Real-time situational awareness (RTSA) plays a crucial role in public safety control rooms and is essential to ensuring the safety of your local community. When operators have access to relevant information that allows them to do their job efficiently, they make better decisions in real-time. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at situational awareness techniques and their relationship to the public safety industry.
What is Situational Awareness?
Simply put, real-time situational awareness refers to an understanding of what’s happening in the environment around you. Awareness of your surroundings and their implications for the present and future is central to any control room or command center.
Developing (and maintaining) situational awareness may be easy on blue sky days with few challenges. However, it can be extremely difficult on dark sky days, which present high levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA).
VUCA is a constant in public safety control rooms, and human error can have significant and widespread consequences. The best way to minimize costly mistakes is by promoting an environment where real-time situational awareness is prioritized across teams.
Four Elements of Situational Awareness
There are four main elements of situational awareness, which we’ll list below:
- Gathering information from your environment.
- Blending this information with related knowledge to build a mental image of your situation.
- Using this image to further explore perceptual exploration of your situation.
- Using this situational awareness to anticipate and prepare for future challenges.
Benefits of Situational Awareness for Public Safety
There are many benefits of real-time situational awareness in public safety control rooms. For starters, you’re empowered to quickly make informed decisions that bring the greatest benefit to your community. Your entire team will understand the impact of their actions and how they affect both the present and future.
Situational awareness for emergency response also boosts your team’s safety and operational performance and brings everyone closer together. You’ll also feel a greater sense of control over your team(s) and have more confidence in your decision making.
Real-Time Situational Awareness & Public Safety
When it comes to public safety, speed is everything. Making quick, well-informed decisions can be the difference between life and death. Law enforcement, fire departments, EMS, private security teams, and more all rely on situational awareness to do their jobs well. Leaders have access to data on potential threats that can be communicated with field personnel and used to keep citizens safe.
Levels of Situational Awareness
There are three levels of situational awareness: perception, comprehension, and projection. We’ll examine each stage in more detail below.
The first stage of real-time situational awareness is perception, which refers to the awareness of events, objects, and people around you. In other words, perception is your understanding of relevant environmental elements and their effect on your present and future. The ability to perceive pertinent information hinges on your access to and understanding of real-time data, which we’ll examine in the next stage.
Once you’ve accessed and visualized the data you need for effective decision making, you have to synthesize and analyze it. Building a comprehensive mental picture of your situation and how it will affect your objectives is crucial to the comprehension stage. One of the best ways to do this is by building a mental model, but keep in mind that you need a lot of data to do this effectively.
Once you understand the real-time data you need to make a decision, you can use it to predict the future of your environment. In other words, you can use information from the first two stages to formulate a picture of your future operational environment. This allows you to anticipate threats and challenges and prepare for them in advance.
Potential Impediments to Public Safety Situational Awareness
Maintaining real-time situational awareness can be very challenging in the volatile, fast-paced public safety environment. First responders and security personnel cannot take informed actions if the right person doesn’t have the right information at the right time.
While most organizations have the data and infrastructure they need to achieve situational awareness, they’re limited by technology, time, and bandwidth. If big data can’t be shared across platforms, it’s impossible to view data in context and gather actionable information.
Remedying this problem starts with integrating hardware, middleware, and software that handles data visualization and distribution into your command center. It’s key to work with a control room provider that understands the importance of interoperability and prioritizes this during design, construction, and technology selection.
How Incident Management Software Systems Promote Public Safety Situational Awareness
Incident management software systems play a key role in creating real-time situational awareness for public safety organizations. These platforms (like Mauell’s Xomnium) consolidate data from a variety of sources and synthesize it into actionable information that can be used by relevant parties.
Without incident management software systems, information may remain siloed and inaccessible across departments, jurisdictions, and agencies. Content management systems allow operators to achieve high levels of situational awareness, gain a true sense of their surroundings, and make decisions that benefit everyone.
Public Safety Data Sources
Public safety data comes from a wide variety of sources, including (but not limited to) the following:
- AI-enabled cameras
- Facial recognition software
- Fingerprint scanners
- IoT-enabled “smart” devices
- Mass alert systems
- Officer body cameras
- Security systems and cameras
What is the Incident Command System (ICS)?
The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized system for communication, command, and control used in response and recovery efforts. ICS bridges the gaps between state, federal, and other recovery agencies to create a more unified response to disaster situations. It also reduces the waste of resources and avoids duplication and redundancy across teams.
There are five distinct sections of the Incident Command System (ICS): planning, command, operations, logistics, and finance. Along with delegating emergency management response and maintaining an orderly approach to disaster remediation, ICS:
- Facilitates planning
- Creates a unified command structure
- Coordinates resource management
- Promotes the use of common terminology
- Integrates communication channels
What is a Common Operating Picture (COP)?
A common operating picture (COP) captures the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys that result from connected, integrated data streams. COPs are composed of data from both humans and machines and are central to public safety situational awareness. When operators have access to the most relevant real-time information, they can make informed decisions within the ICS.
A robust COP should include interoperability, data archiving, network infrastructure, and security access. Taken together, these resources make it easier for incident management teams to make any necessary adjustments when responding to an emergency.
Questions to Ask During Situational Awareness Training
There are a number of important questions you should ask yourself as you design and implement situational awareness training for your organization. These questions include:
- Who is involved in the communication process?
- What information are we commonly communicating?
- How does our communication take place?
- How do situations typically evolve in the short- and long-term?
- What potential problems do we anticipate?
- What alternate scenarios are possible?
- How do interdependencies affect our operations?