Get familiar with situational awareness in the workplace. From transportation to retail, these are the industries leveraging SA to their advantage.
Once a niche military concept, situational awareness (SA) has now permeated the private sector. It’s gained traction in just about every industry imaginable, and for good reason — it defines a capacity that is both essential to success and applicable to every organization, regardless of industry, headcount, and structure. The following examples help illustrate the vast range of scenarios in which situational awareness is being put to use.
When lives are on the line, optimal situational awareness for law enforcement officials, firefighters, and EMTs is crucial. First responders must be able to perceive their environment and understand the threats they’re facing in order to respond appropriately. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight is sage advice with an unfortunate origin: some poor fellow lacking the situational awareness necessary to adequately equip himself.
Today, firefighters, first responders, police officers, and other decision-makers in public safety understand the vital role that situational awareness plays in successful missions — whether that’s responding to a noise complaint, putting out a four-alarm fire, or rescuing flood victims.
Take the example of a building fire. For a firehouse that’s established robust SA, much of the logistical work will have been done before the crew even arrives on the scene. If a building’s fire system has connected alarms, sensors, and cameras, firefighters can use that information to understand the fire’s location and cause; the building’s layout; and whether or not there are individuals in need of rescue. This kind of information is invaluable — it saves lives, mitigates damage, and keeps firefighters safe.
In the transportation and logistics sector, the challenge has remained the same over the years: getting products from one place to another at competitive speeds, while maintaining margins. In today’s era, that means investing in technologies that can improve visibility and logistical decision-making at every stage.
For logistical awareness, technologies like RFID tags and blockchain can improve load tracking, allowing partners up and down the supply chain to instantly check delivery status. Having comprehensive and up-to-date visibility into logistics operations allows the supply chain to find efficiencies, cut costs, and improve delivery times. With systems designed to make the status of drivers and trucks visible, managers are able to ensure their fleet can cover all routes, compensate for breakdowns, and even take advantage of last-minute load opportunities.
Enterprise leaders must address a variety of challenges and threats — from venturing into new markets to responding to all manner of crises. If the stock tanks, is the enterprise equipped to respond? To succeed, corporate leadership must understand both the current context and the potential consequences of their decisions. That boils down to collecting and surfacing the right data. Critically, what the “right data” is will change depending upon the situation. What is relevant information during a hurricane will not be the same information that is relevant in the hours following the announcement of a major tariff. Likewise, that which is relevant to a branch manager will be different from that which is relevant to a CFO.
Leveraging data in this way is easier said than done. Data is often difficult to access, manipulate, or transport, and is often tied up in legacy applications and databases. Other data sources — from the still-nascent IoT, for example — may not have been configured to allow the people that need the information to get it at the right time. In the context of the corporate workplace, neither the concept of situational awareness nor the fundamental technologies required to enable it are any different than in, say, the military. There are, however, certain cultural idiosyncrasies, and technological hornet’s nests which make this area a particular challenge.
Most event and venue security teams are already working with an array of technologies that includes cameras, alarms, sensors, and other systems. What they’re often missing is the one technology that brings these arrays into a single pane of glass. Shifting between a pager, three iPhone apps, and a walkie talkie is conducive to neither speed nor efficiency. Security teams need to respond to threats quickly — if the nature of the threat isn’t understood fully and immediately, the danger multiplies.
A powerful situational awareness security solution will integrate the information from these disparate systems into one application or platform. Ideally, security teams should be able to have instant access to status and alerts across all their devices. If a gun goes off, security staff should be able to view the location of the gunshot on a map, see video footage of the area, and push commands to relevant personnel. The staff in closest proximity could receive an immediate notification that they must move to the area. At the same time, the nearest hospital could receive an alert that could help them prepare.
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Investing in situational awareness solutions has the potential to benefit a wide variety of municipal departments and services. For instance, automatic alerts and instructions could save lives if sent in response to dangerous weather conditions, electricity outages, health alerts, and other urgent situations. Smart city sensors could also respond to localized or individual dangers, sending out alerts based on nearby shootings or notifying the nearest hospitals and EMTs in the event of a car crash.
Greater visibility can also help citizens on a day-to-day basis. For instance, managing traffic is a major task for cities, and smart city technology can contribute in this regard, helping drivers avoid road closures, accidents, and slowdowns. Similarly, providing tracking information for buses and subways allows public transit users to plan their commutes more efficiently.
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In the shifting retail landscape — where e-commerce is setting a high (and quickly rising) bar — retailers are being forced to evolve, develop new capabilities, and compete in emerging spaces. To succeed in this environment, companies are turning to situational awareness technology built for retail and designed to elevate the customer experience.
When it comes to product management, alerts can provide critical insights. Refrigerators with digital thermometers can ping the appropriate personnel in the event of an issue. Cameras with facial recognition and robust system integration can help staff address suspicious behavior and theft. Such improvements play into effective customer service, too. With RFID tags and integrated inventory systems, low levels of products on the shelves can trigger manager alerts and automatic re-ordering, ensuring that customers can always get what they need, when they need it.
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During military operations, fully understanding the conditions of the situation at hand can mean the difference between life and death. The concept of situational awareness was, in fact, born in the U.S. military, and is as significant today as ever. Military forces need a tactical edge — and that can come from insights into elements like enemy position, hazard location, and troop readiness.
With the right technologies, these insights are possible. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can scan enemy areas to create layout and hazard maps before action must be taken. Troops can use voice communication and automated tracking technologies to avoid friendly fire and register commands. Wearables can send ongoing situational updates to commanders, including video and audio information.
The key is to bring all this data and more into one situational awareness system. Commanders must make decisions based on all available information, and there isn’t time to look through five different databases or five different applications. Technology should deliver fast, critical, and accurate updates that can enable live-saving decision-making.
In the above scenarios and countless others, the difference between success and failure comes down to speed and visibility. While the exact scenarios and goals vary across industries, the advantages of a SA-focused approach are clear. For decision-makers looking to invest in situational awareness, the next step is to consider which technologies will allow you to generate the data you need.
This will invariably require more than a new suite of sensors, or a new smartphone app — getting the right data to the right people in real-time is as challenging as it is advantageous. It requires strategically engineered IT that marries the fundamental elements of situational awareness with the operational challenges specific to the organization in question.