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What is Situational Awareness (SA)?

Published
January 17, 2024
Control Room

Situational Awareness (SA), or situation awareness, is the ability to recognize and understand a situation or environment and the capability to identify and assess any potential threats and taking the necessary steps to address them.

SA requires a comprehensive understanding of the people, places, and events that could be potentially threatening to a facility, assets, the operation or an area being protected (perimeter protection). The goal of SA is to proactively prevent any possible threats from occurring by recognizing and understanding the surrounding environment.

What are the 3 Levels of Situational Awareness?

SA comprises of three ascending elements or levels:

  1. Perception
    The environment or the situation must be properly perceived. In physical security, sensors and cameras can extend the perception of the security operators and provide insights in challenging conditions such as in darkness.
  2. Comprehension
    The environment or the situation must be properly understood. In physical security, correctly interpreting signals and alarms can be challenging. A motion alarm from a camera could be triggered by an intruder but also might be a false alarm caused by an animal.
  3. Forecasting and Prediction
    How is the environment or the situation going to evolve over time given certain actions? Scenario Analysis such as best or worst case planning is one methodology frequently used in forecasting. Forecasting is the most advanced aspect of SA.
3 Levels of Situational Awareess

Why is Situational Awareness Important?

Having established a culture of Situational Awareness is important because:

  • Situational Awareness reduces the likelihood of incidents
  • Situational Awareness reduces the impact of an incident

How to improve Situational Awareness?

SA can be enhanced by improving on the 3 elements of SA: Perception, Comprehension and Forecasting.

Improving Situational Awareness with Technology

The perception can be improved with sensors or cameras. Integrated in a Video Management System (VMS) or Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) security operators can perceive a large environment.

VMS and PSIM also improve communication up and down the chain of command.

AI video analytics (VA) can be used to improve understanding by bringing attention of the operators to important events, alarms and anomalies. VA can further reduce the number of false alarms coming from motion alarms from cameras.

VMS, PSIM and Video Analytics can help to improve Situational Awareness
VMS, PSIM and Video Analytics can help to improve Situational Awareness

Improving Situational Awareness with the Human Factor

When it comes to improving SA the Human Factor is not to be neglected. All technological advancements aside, in the end it's often a person or a team that makes the assessment and decision. Therefore the entire workforce related to physical security must be:

  • Awake And rested
  • Properly trained and experienced
  • Aware of responsibilities and communication structures
  • In an environment with as little disturbance as possible
Security Center

Improving Situational Awareness through Investment

SA is an ongoing process which should always be adapted to changes in environment or to new technological advancements. Even maintaining a certain level of SA requires continuous effort. Employees need to be trained, equipment needs to be maintained, procedures have to be revised. But, investing in SA pays off: By reducing the likelihood or impact of an incidence SA contributes to sustainable operations.

Discussing Situational Awareness

Summary

Situational Awareness (SA) is the ability to recognize and understand a situation or environment and identify possible threats. SA consists of three levels: Perception, Comprehension, and Forecasting. Technologies such as video surveillance systems and AI analytics can improve SA by enhancing Perception and Comprehension. The Human Factor must also be taken into account to improve SA, such as training personnel, having clear communication structures, and minimal disturbance in the environment. Finally, investing in SA pays off by reducing the likelihood or impact of an incidence.

Further References:
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