What does Situational Awareness have to do with Manufacturing?

This blog post discusses the applications of situational awareness in manufacturing and distribution facilities. It shares links to stories demonstrating how two companies use situational awareness and a link to an article.

The word manufacturing often conjures up images of poorly lit cavernous buildings, smoke stakes, and ear deafening machinery.  Although these ideas still persist in the popular imagination, they are erroneous and antiquated.  Today’s modern manufacturing involves state of the art facilities, complex computer systems with cutting edge software, robotics, elaborate and expensive machinery, and highly specialized and well trained employees.  Where once incorporating situational awareness into the manufacturing process might have seemed exotic, it is now essential.  Situational awareness technologies allow manufacturers to more effectively monitor and maximize the efficiency of their operations while simultaneously and most importantly protecting the safety of their employees and clients.   

Situational awareness was originally a military term referring to a pilot’s operational status and knowledge of immediate threats. Today, it’s a risk management strategy and technology framework to improve life safetysecurityenvironmental monitoring and mass notification. Customized software solutions, combined with monitoring technologies, and the integration of existing systems can ensure critical information reaches the right people in real time.  This can mean the difference between an efficient manufacturer capable of identifying problems before they occur and one that spends hours upon hours with an idle line addressing them after they occur.  

Each situational awareness system is customizable to a facility’s needs and requirements.  With that said effective systems must address the following areas.   

Environmental Monitoring
Why wait until it is an emergency? By connecting sensors to production machines, HVAC systems, pipes, building management systems or whatever needs monitored the proper person or people can be alerted when something is out of the norm. Receive an alert if a machine is overheating, a pipe is freezing, or a generator is running. Keep track of what is most important at the facility with right now notifications. With advance alerts situations can be handled before it is an emergency. 


Facilities have multifaceted security and access control systems, but often they operate in silos. Incorporating existing systems into one situational awareness alerting platform creates an indispensable system. Situational awareness systems can create alarm redundancy – no longer is the security alarm only a sound heard at the facility.  In addition to the security alarm, notifications can also include phone calls, texts, emails, and desktop and mobile alerts all sent to the appropriate people. The facility can also incorporate door/window alarms, motion detectors and indoor or outdoor security cameras into the security and alerting strategy.

Life safety
A chief concern for manufacturing and distribution facilities is employee safety. There is an array of safety concerns – from an overheating machine, gas leak, broken water pipe to an active shooter, informing the correct group of employees or people is critical. By integrating to existing fire panels a situational awareness system can immediately alert the fire department as well as the manager on duty and the maintenance director when a fire alarm is pulled. Sensors added to machines can send an alert to maintenance staff before the machine overheats and causes a fire. A mobile duress pendant allows lone workers, fork lift drivers or any employee to alert their manager or maintenance staff of an issue and summon help without leaving their current location. Fixed pull stations on production floors or other key locations around the facility provide employees a quick and easy way to call for help. Integrating to existing safety systems, adding sensors to vital equipment and providing fixed and mobile duress pendants are just a few ways situational awareness can improve the life safety of employees in manufacturing and distribution facilities.

Mass Notification
Multi-building facilities add a level of complexity to communication. Whether it is a scheduled event or an emergency mass notification can ease communication setbacks. It allows employees or select groups to receive notifications through multiple communication channels – landlines, desktop alerts, mobile alerts, two-way radios, strobe lights, emails, CCTVs or smart phones. Having redundancy in alerting lessens the possibility for missed notifications.

By creating a situational awareness system that address these four areas, manufactures can ensure they are maximizing production while most importantly providing a safe and secure working environment for their employees.  

Read Mike MacLeod’s article in FMJ about the Role of Situational Awareness in FM 

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