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How situational awareness technology aids during major incident response

Advances in technology are enabling law enforcement to get real-time data that provide complete situational awareness for both patrol officers on scene and the command center


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How situational awareness technology aids during major incident response

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One of the most important factors in officer safety is maintaining situational awareness.  Early in their careers, officers learn that situations can change quickly and virtually any call has the potential to turn deadly.

There are two major types of situational awareness. The first is singular, at the individual officer level, and is primarily concerned with the actions of the officer and his or her awareness of the events, environment and individual(s) that the officer is engaging. The second type of situational awareness is equally important and extends to other officers and external resources, as well as access to relevant information.

Individual officer situational awareness

When dealing with the aftermath of a major storm or earthquake, multiple teams of search and rescue personnel can be operating with the supervisor of each team having a live operating picture of the personnel under their direction. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
When dealing with the aftermath of a major storm or earthquake, multiple teams of search and rescue personnel can be operating with the supervisor of each team having a live operating picture of the personnel under their direction. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Officers are individually responsible for continual reassessment of the area, equipment and people under their control. Failure to do so can lead to increased vulnerability and complacency, thereby endangering the officer.

In regard to situational awareness pertaining to an individual officer’s actions, here are some very simple, but critical points for officers to consider:

  • How and where an officer stands when dealing with a suspect;
  • Observation of the suspect’s actions, stance, clothing, hands, even eye movements;
  • Where a traffic stop is conducted, being aware of the actions of the occupants, considering which side of the vehicle is approached, and understanding the danger presented by other vehicles;
  • How accessible is equipment to both the officer and the suspect? Is the officer’s holster unsnapped and/or is the firearm subject to a takeaway attempt?

Simultaneous situational awareness

Although situational awareness has often been thought of as relevant to an individual perspective, emerging technology makes it possible for an expanded capability that includes simultaneous awareness by multiple personnel of other officers’ locations and actions. Having real-time operational cognizance and connection to fellow officers is extremely beneficial when dealing with complex situations.

This broader-spectrum, real-time situational awareness of the operational environment functions as a force multiplier that can improve officer effectiveness and safety. This is particularly important in departments or situations where limited resources are the norm rather than the exception. Technology-driven situational awareness allows team members, even when they're separated, to act collaboratively in multifaceted and changing environments.

Right information, right time

The increased use of mobile devices has provided a powerful platform on which to layer information so that the right personnel get the right information at the right time. Examples of how this can improve operations include the following:

  • A field commander with a tablet or a command post coordinator with a multi-screen setup can see the real-time location of individual officers within the operational environment;
  • Information as to unit ID, special skills or assets (e.g., K9, sniper, bilingual) can be displayed on demand;
  • The right mobile tools provide a powerful communication and notification capability that includes ongoing awareness of the specific location of endpoint users and, in a response situation, geofencing provides notification when key assets arrive on scene;
  • Large groups (or a single team) can be notified using text, text-to-voice or email;
  • Key information, such as a suspect photo or a building diagram, can be simultaneously pushed to unit members, all of whom have the ability to see the position of other personnel.

Proactively embracing this type of mobile-first effort can dramatically cut down on many of the time-consuming manual processes when mobilizing a field force or calling out a tactical team. This gets the right personnel engaged more quickly and lessens the chance for miscommunication or the type of error that can result in a tragic blue-on-blue situation.

Although it takes planning and collaboration, the same type of approach can be extended to mutual-aid environments and can involve different types of complementary public safety assets such as fire, EMS and public works.

Deliver a more effective, coordinated response

Leveraging today’s powerful mobile technology can extend situational awareness to multiple layers of decision-making, creating a powerful collaborative platform that can be configured to specific needs.

When dealing with the aftermath of a major storm or earthquake, for example, multiple teams of search and rescue personnel can be operating with the supervisor of each team having a live operating picture of the personnel under their direction. At the same time, the command center that is coordinating the overall response can see the collective picture and have real-time global awareness of a large geographic area where multiple teams, although separated by significant distance, are operating under one unified command. This permits a more effective and coordinated response, especially on extended deployments where there are logistical considerations such as relieving personnel and delivery of consumables like batteries and fuel.

Bottom line

Situational awareness, whether at the individual level or in a multi-officer tactical response, is a key component of officer safety. Quickly advancing mobile technology makes it possible for properly equipped officers to maintain a common operating picture within the team environment and allows a unit commander to effectively direct team members. Bottom line: Make situational awareness a priority in every situation, whether at an individual level or when operating in a team environment.

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