Situational Awareness: Let’s Stay to the “Left of Bang”

“It’s better to detect sinister intentions early than respond to violent actions late.”

That is how Gavin de Becker, author of the bestselling book, The Gift of Fear, describes the importance of situational awareness.

Now, a new 200-page book captures the concepts of a Marine Corps training program focused on the life-saving importance of situational awareness.

Left of Bang

The book’s title, Left of Bang, is a reference to the timeline of a deadly force incident. “Bang” is when shots are fired, the attack begins, or damage is done. On a timeline moving from left to right, “right of bang”” is what happens after the fight begins. In the worst-case scenario, you’re a casualty to the right of bang. Therefore, you need to stay to the “left of bang.” In that area you need to be alert, ready, prepared, and able to respond before the bad stuff happens.

That’s possible, the authors maintain, by recognizing certain revealing characteristics to detect potential attackers in time to avoid or upset their violent intent.

Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley, co-authors of Left of Bang, are former active-duty Marine Corps officers and instructors who helped enhance and evolve the Combat Hunter training program at the Marines Corps’ Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, VA. Their specialty, and the focus of the book, is “how to read the human terrain through an increased understanding of human behavior” across all cultural lines. The goal is to stop threats before they erupt.

Staying left of bang, write Van Horne and Riley (the son of a police officer), starts with enhancing your observational skills. Drawing on scientific research findings, they describe in detail how to detect and analyze suspicious human behavior in six “domains” that “communicate current emotions and possibly future intentions” to determine a potential threat. The domains, or cue sources, are:

  • Kinesics, people’s conscious and subconscious body language
  • Biometrics, human beings’ “uncontrollable and automatic biological responses to stress”
  • Proxemics, the way subjects use the space around them and interact with surrounding people
  • Geographics, reading familiar and unfamiliar patterns of behavior within a given environment
  • Iconography, the expression of beliefs and affiliations through symbols, and
  • Atmospherics, “the collective attitudes, moods, and behaviors present in a given situation or place.”

Search for Clusters

The book points out that by searching for “clusters” of cues from these domains, you can learn to enhance your abilities to observe your surroundings and improve the skills you already possess.

In some cases you may be forced to make decisions with little time and information. The authors point out, “Many situations are so complex, it is impossible to examine every piece of information.” Situations can also be so dangerous that looking for more than a few pieces of critical information leads to additional risk.

So the book encourages you to “thin-slice” a situation. That is to pick up on telltale patterns and assess a suspect’s intentions “with just a thin slice of information,” sometimes no more than one important cue snagged “with just seconds of observation.”

Perfect decisions are not always possible, they concede, but “more than 100 scientific studies have demonstrated that people can make incredibly accurate intuitive judgments with just a little” input.

The final 50 pages of the book are devoted to how you “put it all together” to make decisions most likely to be valid and take action so that “bang” never occurs.

This is a solid training resource. While it is designed for law enforcement, the information is practical for everyone who carries a gun.

[Editor’s Note: Left of Bang is published by Black Irish Books ( and can be purchased individually or, at a discount, in bulk. It is also available through Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. To contact the authors, email Van Horne at: and Riley at:]

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