuals are operating in an international environment every moment they are online, while they are travelling and as a result of any personal business information stored and transmitted with the internet, and in foreign business locations. We are not always in a physically safe environment, and on the internet we are never in a safe environment.

We need, therefore, to be:

– aware of our situation

– able to identify threats; and,

– handle the situation if a threat becomes an eventuality while still maintaining holistic awareness of that situation in case of any other threats.

As we can see from the media alone, the threats are many and eventualities and their consequences well publicised – and that’s just the ones we know about.


Security in a physical and online world is not just, however, about the armour or weapon a person or team (organization) may have at hand. Most importantly, it’s about the state of mind of the person and how they, and if more than one individual – the team, works together to continue to have ‘360 degree’ awareness of the situation they’re in while identifying and dealing with the threats and directly targeting threats with defensive strategies if it escalates.

Leveraging the late Jeff Cooper’s industry standard combat model of the ‘colour code’ we look at how directors, senior executives and high net worth individuals can maintain awareness of the situation they’re in and better protect themselves physically and online.

Why are we looking at a combat model?

Even when we’re at ‘home’ our exposure to the world via the internet means we’re not necessarily safe. When we travel both our physical and online risk profile changes too – we are not in a place we would profile as safe if compared with home.

Depending on where we are and what we are doing physically and online, then, the context of our security profile will change. It may change multiple times throughout any given day, and we need to maintain a level of alertness to threats commensurate with those changing safety profiles.

Cooper’s model effectively deals with being aware in any given situation – holistically aware or having ‘360% awareness’ as Cooper puts it, while escalating and de-escalating levels of alertness to, and preparedness for, threats. That is, awareness needs to be maintained to identify unknown threats in the general environment, even when becoming aware of and turning attention to a specific potential threat or targeting an actual threat.

The first stage of building your own personal situational awareness is based on this methodology created many years ago by Jeff Cooper. This has been widely adopted by a number of training organisations. A important element missed by many is that the approach is about managing the energy required to maintain your local situational awareness. No one can maintain the highest alert levels for extended periods of time. One of the reasons why the military rotate sentries in four slots, it is to ensure that once a sentry may be on duty for eight hours, his/her partner is refreshed every 4.

What is Cooper’s colour code method?

Lets explore the colour-coded levels that Cooper created:

A number of organisations have added a condition Black , for when you are overloaded, either during or in the aftermath of the event. Whilst this condition may exist, it is of little use to you, as by its very nature you will not be in control and so it is only of any benefit if you have other members in your team, which may mean that you need to intervene to move them out of this condition.

What to do next?

  • Assess your situation and, as your situation changes, review this assessment

  • Make a plan

  • Ask the experts


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