Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Situational Awareness in Mountain Rescue Operations

“Situational Awareness” is “the degree of accuracy by which one’s perception of his/her current environment mirrors reality.”  The essence of Situational Awareness is fairly simple… perception vs. reality.

For over 30 years, Situational Awareness has been studied and applied in military, civil, commercial and aerospace applications.  More and more, emergency service organizations are focusing on situational wareness as a key factor in reducing risk and increasing safety. Situational Awareness can also be looked at as a constantly evolving picture of the state of the environment.  It is the perception and comprehension of the relevant elements in an incident within a volume of time and space.  In this regard, Situational Awareness is not an event, but rather a process that only ends when the SAR incident is concluded. Data collection and interpretation.

Situational Awareness requires the human operator to quickly detect, integrate and interpret data gathered from the environment.  In the case of search and rescue operations, the “human detector" can be anything from the Incident Commander to a “field grunt.”  That is the beauty (and challenge) of situational awareness – it requires and demands awareness by all users.

In a search and rescue response, the “information” that is collected can come in many forms, including:
1. Information provided by outside sources (e.g. interviews with reporting parties, information provided by local law enforcement, etc.)
2. Information from the environment (e.g. weather)
3. Information from previous experiences (e.g. other SAR missions in the same location)

Situational awareness is also much like the Incident Command System (ICS), in that it is flexible and should grow or shrink as the SAR incident grows or shrinks.

To fully understand Situational Awareness, we need to look closely at its three important stages, the perception of the relevant information, the comprehension and interpretation of that information, and  the projection of their states into the future.

Over the next few weeks the MRA Blog will examine each of these stages in detail.

For more information on situational awareness in mountain rescue operations
, check out the Mountain Rescue Associations public education programs @

Courage - Commitment - Compassion
     Mountain Rescue Association 

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