Three tips to achieve real-time situational awareness
Know your environment
To know what is happening right now and what is likely to happen tomorrow, organizational sensors need to be in place and aimed in the right direction. Without these awareness capabilities, organizations are likely to be caught off guard when a crisis strikes.
Thijs Maters, Joeri Tolboom & Claire Bakker - 8 juni 2017
In 2009 – 2010, a global car manufacturer recalled around 10 million vehicles due to several safety issues, including defects with the accelerator pedals. The vehicles posed a severe threat to the safety of drivers and could cause deadly accidents. As a result, the car manufacturer went into crisis mode and organized one of the most costly recalls in recorded history: an estimated $2.1 billion, excluding the settlement of a class action lawsuit for $1.2 billion. On top of things, all this took place during the global economic crisis, causing the company to book its worst results in history.
Why is real-time situational awareness important?
During crises, decisions have to be made under immense uncertainty and pressure. For example, the car manufacturer had to deal with the recall of millions of vehicles alongside finding and resolving the cause of the problem and managing the public’s reaction.
In situations like these, understanding the environment is a critical aspect of decision-making. Real-time situational awareness enables crisis teams to observe what’s going on in their surroundings and orient themselves on the situation. A lack of understanding and awareness could start a crisis, or make a situation worse if decisions are based on false assumptions.
The three critical elements in creating situational awareness are perception, comprehension and projection :
- Perception is the process of collecting relevant information in the environment of the organization. For the car manufacturer, a challenge in this stage was to find out which countries were affected by the vehicle safety defects.
- Comprehension is about filtering information, forming connections between different information pieces in order to make it applicable for the situation at hand. A challenge that the car manufacturer faced here was to connect all available information to the legal framework of each affected country.
- Projection is about the ability to forecast future events and impacts. The car manufacturer was able to forecast the specific legal issues they would face in each country as a consequence of the vehicle safety defects.
In sum, real-time situational awareness is the continuous process, needed to assess anomalies in an organization’s environment and predict the effects of the organization’s decision-making within a volume of space and time. Therefore, effective real-time situational awareness needs to be in effect at all times, not only during crises.
How to achieve real-time situational awareness?
Achieving real-time situational awareness requires at least the following steps:
- Implement the necessary sensors: Employees are the sensors within the operational part of an organization. They need to know which security risks they should be vigilant towards. In addition, a 24/7 monitoring tool ensures that the right external information is available at all times. Be sure to include monitoring on the most important risk areas, such as cyber activities, (social) media, geopolitical security threats, financial crime, and distressed entities.
- Establish clear lines of communication: Detecting and comprehending possible threats to the organization is not enough. Information from the sensors, either employees or the 24/7 monitoring tool, needs to be communicated to decision makers. Employees thus need to know and understand how and where to report security risks. In addition, the monitoring tool should provide automated alerts. To ensure that no early warning signs are overseen, a tolerance to false alarms needs to be part of the process.
- Create a dashboard: Incorporate all sensor and monitoring information in an understandable and easy to use dashboard. The situational awareness provided by the information in the dashboard enables successful decision-making and can help organizations either predict or solve a crisis.
Once a collective understanding of the situation exists, the next step is to make the best possible decision based on the provided information. Want to know more? Our next article specifically focuses on decision-making under time pressure.
 The Guardian, ‘Toyota reaches $1.2bn settlement in safety-related criminal inquiry’, (19-03-2014) https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/mar/19/toyota-1bn-settlement-car-safety-probe (17-05-2017).
 The Guardian, ‘Timeline: Toyota’s Recall Woes’, (23 February 2010) https://www.theguardian.com/business/2010/jan/29/timeline-toyota-recall-accelerator-pedal (11-05-2017).
 M.R. Endsley and D.J. Garland, ‘Theoretical Underpinnings of Situation Awareness: A Critical Review’, in: Situation Awareness and Measurement (Mahwah, 2000) p. 3-4.
This article is part of a serie about resiliency. You can read the first article here: Be resilient - be a bacteria. For more information please contact Theodorus Niemeijer at +31 (0)88 288 19 78.