Industry Catch Phrase or Industry Standard?
From the time we are indoctrinated into this Industry, we hear the phrase “Head on a Swivel”! This ancillary movement of moving one’s head 180 degrees side to side is taught to familiarize the specialist with scanning areas or crowds for suspicious activity or persons. At first, it’s over-exaggerated, you appear to be nervous, very bobblehead like, anxious, your adrenalin surges through your veins, but WHAT DO YOU SEE? If you see something, WHAT IS IT? Do you UNDERSTAND what it is you’re seeing? If so, how can you now PROJECT? And if so, can you now RESPOND? Oh, and can you do it in milliseconds? For many, the answer is NO and for the many that can’t in truth say yes, I offer this article.
In my opinion, catchphrases are good to identify an action; they’re not good in obtaining the Skill of that action. So I wondered, “has the term Head on a swivel become a standard for our Industry?” If so, are we teaching the foundation of the term? Or are we teaching how to phrase our way into disaster?” there are many teachings of the following subject, by people more knowledgeable than me however, I hope my experiences can be relatable to some.
The foundation of the proverbial “head on a swivel” is Situational Awareness.
Oh! you say, got it! Well, just like Head on a swivel, “situational awareness” is a widely used phrase but not a widely understood Skill. It takes time for one to master and understand two phrases, and two actions, and we’ll see if you possess the necessary Skill to make both true.
The perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status, after some variable has changed, such as time, or a pre-determined event.
Three terms you will notice are re-occurring so far, (I) PERCEPTION, (II) COMPREHENSION, and (III) PROJECTION. These three terms are the foundation, in my opinion, of Situational Awareness (SA). When you master these areas of SA then you will have the skills necessary to truly make the phrases become skills, and the skills become actionable. As I stated earlier, there have been many studies done on the subject of situational awareness and one study that I learned from was that of Dr Mica Endsley 1995. In his study, he ranked the three areas or levels of situational awareness this way.
(level I SA)
To be able to perceive the status, attributes, and dynamics of a situation, relevant to the elements in an environment, in the most basic of ways. In layman’s terms, this is where the process of monitoring, cue detection, and simple recognition of situational elements like people, locations, conditions, and actions come into play.
Here is where you have to be able to perceive a threat by monitoring your surroundings and by monitoring your environment, you develop your skills of cue detection or action that someone may take to garner your attention. Also your recognition of that cue and what that cue is telling you about the elements that you are surrounded by at that time
(level II SA)
This level involves the process of pattern recognition, Interpretation, and Evaluation. So taking level II of situational awareness and integrating it with level I, you will now learn to Interpret and comprehend the information you’re seeing and understand how it affects your goals and objectives. So now you have perceived a potential issue or threat or have you? Being able to recognize a pattern being displayed (a mean or angry individual when everyone else is happy) and interpreting that action and evaluating, how said individual is acting.
(LEVEL III SA)
The highest level and probably the one that most specialists try to perform on a daily basis. This involves the ability to Project the future actions of the elements in the environment. This would be people, places and things. This level can only be achieved if your understanding of both levels I and Level II are keen. Level three for obvious reasons takes a lot of practice, extrapolating information forward in time to determine the outcome or the effect it will have on your detail (environment) operationally, is mission-critical to you, your client and to your team. If you project wrong, you could cause a great deal of chaos to the detriment of all involved. This is a critical skill and it must be practised to exhaustion.
Head on a swivel or Situational Awareness, are merely phrases without the proper foundation and the un-mitigated understanding of the foundational make-up of those terms. Awareness is a choice; you have to choose to pay attention. Being able to distinguish what is normal from abnormal is NOT inherent; it takes practice as it relates to Executive Protection. In my opinion, as you learn these techniques of situational awareness, try not to rely on the concentric rings of protection, and then making your assessments of a given situation. By this I mean, don’t rely on concentric rings of security because it can lull you into a false sense of awareness, therefore, lowering your effectiveness. If we relied on stadium security or club security 100% then we are relying more on their effectiveness than our own and that could be a grave mistake not because they are not necessarily bad staff members but they are not trained professionals as many of us have come to find out. As you hone your situational awareness skills, treat every disturbance as a potential threat until you are comfortable with your information assessment intake and the information you gather from them. If your attention is drawn to a certain event, make a quick assessment to include all of these steps quickly, and then assess the rest of your environment to see what, IF anything, you are missing.
As some industry leaders have shown and continue to prove with their mastery of these skills, the appearance that they have ESP in certain environments are just soft skills that have been mastered over time. In the times that we live in today, and the threats we all face as protectors, we cannot afford to be complacent. So if you hear these terms used again by a specialist, hopefully, they will also understand how vital the foundations of these words are. otherwise, “head on a swivel” and “Situational awareness” are just phrases without practice, and useless without understanding.
Head on a Swivel
By: Mark Roche EPS
Mark Roche is a US Based full-time Executive Protection Specialist and graduate of multiple close protection programs.