Close this search box.

Situational Awareness – It’s More Complex Than “Pay Better Attention”

payattention_small1If you want to improve your situational awareness, just pay better attention!


Oh my goodness.  No, it is hardly that simple.

I just read an article where the author was giving advice about how to improve situational awareness. He said that situational awareness can be improve by paying better attention. At the very most basic level, that is true.

It has taken me over seven years of research and earning a doctoral degree on the subject to even begin understanding the complexities of the brain and how behavior changes under stress. Situational awareness is NOT as simple as paying better attention. [tweet this]

deereyesBut those who don’t understand the complexities of situational awareness and the neuroscience behind attentiveness offer this very simplistic advice if, for no other reason than they don’t know any better. In their defense, that’s where I was ten years ago. But not any more.

It takes a full day of training for me to help first responders understand how to develop and maintain situational awareness and make a quality decision under stress.

Don’t be fooled by simple people giving simple advice and simple solutions to complex problems. There are over Fifty Ways to Kill a First Responder from flawed situational awareness.

Chief Gasaway’s Advice:

AdviceSOLUTION: Be sure that when you are learning about situational awareness in high-stress, high consequence environments that you are learning from credible experts who understand the neuroscience behind how decisions are made. There are lots of resources out there for you to improve your understanding on this incredibly important first responders safety topic. You can get it from me… or you can get it from someone one else. The important thing is… you get it… and you don’t let a novice teach you how to be an expert. There’s too much at stake to be set-up for failure.


Action Items:

Situational Awareness Matters!1. Where have you found credible sources about how to develop and maintain situational awareness in high-stress, high consequence environments?

2. Have you ever watched a video or read a casualty report where firefighters were hurt or killed and thought they may have avoided the catastrophic outcome if they’d just paid better attention?

3. Describe what factors have contributed to an erosion of your situational awareness? (Here’s a hint: I’ve discovered over 100 barriers to situational awareness… it’s pretty scary stuff).


The mission of Situational Awareness Matters is simple: Help first responders see the bad things coming… in time to change the outcome.

Safety begins with SA! 


Share your comments on this article in the “Leave a Reply” box below. If you want to send me incident pictures, videos or have an idea you’d like me to research and write about, contact me. I really enjoy getting feedback and supportive messages from fellow first responders. It gives me the energy to work harder for you.




Phone: 612-548-4424

Facebook Fan Page:

Twitter: @SAMatters

LinkedIn: Rich Gasaway

YouTube: SAMattersTV

iTunes: SAMatters Radio


3 thoughts on “Situational Awareness – It’s More Complex Than “Pay Better Attention””

  1. Richard,
    I am excited about the newsletter and opportunities for further understanding of situational awareness. Thanks for keeping the topic and solutions at the forefront of our daily functioning.

    On a side note, here is a good example of how far we have to go with this topic. Microsoft Word does not recognize “situational” as a word. I had to add it to the dictionary.

    Eric Ramsey
    City of Lenexa, KS Fire Department

    1. Eric,

      Thanks for the note. Yes, we have a long way to go. I remember when I was a new firefighter back in 19xx… situational awareness did not even exist as a term… at least in the fire service. I vividly recall my instructor, as well-intended as he was at the time, telling me “Pay Attention.” I guess that was the primitive beginnings of SA in the fire service. Sad thing is, there are still instructors teaching that archaic rendition, simply because they don’t really know what SA is and all the ways it can be impacted. I’m trying to push a heavy rock up a steep hill. Thanks for being there to cheer me on! ~ Rich

  2. Pingback: Situational Awareness of Your Weakest Link | Situational Awareness Matters!™

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.