Crisis management is dependent on decent situational awareness

We know that a lack of situational awareness is one of the main reasons behind detrimental situations caused by humans. When dealing with crisis management, situational awareness is crucial. Not only when interpreting available information, but also when assessing how procedures will affect the situation. Is it possible to practise your situational awareness ability even if there is no actual crisis?

What is situational awareness? 

Situational awareness is actually a military concept that describes a person's ability to observe what’s going on in their surroundings, orient themselves in situations, and assess events in context to the given time and place. The last point is especially important when dealing with crisis management because it describes our ability to foresee a situation: what will happen if we do this or that?

Some of the most challenging, but also most important, things to do to achieve good situational awareness is to identify the essential information and sift out the information that isn’t important to you in the given situation.

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Vital ability    

We are all equipped with basic situational awareness, and we use it continuously. Just think about what it means for our ability to drive a car. Imagine driving towards a roundabout. You will automatically assess your speed and how you should regulate it satisfactorily dependent on; cars on the roundabout and their speed, cars behind you, signs and driving conditions to mention a few. Based on experience and knowledge most drivers are able to assess how their behaviour will affect other drivers and how they will react.    

Situational awareness is based on the information you have available. If you wrongly assess the situation, the procedures you implement won’t work as you predicted. 

Situational awareness in crisis management

The American coast guard did an analysis and found that 40 percent of all events regarding faulty navigation at sea was caused by the lack of situational awareness. In preparedness and crisis management, this knowledge means two things:

  1. Lack of situational awareness can lead to a crisis.
  2. It can also make the crisis worse because incorrectly assessed situations lead to the implementation of inappropriate procedures.

An English saying states that the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  In other words: experience and results beat assumptions and theory. Still, we can do a lot to improve our situational awareness even if we don’t have experience of a real life crisis. It’s about the ability to contemplate possible events, assess what consequences they may have and prepare procedures that can reduce their harmful effect. Risk analysis, preparedness plans and routines for implementing notifications, will substantially improve our situational awareness. When this is connected to a digital system for preparedness and crisis management, the benefits are even greater.

Let me use a few examples:

1. An athlete needs to buy medicine abroad

She knows about the consequences that can follow if a banned substance is in the medicine and she takes it. The question is if she has enough information to make an informed decision.

  • Does she have access to lists of forbidden drugs that are up to date?
  • Does she have access to medical personnel that can assist her in assessing the medication?
  • Does she have access to more than one opinion?
  • What does she and her advisors know about the laws and regulations for the acquisition and consumption of the medication in that country?

My point is that all this preparation will help her understand the risk and make the right decisions, which will minimise the consequences of a defective situational awareness (medical personnel failing to bring the approved medicine abroad).

 2. One of your employees has detected a vulnerability in the company’s firewall

  • Does he write it in the task list and inform the leader when he is back at work?
  • Does he notify the emergency services (police)?
  • Does he notify the crisis team?
  • Does he publish a warning on the company’s webpage or Facebook wall?

His situational awareness is not only dependent on what he can observe during the event. Good preparation makes sure he immediately knows what to do and that he finds procedures, updated lists and guides for notification that are readily available and accessible in the digital crisis management tool.

> Read also: Why good communication between the emergency staff improves crisis management.

Both organisations and individuals can improve their situational awareness. Contradictory enough, it implies you have to do something before you find yourself in a situation.  

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By Frode Lien Otnes

Frode is founder and CEO of One Voice. He graduated in economics and management from The Norwegian Business School. In 2006 he started One Voice aiming to develop an online crisis support tool. Frode has led the development of CIM in One Voice. He has led projects including the implementation of CIM at the government's emergency support unit and the comprehensive implementation of a crisis management tool at DSB, county governors and municipalities. Together with the Directorate of Health he also implemented HelseCIM for the health administrations throughout the country in 2012.

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