Saturday’s tragic mass shooting in Allen, Texas highlights the critical importance of situational awareness. When public places become scenes of carnage, victims and witnesses are always caught off guard.  No one out for an afternoon of family shopping expects to be involved in a violent attack. Yet the ability to quickly identify and respond to unanticipated danger can mean the difference between life and death.  Some witnesses in the Texas shooting saw the gunman exit his vehicle with a gun, but many at the mall heard the gunfire before they saw anything.  

Survivors of mass shooting incidents often describe initially mistaking the sound of gunfire for fireworks or the backfire of an engine.  Our brains are wired to identify sounds in the context of the familiar.  This is called normalcy bias.  We naturally process events from the perspective of our personal experience, the “normal,” and rarely do we assume the least likely scenario. The sooner the danger is identified, however, the greater the chances for survival.  

So what can we do to combat normalcy bias? In the United States of 2023, we must all exhibit a healthy amount of situational awareness.  This is not to suggest that we stay away from public spaces or remove ourselves from daily living, rather we must be aware of our surroundings and use all five senses to identify a telling change in the environment. More simply put – be aware and don’t assume something out of the ordinary is normal.