In the world of professional protection, highly trained protective agents are qualified to execute two sets of protective measures on the job. These are: proactive measures (sensing danger) and reactive measures.

Sensing Danger, a man beign followed

Consider your entire timeline since you were about six years old up to this moment now, as you read this article. In that entire timespan what percentage would you say you were involved in a knock-down, drag out fisticuffs, gunfight, knife fight or other extreme physical violence requiring hard skills (using your body in a violent altercation)?

Now compare that to the remainder of the timeline where you may have de-escalated a heated discussion, used your situational awareness, verbal judo or other soft skills (non-physical) to solve a potential problem. What percentage would you estimate as hard skills and what percentage would you estimate as soft skills?

maintiaing situational awareness

Soft Skills vs Hard Skills


If you’re like most people who experienced at least 20 years of time on this planet, the numbers work out to something along the lines of less than 2% hard skills and greater than 98% soft skills. Much like normal life the average protective agent shares that same 2%-98% hard skills to soft skills ratio. Hard skills are categorically considered reactive measures whereas soft skills are considered proactive measures.

A woman checking her area.

The job of a protection detail is to prevent their VIP from suffering an undesired event. In the professional protection community needing to employ hard skills is commonly the result of failing to execute tried and true proactive measures (soft skills). If you are relegated to reactive measures that means you are woefully behind the action-reaction power curve.


Conversely, staying ahead of the curve means you are successfully employing proactive measures. Proactive measures are synonymous with preventive measures. Whereas reactive measures are synonymous with failed proactive measures.

A busy market with many potentional issues.

Paramount to any protective protection services detail (PSD) is to prevent a threatening incident. If such an incident is predictable, then it’s preventable and the reason why a PSD will run countersurveillance on travel routes, hotels, venues, and the like ahead of time (referred to as an ‘advance’).

In the fast-paced world of moving a protectee from one secured location (controlled area – anywhere there may be security personnel and or equipment such as cameras and the like) to another, it is well known that such movement is more vulnerable in between controlled areas. As a result, all agents try to notch up their situational awareness when moving between controlled areas.

Busy night on the street, sensing danger

Even if you’re not a PSD professional, you know to rev up your situational awareness when in a high-threat environment and notch it down in low-threat environments.

When it comes to applying your situational awareness, the earliest warning system we humans have on board is the ability of sensing danger. It’s not something often openly discussed, but any experienced PSD agent has learned to rely on subliminal indicators, intuitive hits and ‘just knowing’ as part of their proactive measures.

Hooded man under a light

Subliminal Indicators

Your five senses are organic tools that can be employed as finely tuned environmental sensors to identify, collect and deliver multiple relevant data points to your awareness for processing. Collection and processing of these data points is what trained observers, such as seasoned law enforcement officers and PSD agents call “tells.”

Law enforcement professionals on daily patrols read such tells on a regular basis. They can quickly process observable data points and determine if a suspect may be armed, may be in possession of an illegal substance or may be in the process of breaking the law.

In another ‘tells’ example, a group of boys got into a fight at a Fresno, California charter school one morning outside the school. One of the boys ran back into a classroom to grab his backpack, but a teacher stopped him, sensing danger. Officers say the teacher noticed that the backpack ‘seemed heavy’, looked inside and found a gun. The teacher observed the circumstances that led to the boy running, the way he grabbed his backpack and then observed the heft of the bag. Such indicators “tell” you what’s going on with a suspicious person or scenario that you may be watching.

Intuitive Hit

It’s no secret that human females are far more perceptive than their male counterparts when it comes to unfiltered perception. In an incident which occurred at a commercial leasing property, a female clerk was locking the doors to her store at closing time when she noticed a male dressed in a suit running up to the door. In a post-incident police report, she recalled experiencing a strong intuitive hit that he was a bad person.

Alert not anxious

The well-dressed man was shouting through the door that it was his wife’s birthday and he just needed to pick up something quick. Her subconscious, sensing danger, was screaming at her to keep the door closed, locked and to shoo him away. However, that’s when her conscious mind kicked in and she overrode her very clear sense of danger thinking “Well, he’s wearing a suit and it is his wife’s birthday.”

The split second after she re-opened the door, the store was looted and vandalized. She had barely survived the ensuing brutal physical beating and was rushed to a nearby trauma center with her face completely destroyed and in need of reconstructive surgery.

Caution Paint

Should you perceive a strong sense of danger from an intuitive hit it’s your earliest warning awareness system telling you “Hey, pay attention here!” It’s not something that should be readily ignored.

Just Knowing

Another way to utilize your organic tools is a hunch, premonition, or a gut feeling. It’s when you “just know” that something isn’t quite right. It happens to be the most fine-tuned of the early-warning tools you have. In his best-selling book, Blink, which is about the intuitive parts of decision-making, Malcolm Gladwell presents a concept he calls “thin-slicing.” He posits that there can be “as much value in the blink of an eye than in months of rational analysis.”

Gladwell encourages his readers to not push aside their first thought in favor of getting more information to make a decision. Some people are more intuitive, which doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with intelligence or access to more information.

Dark night in the city

Whether it’s a subliminal indicator (tell), intuitive hit (perception) or just knowing (premonition), finding a blip anywhere on your radar screen, regardless of how it got there, is all the alert you need to know that something is up.

Protection experts often use sensing danger as a deterrent. When a predator knows that you are on to him, he is far less motivated to continue with his nefarious plans when the element of surprise is removed from the equation.

Sensing danger keeps you informed as to what your environment is telling you and a step ahead of events that are emerging around you.

It keeps you attuned and prepared for the unexpected.

Author Steve Tarani

About the Author: 

Steve Tarani is a former fulltime CIA protective programs employee, small arms and defensive tactics subject matter expert who served on POTUS 45 pre-election executive protection detail. He is the lead instructor for NRA’s non-ballistic weapons training program offered nationally. Tarani is also a DoD and FLETC-certified federal firearms instructor who has been on staff at Gunsite Academy (AZ) as a Rangemaster for over twenty years. Formerly sworn, he is also a former federal contractor and service provider for the US Defense Intelligence Community, US Naval Special Operations Command and other government agencies. Tarani additionally serves on the National Sheriffs’ Association Committee for School Safety and Security. In addition to his teaching and consultation, he  writes for a number of publications, including The Mag Life, the official online publication of GunMag Warehouse.

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