Understanding Situational Awareness: What It is and Why It's Essential for Emergency Response

Posted in All, NGA911 on Feb 22, 2024

The public safety industry, whether emergency response agencies, first responders, or 9-1-1 call centers, all have one thing in common: improved situational awareness. Situational awareness is a fundamental aspect of effective emergency response. It allows 9-1-1 professionals to understand what’s happening around them, anticipate potential threats, analyze a situation, identify hazards and risks, and respond accordingly with the right resources.

In this blog from NGA, we'll discuss situation awareness and why it's essential for emergency response.

Table of Contents:

  1. What is Situational Awareness Exactly?
  2. Why is Situational Awareness Essential for Emergency Response?
  3. How Public Safety Professionals and Organizations Can Improve Their Situational Awareness
  4. Pay Attention to The Emegrency's Surroundings
  5. Gather As Much Information As Possible
  6. Utilize Technology
  7. Train Your Staff
  8. Stay Informed
  9. Conclusion

What is Situational Awareness Exactly?

Situational awareness refers to the ability to understand what's happening around you, interpret the meaning of that information, and predict what may happen in the near future. It involves constantly monitoring the environment, paying attention to relevant information, and assessing the situation.

This skill is critical for first responders because it helps them identify potential dangers, assess risks, and take appropriate actions.

Why is Situational Awareness Essential for Emergency Response?

Situational awareness is essential for emergency response for several reasons. First, it helps responders assess the severity of the situation and determine the appropriate course of action.

Second, it enhances communication and collaboration between responders, allowing them to share information, coordinate resources, and work more efficiently. Third, it enables responders to anticipate potential hazards and risks, such as structural damage, hazardous materials, and unstable conditions, and take appropriate measures to mitigate them.

Finally, situational awareness allows responders to prioritize and allocate resources effectively, ensuring that the most critical needs are met first.

How Public Safety Professionals and Organizations Can Improve Their Situational Awareness

Understanding an emergency is absolutely vital for public safety professionals and 911 organizations. Knowing what's happening is key to effective response, whether you're responding to a natural disaster, active shooter, or any other crisis.

Fortunately, there are things organizations and their personnel can do to improve their situational awareness:

Pay Attention to The Emegrency's Surroundings

Once the location of an emergency is identified, pay attention to the surrounding area. Look for any buildings, landmarks, or other structures that could help first responders arrive at the location safely out in the field.

Vigilantly monitoring an emergency's location can also help you anticipate what's happening. Knowing the situation's environment can help you identify potential threats and hazards.

With this information, you can notify emergency responders about potential risks, helping keep all involved parties safe, effective, and informed.

Gather As Much Information As Possible

Knowledge is power, especially when responding to a 911 call. If someone contacts your PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) through a voice call, keep them on the line while you collect as much relevant information as possible.

Fortunately, in today's digital age, there are many ways for 911 personnel to gather information regarding emergencies and other crises. In addition to social media posts, news feeds, and other sources, individuals can send essential information to emergency responders directly through real-time text messages, photos, and videos.

This streamlined access to data can help you and your organization understand the details of a crisis as it's happening.

Utilize Technology

Today's digital age means two things: our society relies on digital technology to communicate, and public safety must adapt to meet this need. With innovative systems like Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911), people can send vital emergency information to responders in real-time, and the system also supports technologies designed to improve situational awareness.

NG9-1-1 has state-of-the-art GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping to provide PSAPs with precise location tracking. Dispatchers can view the exact location of an incident and the surrounding area.

With Next Generation 911, you and your agency can also utilize secure IP and cloud-based networks to use specialized cameras, sensors, vehicle computers, and more to gather additional details and assess a situation as needed.

Train Your Staff

Training is essential to improving situational awareness skills and successfully responding to emergencies. Regular training allows emergency responders to identify potential risks in different environments and become more familiar with the latest public safety technologies and industry trends.

This prepares your staff to respond more efficiently and effectively when an emergency does occur. Additionally, regular training can help reduce the risk of injury or harm to responders and improve overall outcomes for victims of emergencies.

Stay Informed

Staying updated on the latest public safety industry trends and best disaster preparedness practices is imperative. Whether you're in emergency response, law enforcement, or other sectors of public safety, staying informed is essential for maintaining situational awareness and keeping individuals and communities safe.

Situational Awareness and The PSAP: A Crucial Relationship for Public Safety

The relationship between PSAPs and situational awareness is especially important. Why? Because 911 call center responders are the first point of contact for emergency services.

9-1-1 telecommunicators must be able to assess situations quickly, collect information, and provide fast and accurate instructions to first responders in the field.

Having strong situational awareness helps PSAPs and their personnel avoid confusion, ask relevant questions, and provide assistance that can help save lives.


Situational awareness is critical for anyone in the public safety industry. By better understanding a crisis as it happens, 9-1-1 organizations and their personnel can provide more efficient and effective emergency response.

With improved situation awareness, our nation's first responders can better protect themselves and others in the line of duty.

Connect with our NGA team for more information today!