THE MAGAZINE

Situational Awareness

By Scott Taylor, CPP

Managing conflict in entertainment environments can be particularly challenging. Alcohol is frequently involved and most interactions involve more than one person. For these reasons, it is critical that security officers maintain situational awareness. This means looking for and being aware of signs that the situation is escalating.

For example, when security is confronting an intoxicated and belligerent patron, situational awareness means noticing that another chair is pulled out or that there are glasses on both sides of the table. Failing to notice these simple signs can have serious repercussions.

In one case, a security officer conducting a routine intoxication assessment approaches a male patron with two other officers as back up and conducts the assessment in accordance with his training. The officer points towards the exit doorway with clear hand gestures to ensure that the CCTV footage clearly shows that the seated patron has been asked to leave the premises. However, the patron’s friend, also affected by alcohol, returns from the restroom to see three large males towering threateningly over his buddy.

The security officers give all their attention to the seated patron. Their focus is exponentially increased because they fear the situation may escalate to a physical conflict. This fear causes a “fight or flight” reaction, sending additional adrenaline and other hormones to sharpen hand-eye coordination and reaction time. However, this shifting focus results in auditory exclusion and tunnel vision, meaning that sounds and sights outside the focus area become blurry. In a practical sense, this means that the officers are highly unlikely to notice the approach of the aggressive friend until it’s too late. Before the officers realize what’s happening, a fight has broken out.

Security personnel who work in hospitality or entertainment environments should be trained to deal with these sorts of situations. A comprehensive program should include inoculation training, a verbal skills assessment, and training on recognizing triggers that could cause the situation to escalate.

Inoculation Training

The best way to manage the “fight or flight” reaction is through inoculation training. This type of training allows security officers to successfully manage escalating conflict situations through realistic, dynamic scenario and role-play training. This type of training helps to inoculate the officer against the body’s natural reaction to stress. Such training repeats conflict scenarios until the officer can recognize his or her response and combat any ill effects.
 

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