COMMENTARY: Situational awareness

by Apr 26, 2021OPINIONS



One Feather Editor 


Situational awareness can be defined simply as “knowing what is going on around us”, or – more technically – as “the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future.” (

Actions have consequences. One moment in life can affect the thousands of moments after it. In self-defense courses, one of the basic instructions is to know what is going on around you. Never be distracted to the point that someone could get close enough to attack you or that you might walk into a dangerous situation without perceiving it. 

In a world of constant connectivity, being aware of your surroundings takes focus and practice. Walk downtown or up Tsali Blvd. and you will inevitably see someone with their face buried in a mobile phone. I have watched people stumble over shrubs, fall up and down steps, bump into people and things, all because they are intently focused on their cell phones. 

A cell phone or other electronic device will literally drive you to distraction. I would venture to guess that more people are pulled over for erratic driving because of cell phone distraction than there are those driving under the influence of a drug. It is amazing to me that it is necessary to make public service campaigns that encourage people to look at the road and not your phone screen while driving. The practice is so rampant that laws have had to be made to tell people to focus on the road, because until you get rich and can afford one of those self-driving cars, you need your eyes and attention to be on driving the car, not Facetiming your friends. 

I was on my way home on Thursday, headed up the Soco Road on one of my normal routes back home. About halfway up the mountain, I encountered a line of backed up traffic. Now, I avoid Soco on bad weather days (and during Leaf Season) because I know that there will be extra traffic on the road and most of those will be out-of-towners who do not know where they are going and will slow traffic down. 

At first, I thought on Thursday, that the hold up was some confused tourist who stopped in the middle of the road to consult Google Maps to get bearings. Unfortunately, when I saw the blue and red flashing lights of our Cherokee Police, Fire, and EMS vehicles, I knew that something more serious had gone down. As the police had cleared a one lane path on up the mountain, I slowly rolled up on two vehicles, one with seemingly minor damage, the other looked like it might have rolled over a time or two and the passenger side door was missing. 

The wreck sent one person to Haywood Regional and another to Mission. Driving the Soco Road is a perfect example of a place where constant attention to where you are and what is going on around you is a matter of life and death. Because you may be the most diligent, competent driver on the planet, but you have no control over what another driver is thinking or even whether they are thinking when driving. Soco is open to commercial traffic, so you have the additional challenge of meeting semi-trucks and other multi-axle vehicles on a road with curves that would make a truck driver have to defy the laws of physics to maintain their lane to avoid oncoming traffic. You have to be situationally aware just to have a chance of avoiding peril on the road. Add to this the wild and feral animal population that traverses Soco Road and that adds to the obstacle course that it is. 

Last year, social media was filled with reports of suspicious individuals following citizens through stores and stalking them in the parking lots of our local grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, and other retail outlets. 

In a report by Karin Billch (, she states, “Every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted. At the end of 2017, the Bureau’s National Crime Information Center Missing Persons File contained more than 32,000 records of children under the age of 18. Only about one child out of each 10,000 missing children reported to the local police is not found alive. However, about 20 percent of the children reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in nonfamily abductions are not found alive.” 

All it takes is to be distracted for a half a minute for someone to abduct you or your loved one, possibly to become another statistic among the many abducted people in the world. 

Situational awareness can make the difference between becoming a victim or a survivor. 

This awareness extends to all parts of your life. For example, speaking man to man for a minute, how many of us are going for routine physicals and are under a doctor’s care. Many times, men in particular, wait until there is an unbearable ailment before they will go see a doctor. I know in my personal life, it took the strong urging of my wife, back in my early 30s, to convince me to start regularly getting checkups. The same went for going to the dentist and eye doctor. Men tend to think that they can “power through” anything that comes upon them. It is not logical, but it is a common belief among men. And so, many men find themselves with damage to vital organs in the latter portions of their lives because treatable conditions go undetected, and many times that damage is not reversible. As Cherokee men, we have little excuse for not getting a checkup. Our Tribe has blessed us with practically unlimited access to health care. And we have a duty to our families to stay as healthy and productive as we possibly can. We will watch for and defend against other threats to our families, but the one that resides within us, we will leave to chance instead of giving it that vigilant, situational awareness that all things need. And I am not saying that women are immune from the need to be vigilant, but it has been my experience that they tend to be a little smarter than men when it comes to health care. 

Situational awareness has short- and long-term benefits. In a world that is ever changing, it will be those who pay attention that will survive and thrive. Be one of the thrivers. Pay attention.