Situation Awareness

July 18, 2012

in Ethics

Situation Awareness (SA) is the state of being aware of the most important events that are happening around you, and the way in which they interact with the environment and each other. This usually implies a complex and dynamically changing environment and events with some high level of importance. SA is a mindset and can be practiced by anyone with enough determination and intent.

Human error in accidents and process failures can often be attributed to either a lack of situation awareness or an incorrect focus of attention or both. Part of doing a good job at situation awareness is finding the correct focus of attention. It is not practical to remain always at the highest level of alert. The level of alertness should match the level of the threat scenario and must change as the scenario changes.

NEED
The first step in SA is understanding the need. This can be an awareness of threats or the possibility of threats. A clear definition of mission is required. It is important to identify what information, knowledge or state is required in order to make correct decisions. Being able to extrapolate chains of events and accurately predict what will happen next enables correct decision making.

ALERTNESS
Alertness must change as the need and environment change. There must always be some level of residual alertness, but there are times when a low state of alertness is required for rest. When a crisis scenario is red hot, alertness must be at full capacity.

FOCUS
Focus will determine what SA produces. Focus can be wide angle or narrow, and can be long range or nearby. Just as alertness needs to change to adapt to the scenario, so does focus need to be constantly adjusted and tested. The definition of the mission and need combined with current circumstances will usually determine focus.

COLLECTION
Collection always involves filtering to avoid information overwhelm. The filters are set by need and the mission and adjusted by changing factors in the scene. If too much information is being collected too fast, it may become necessary to write it down or document it in some way to preserve the value. In this case, because of the dynamic nature of SA scenes, filters may need to be adjusted to limit the amount. It is important to not allow becoming overwhelmed.

INTEGRATION
Once the most valuable information has been determined and collected, it must be able to be used. “Orientation” means making sense of information so that it can be used. Gathered information often needs to be correlated with other knowledge in order for it to become most useful.

PRACTICE
Little of SA requires special skills and it can be considered as common sense. But it also can be honed to a high level. Most people don’t have a high level of SA and don’t think about it often. Thinking about it, planning it out and then actually doing it often (or even all the time) are the way to practice it and become good at it. The goal is make SA a smooth and automatic process that functions constantly in the background.

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