Training

5 Elements of Proactive Situational Awareness

How information is analyzed, processed and acted upon often means the difference between life and death.

by Jim Bailey / May 4, 2015

An old sports tenet says that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. It is equally true that you can’t play the game without a playbook. Yet most emergency operations centers are doing just that.

EOCs all share one basic currency — information. At its core, an EOC is an information processing and dissemination mechanism that supports and coordinates operations in the field. So how information is analyzed, processed and acted upon often means the difference between life and death. But there is a systemic problem.

All too often, emergency operations plans and EOC standard operating procedures state that the operations center will establish and maintain situational awareness and disseminate a common operating picture. Unfortunately no one ever tells you how to do that. Why does that matter? Because every single decision EOC responders make depends on accurate, complete and current situational awareness and a common operating picture, otherwise known as SA/COP. But several issues complicate the problem.

First, most hard-working, well meaning EOC responders work in the operations center part time. Most staff members only work in the EOC during activations which, depending on the jurisdiction, occur infrequently. Moreover, EOC staff often must skip training, as it competes directly with their day jobs. Add to that the perishability of the training, natural EOC staff turnover, no national EOC position credentialing program, and the tendency of emergency managers to rely on technology to solve their information management issues, and you have the recipe for anything but collaborative, effective operation. For all of these reasons, teaching practical SA/COP development is mission critical.

How to do that? President Dwight Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Plan. Start by identifying your decision points for the top three threats your jurisdiction is at risk of facing. Know before an event where your decision points are and what information is needed to make those decisions.

It’s no surprise that during an event, information pours into an EOC from every direction. If information requirements haven’t been properly identified beforehand, collecting and assimilating all incoming data can be like trying to drink from a fire hose. Critical information can be missed, and less important information can take prominence. These are reasons why EOCs need to plan.

There are five elements at the crux of proactive SA/COP:

  • Define your information requirements.
  • Determine how to gather information.
  • Decide who will analyze that information.
  • Determine how that information will be shared.
  • Choose the technology that will help communicate and manage the information.

It’s that simple and that profound. And very few EOCs currently do this, let alone do it well.

In sports, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. But in emergency management, when lives are on the line, you can’t play the game well without proper training and an effective SA/COP system.

Willdan Homeland Solutions president and CEO James Bailey is a retired Marine Corps intelligence officer with 13 years of emergency management planning, training and exercise consulting experience. Bailey created an SA/COP training course with Red Team Intelligence president and CEO Chris Bausch, also a retired Marine Corps intelligence officer with 13 years of emergency management planning, training and exercise consulting experience.