What Is Situational Awareness? Why Do You Need It?

This blog post will help you better understand what is situational awareness and why it should be a part of your organization’s risk management strategy.

Originally a military term referring to a pilot’s operational status and knowledge of immediate threats, today the term situational awareness has broad applications in any environment. At its essence, situational awareness refers to real-time information about what’s happening in and around a given environment. This knowledge is made possible by integrating disparate alarm and communication systems for centralized monitoring, alerting and reporting. 

Any threat or deviation from normal operations requires that both on- and off-site responders have situational awareness as soon as a triggering event occurs. With a universal alerting engine, triggering events can be harnessed to drive awareness transactions – or alerts – with specific details about an unfolding situation and how to address it, or avoid it all together. Therefore, situational awareness is critical for emergency communications and response management for any organization.

Is situational awareness complicated? No.

Situational awareness is not complicated, however it is challenging because various alarm systems are at work in any given facility, at any given time. Then you have to factor in a combination of voice and data networks not to mention a plethora of communication devices. The world’s communication infrastructure has moved from rudimentary to super charged – from radios, handsets and pagers to smartphones and tablets. 

There’s been a proliferation of screens for sharing information. However, all of these systems operate independent of one another, in silos, and unmonitored systems generally only provide local alerting in the form of buzzers, lamps or annunciation panels. A fire alarm goes off when smoke is detected, but it doesn’t tell you where the fire is or where the nearest exits are located so the safest evacuation route can be determined. 

But thanks to computer-telephony integration (CTI) and robust middleware, every sensor, alarm and communication end point can be unified to ensure that key individuals, select groups or entire populations are able to read, hear and see what’s happening and do the right things in response. Instead of a generic nomenclature, detailed alerts – including the nature of the alert plus location data – are delivered, improving response in terms of both the right action and better timing. You then can generate daily and/or historical reports to analyze response times and emergency protocols to make improvements. 

Such interoperability also means that legacy technology investments don’t have to be ripped out and replaced. In fact, their utility is usually expanded through integration with an enterprise awareness engine, providing redundancy and escalation paths to ensure that critical information reaches on- and off-site responders or other constituencies based on predefined protocols, or modes and actions (e.g., if this, then that).

Situational awareness is a big concept, but it boils down to preventing bad things from happening, specifically the loss of life, property, business and convenience.

Whatever the trigger – a mobile duress press, a leaking pipe or a malfunctioning HVAC – information about the situation must be conveyed in real time to the people most likely to be affected, as well as those responsible for investigation, containment and remediation. 

Real-time awareness through centralized monitoring, alerting and reporting takes an organization from reactionary and siloed to proactive and holistic in terms of risk management because of one awareness platform and one awareness experience for any user.

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