Monday, September 29, 2008

Situational Awareness – How much information is necessary?

Richard Moreau, Vice-President Emergency Preparedness

The need for relevant and timely Situational Awareness (SA) is widely recognized as a critical enabler for the successful management and response to emergencies, however, the task of generating and maintaining Situational Awareness is a difficult one. The difficulty begins with the very definition of Situational Awareness and what this requires in terms of information flow. As succinctly as possible, Situational Awareness is “What you need to know not to be surprised”.

In order to reach this goal, some individuals’ take the approach that all available information should be processed to all interested parties at all times (quantity over quality). This approach requires little if any framing at the front end. It is a “throw out the nets and see what we catch” kind of approach. In my own experience, particularly at the National Defense Command Centre (NDCC), this approach is a recipe for information overload. When you are processing up to 4000 pieces of information every 24 hours you must build your SA requirements on a different premise so that you can get the right information to the right people at the right time (quality, relevant and timely information).

With this much information in the stovepipe it is essential that the Leaders of the organization are involved up front in defining the questions to be asked and what type of packaging of the information will support their decision making process in a meaningful way. By creating a framework of questions, the individuals processing the information have a greater chance of providing meaningful Situation Awareness to enable the Leadership to make effective decisions.

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