Obtaining Situational Awareness

What’s going on in my department? That’s a question every decision-maker needs to answer on a regular basis. For managers in safety-critical industries and defense, critical time spans may be minutes, or even seconds.

Obtaining situational awareness has different meanings in various settings, but actually boils down to this definition of “knowing what is going on around us” through perception and attention. For manufacturers, particularly in safety-critical industries such as oil and gas where leaks of toxic substances or vapors can cause devastating effects, being able to quickly identify any danger can make the difference between a small incident and a huge disaster. For training managers in safety-critical industries such as these, ensuring that their operations are safe, effective and optimized means that they need to be able to ensure that their trainees are prepared with simulations of realistic incidents. Trainees need to be presented with the same information that decision-makers would have in the actual incidents, and their outcomes can be compared to those of other trainees and to the outcomes of real occurrences.

Table of Contents

Perceptions and Projections

Ideally the decision maker has a ‘helicopter view’ of the overall picture. With an accurate comprehension of the current environment, knowing how the situation is likely to evolve enables solid projections. The ability to ascertain and process the given information, and then to reach the best decision, is based partially on natural talent and principally on extensive training and experience.

Fortunately, with the plentitude of data currently collected, decision-makers can obtain a complete picture knowing that they are presented with all the data available. In training environments, this data can show resource status and allocation, and details about teams, trainees, schedules, and more. Access to clearly presented and accurate data is an important step to efficient management of training operations.

Traditional metrics have been buoyed with newer technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT), which uses sensors, embedded electronics and software, to collect data that is combined with other sources to paint a thorough representation of the current situation. In training operations, IoT supplements traditional performance data with sensors on the trainees’ clothing that provide a holistic picture of performance, enabling a more accurate picture of achievements, and also of malfunctions. Both individual and group performance can be compared, to the performance of current and previous trainees.

Other technological developments are improving situational awareness training in other ways, for example, for firefighters in California. For firefighters, with their constantly shifting battleground, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new initiative in virtual training has provided an impressive advancement. Their Team Awareness Kit uses many technological features including location tracking of fire equipment, fire perimeters from aircraft, video sharing, and fire model forecasts.

Filtering Data

With the plenitude of data coming from so many sources, the challenge now is not generally how to obtain accurate data, although this still is a prime concern, but instead how to wade through too much information! Being able to filter out the noise and have the necessary, critical facts at one’s disposal in clear presentation requires much analysis and design. For a training manager in a large facility, knowing that a single instructor is unwell on a specific day is not a significant piece of information, but if 20% of the instructors are unable to teach on a certain day, that information has wide effects. Being able to quickly see the relevant stats, front and center, is critical to being able to take the required actions. For the decision-maker, receiving timely notification about time-sensitive events is vital.

Here lies the importance of well thought out, properly designed dashboards that reflect the correct business processes according to the organization’s methodology. A system that has robust analytical capabilities, partnered with the ability to customize views and to receive well-timed notifications, will go far to enable appropriate situational awareness.