The importance of situational awareness

The importance of situational awareness

Arnhem 17/06/2022 – Situational awareness is a very important factor when it comes to firefighting, which can affect both firefighters and commanders during an incident response. It plays a huge role when it comes to indoor firefighting, with conditions that are constantly changing in an often unstable environment. According to an organization that keeps track of fire incidents in the Netherlands, over 6.000 fire-related incidents were registered in the country in 2019. Over 45% of those happened in a commercial building. Those types of incidents are considered to be one of the most dangerous and challenging situations for a firefighter. It is due to the fact that a safe escape from a building on fire is not always guaranteed. In situations where a lot of smoke and fire are present, it can also cause disorientation. According to a report by the Dutch Institute for Firefighting and Crisis Management in 2003, shows that 19% of total firefighter deaths from 1946 to 2003 were caused by disorientation during a fire. During firefighting, both indoors and outdoors, the utilization of situational awareness can play a huge role in making an incident safer for firefighters.

What is situational awareness?

The Department of Homeland Security in the USA describes situational awareness as the capability to obtain and to process a specific type of information regarding threats, hazards, and conditions within a time window to support incident management decisions across all phases of an incident response. These can include:

-        The ability to track and monitor the location of first responders and their proximity to certain risks and dangers in real-time.

-        The ability to find, track, and analyze passive and active threats in incidents in real-time.

-        The ability to rapidly recognize hazardous agents and contaminants.

-        The ability to incorporate information from multiple sources into command operations.

Different levels of situational awareness

The Endsley model of situational awareness divides the subject into three different levels. Each level is hierarchical, and the three levels are considered crucial for achieving a high level of situational awareness.

Perceive: (Level 1)

The first step in achieving situation awareness is to perceive the status, attributes, and dynamics of relevant elements present in the environment. For example, any dangers that are present.  

Understand: (Level 2)

The second step is to acknowledge the importance of the elements present in the first level. On the second level, a certain picture of the scenario can be created. For example, they present dangers.

Predict: (Level 3)

Finally, the last level is being able to predict the actions of the elements according to the present environment. This level can only be achieved if the knowledge of the elements and the current situation are fully present. For example, the consequences that a certain danger can bring.

Limiting human factors

Various researchers have concluded that human factors play a huge role in the development of higher levels of situational awareness. Attention and memory are the two factors that limit individuals from acquiring and interpreting the necessary information to form an advanced level of situational awareness. The process of first creating a picture of situational awareness starts with matching the situation within the human memory. The first imagination of the situation is often created from previous knowledge and experience.

When first responders have to act in an unfamiliar area, the need for and the difficulty of obtaining relevant information are increased. This further limits the human memory, as it is caused due to the brain not being able to find a fully matching and suitable previous experience. The brain tends to judge these previous memories to be either inadequate or inappropriate. As a consequence, different factors such as uncertainty and stress levels are higher than normal. Next to the basics, information such as routing maps and weather forecasts are often the most requested.

Common distractions

There are a number of different distractions that can steal the attention of individuals. Dr. Richard Gasaway, an expert in situational awareness, identified four of the most common distractions that affect individuals.

Mind drift: 

This happens when the human brain starts to lose focus on the task at hand. The brain automatically switches the focus to a different task without offering any obvious sign.


By doing the same task repeatedly, boredom can occur. Ultimately, this leads to a lack of attention to detail.    


Bad habits do not necessarily lead to consequences, but they can allow an individual to believe that nothing can happen in the future. This behavior usually leads to overconfidence at the end.


Similar to a routine, doing the same task repeatedly for a long time can lead the brain to get comfortable, making them not pay attention to any risks that may arise.

The consequences of poor situational awareness

The scene in and around a building fire tends to be very chaotic, with information often not being fully complete or detailed to first responders. It leads to a lack of situational awareness, which tends to bring unnecessary pressure and stress to the commander, possibly resulting in poor decision-making. This can ultimately lead to secondary casualties and property losses.

Dr. Richard Gasaway describes the consequences of poor situational awareness as a loss of accurate reality. This can be explained as when the brain does not accept the inputs given by the five different sensory senses (smell, taste, sight, hear and touch). This leads the brain to be disconnected from reality, leading ultimately to a flawed level of understanding. When human beings tend to become mentally impaired, decision making capabilities are greatly affected, further speeding the process of confusion and disorientation, greatly affecting situational awareness. 

As previously mentioned, first responders tend to act based on their previous experience in firefighting and/or routine inspections. This aspect greatly contributes to a successful operation, unfortunately, not all aspects of situational awareness can be obtained. Information such as the location of firefighters, trapped occupants, and the growth of fires happens dynamically and are changing constantly. Because of that, these types of information needs to be obtained and updated on-site from various sources, which can result in information loss and/or unreliable information being given.

Indoor location system for firefighters

A firefighter location and condition system for indoors is one of the most hoped for situational awareness enhancements, according to a survey conducted by over 1.100 firefighters and first-respondents in California, USA. Over 85% of the interviewed participants believe that such a system would greatly improve rescue efficiency. 50% would prefer that the information be portrayed digitally, preferably in 3D.

Indoor Situational Awareness by Teijin

After many years of research and development, the Smart Safety team of the Solutions 2.0 department of Teijin was able to create a working proof of concept that is able to consistently and precisely track firefighters indoors. The innovative system is able to track firefighters inside a building in real-time without the need for extra infrastructure. A 3D user interface allows the commander to keep track of its firefighters both laterally and horizontally. The system is able to track each individual separately, helping the commander optimize the situational awareness and enhance the safety of the intervention.

The system will be officially launched during Interschutz 2022, with trials starting soon after the launch. If you would like to see the Indoor Situational Awareness system by Teijin in action, you can visit our booth at hall 15, number B52. There, live demonstrations and additional information will be given.

If you would like to know more about our Indoor Situational Awareness System, click here to visit our product page.