Wake Up and Focus Your Attention On Situational Awareness and Life Safety

This blog post is about how mass shootings, break-ins, fires, severe weather, terrorist attacks and other tragedies affect us all and how situational awareness can make us safer.

Today’s societal realities require increased diligence and knowledge of our environments – whether people are going to class, catching a movie, entering a house of worship, or touring a famous city. We no longer live in a world in which it’s safe to be deaf, dumb and blind to our surroundings. 

When I heard the news about Paris last Friday night, I had the same thoughts I did following Columbine and 9-11: We have to deal with reality. We have to be proactive not just reactive. We have to change our mindset from one of denial, as in “it won’t happen here,” to one of preparedness to avert danger.

I was confronted with this ugly reality about 20 years ago, while I was working for a telecommunications company to enhance 9-1-1 call centers. That experience, combined with the lack of visibility at Columbine and the breakdown in communication between responding agencies during 9-11, led me to start a technology company to help with threat detection. 

Yet despite the growing headlines – about mass shootings, break-ins, fires, severe weather, terrorist attacks and other tragedies – enterprises and institutions remain ignorant and therefore susceptible to risk and the subsequent fallout, including loss of life, litigation and consumer backlash resulting in lost business. The promise of technology for life safety, physical security information management, situational awareness, or whatever you want to call it, is not being realized as it should be. 

Think about all of the screens that surround us on a daily basis – the ones in our homes, offices, malls, sporting events and transit lines.

Digital screens are everywhere, including in our pockets. But are these powerful communication tools being optimized to protect people and property? Without detailed information delivered to the right people via the right devices, it’s impossible to know what’s happening and how to address or avoid an unfolding situation. And the first few minutes of any emergency are critical in determining the outcome. 

However, it is possible to integrate every sensor/alarm, network and communication end point to ensure that key individuals, select groups/response teams or entire populations automatically become aware of a triggering event and how to respond. This type of integration and automation takes an organization from reactionary and siloed to proactive and holistic in terms of emergency communication and response management. Any threat or deviation from normal operations triggers an alert to on- and off-site responders or other constituencies based on predefined “if this, then that” scenarios, also known as modes and actions, with built-in redundancies and escalation paths.

Look at it this way. Your leg itches, meaning your central nervous system has signaled your brain with a series of alerts. Then your brain processes those alerts, causing you to scratch your leg and discover that it’s covered in poison ivy that will likely spread if you don’t take further action to stop it from infecting the healthy cells in proximity. Like you, society is a living organism with irritants that shouldn’t be ignored because the risks are too great. 

But today’s smarter networks and devices — plus the right software to tie all of them together via the power of the persistent connection — make it easier and more cost-effective to increase physical safety and security, as well as improve emergency communications and response when an incident occurs. 

With situational awareness, you’ll know the answers to these questions:

  • – What do the data patterns mean? 
  • – Where is the danger? 
  • – Who needs to know?
  • – What do they need to do about it?

As both a risk management strategy and technology framework, situational awareness creates valuable time to prevent and/or respond to any number of potential threats. And time is a critical factor in emergency management because panic, confusion and delays can make the difference between life and death. 

How many more wake-up calls do we need before learning to adopt a mindset of aversion? Our world faces too many threats to continue burying our heads in the sand. For schools, municipalities and businesses – the focus has to be on awareness and action plans for life safety. There’s no time to waste.

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