Situational Awareness Fail

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Ken Lawrence that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 14, Issue 3, April 2017 under the title, “Situational Awareness Fail.” 

Since joining the USCCA last year and reading all the fabulous articles in Concealed Carry Magazine, I have learned to be intentional about living in Condition Yellow at all times. I thought I was doing well at being situationally aware. I sit where I can see what is going on in restaurants. I watch who is coming and going around me and my family. I stay alert when pumping gas or using an ATM. I thought I was in the zone. Boy, was I ever wrong.


Something recently happened that showed me no matter how diligent I am most of the time, letting my guard down for just a few seconds can have a life-changing impact.

I don’t usually go out at lunch, but that day I needed a stress break. I left work to run a few errands and enjoy the warm, spring-like weather. As I began driving, the “low fuel” light came on, so after I completed my errands, I stopped to fill up. I live in a small rural town in western Colorado with just one gas station, so I’m very familiar with the surroundings.

When I pulled up, there was a car parked by the door of the convenience store portion, making it difficult for me to get to the pumps. I managed to squeeze in and stopped at the first one. I looked around before exiting my vehicle to get a feel for who might be around me and, seeing no one, I exited the vehicle and began the process of inserting my credit card and making my fuel choice, all the while scanning the area. The driver of the car close to the c-store door got in his vehicle and drove off; though there appeared to be no one else around, I was in Condition Yellow and aware of my surroundings … or so I thought.

I finished refueling and awaited my receipt, but the pump printer had an error and would not print. Rather than go into the store to get a receipt, I took a few seconds to focus on the pump to note the dollar amount and number of gallons so I could write the information in the gas logbook I keep in the vehicle.

After I had the information in my head, I turned, opened my door and began to get back into my vehicle. With one leg partially inside, I suddenly noticed there was someone sitting in the passenger seat. I jumped back out of the vehicle and instinctively reached for my weapon but then remembered I was not carrying because I’m not allowed to carry at work. My heart pounded and a million thoughts raced through my mind: Who was in my vehicle? Is this a carjacking? A robbery? How did this person get inside my vehicle without me noticing? I was about to run away when I heard a familiar laugh.

The intruder wasn’t a threat at all. He was, in fact, a friend of mine messing around with me.


He’d been inside the gas station’s convenience store when I pulled up, but his car was parked across the street so I didn’t notice it. He waited until I had my back turned while I was waiting for my receipt to quietly slip out of the store and into my front passenger seat.

After I realized it was him and I was not in danger, I got back in my vehicle and we had a good laugh. I laughed with him, but inside, I was very upset. I wasn’t so upset with him; I was more upset with myself for allowing him to get into my vehicle without me seeing him. So much for my situational awareness.

I’ve run the situation over in my mind many times, and I don’t remember being distracted by the pump for more than three or four seconds. It might not have seemed like very long, but it was long enough for someone to exit the building, quietly open my passenger door, slip into my vehicle and close the door without me noticing a thing.

While my friend’s prank was a big joke to him, it was a life-altering situation for me. This situation has taught me some valuable lessons from which I hope everyone can learn:

  • No matter how good you think you are about maintaining your situational awareness, you can always get better.
  • Things happen much quicker than you can imagine, so you must remain engaged at all times.
  • Don’t turn your back on your vehicle; take a sideways posture at the pump and keep your eyes moving.
  • When you’re alone, lock your vehicle’s doors whenever you get out, even in a small town where few people lock their doors and some even leave their keys in their vehicles.
  • Before entering a vehicle, look through the windows and check the entire interior to make sure no one is there who isn’t supposed to be.
  • Consciously focus on your situational awareness until it truly becomes second nature. Slips or lapses can breed disaster.


I am thankful that what happened to me was just a harmless prank and not an actual carjacking or robbery, but I am also thankful for the lessons it taught me. I hope my story is a reminder to all responsibly armed Americans that we need to always be alert and that we must remain in Condition Yellow. A few seconds of distraction can result in a life-altering experience.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Tom Walker November 29, 2019, 11:15 am

    I got a surprise a few weeks ago. Scanning the restaurant I was in, checking each person that came in or moved, I thought all was well, until I got outside to go, and my truck that was within plain sight through the window, had the doors locked and alarm set, was gone! I was watching for my wife and myself, and let my zone shrink enough that the truck wasn’t in it. Two days later, it was found burnt to a crisp in a neighboring town.

  • Mike in a Truck November 29, 2019, 10:13 am

    Learned this years ago while trucking.Fueling all hours of the day.Onetime outside Nashville I was fueling the truck about 3 a.m. moving from side to side checking on both pumps on left and right tanks. Finished fueling and got in to move the truck off the fuel island before going inside for the receipt. Someone was in the passenger seat.The new Emerson wave blade had been introduced at that time and worked as advertised. Pretty thing. A lizard ( prostitute) was sitting there smiling at me.I kicked her out. Lesson learned. Lock them doors!

  • Hendrik Haan November 29, 2019, 6:39 am

    Always lock your car while pumping gas. 1) It says right on the pump not to re-enter vehicle. (static electricity). 2) While you are pumping gas, someone can open a car door on the opposite side and grab your purse or briefcase or any other valuable. 3) There will be no surprise when you get back.
    Don’t believe in #2? Look on YouTube.

  • Mark N. November 28, 2019, 2:16 am

    Maybe you should just keep all doors other than the driver’s door locked while you refuel, with your keys in your pocket. If your gas cap is on the passenger side, you should lock the driver’s door too. Limit the opportunities for mischief. It was /still is? a common ploy for thieves to enter the passenger door while the driver is refueling and taking anything that isn’t bolted down: phones, wallets, computers, whatever.

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