FMJ November/December 2016 : Page 34


The Role of Situational Awareness in FM

Mike Macleod

Few jobs are more complex or require greater fluency in more disciplines than facility management. For decades, facility managers have been responsible for maintenance concerns, meeting fire and safety code standards, monitoring and improving energy consumption, managing staff, and ensuring the safety and well-being of employees.

However, in addition to these traditional responsibilities, the evolving security threats of the 21st century have presented new and urgent challenges in the field. Terrorism and active shooter events, once inconceivable, are now frequent occurrences. These new realities are what confront FMs working in schools, universities, hospitals, airports, retail establishments, office and government buildings and every other facility imaginable. Fortunately, situational awareness software solutions are empowering those in the field to address both routine issues and these new security threats.

What is situational awareness and why is it important?

Situational awareness was originally a military term to refer to a pilot’s operational status and knowledge of immediate threats. Today, situational awareness has a variety of applications for any environment. It refers to collecting real-time data about what’s happening in and around a given facility, campus or enterprise for a single awareness experience.

It is a risk management strategy and technology framework that helps improve life safety, security, environmental monitoring and mass notification. It helps detect threats automatically and initiate the appropriate responses reducing panic, confusion and communication breakdowns. When facility managers have the ability to read, hear and see what’s happening in and around their facility, they can respond appropriately. They can then analyze response times and protocols to identify problems and improve safety compliance and overall business performance. This is what makes situational awareness so powerful.

It all begins with the situation, from a life-or-death scenario to a routine maintenance call. Information is sent in real time to those most likely to be affected, as well as facility mangers responsible for investigation, containment and remediation. This knowledge is made available through the integration of disparate alarms and communication systems for centralized monitoring, alerting and reporting.


Life safety, security and environmental monitoring systems produce alarms when triggered by events such as a fire, unauthorized entry or a faulty HVAC system. These systems usually provide local alerting in the form of sirens, lamps or annunciation panels. Situational awareness, with computer-telephone integration (CTI) and robust middleware, ensures that triggering events from numerous alarm systems and sensors are monitored from a central point. The benefit of centralized monitoring and alarm management is the potential for faster emergency response and the opportunity for early intervention.


By recording triggering events, their associated alarms, managed alerts and subsequent notifications and acknowledgements, reports can be generated for important operational insights. Organizations can use this information to analyze response times and escalation protocols, and also demonstrate regulatory compliance. For example, hospitals can generate histories to show that temperatures within refrigeration units for medication, blood, etc., are kept within acceptable ranges. With situational awareness, it is possible to study data patterns to continually improve safety, security and service/operations.


A fire alarm will sound when smoke is sensed, but it doesn’t specify where the fire is or the location of the nearest exits. Alarms from stand-alone systems lack redundancy and scalability, and alerting is limited to a single communication device or channel such as email. Situational awareness provides real-time detailed alerts about triggering events to individuals, select groups or entire populations based on the organization’s predefined emergency alerting protocols and escalation paths. This information is then delivered automatically to numerous communication devices. If any alerting method is unsuccessful the alternate channels provide the needed redundancy.

Alarm and communication unification transforms a facility from reactionary and piecemeal to holistic and strategic for emergency alerting and response management. Inefficient alarms from stand-alone systems are converted into detailed alerts for automatic delivery to the right people on the right devices so they can address an unfolding situation the right way.


Life safety is the number one application for situational awareness. What’s dangerous in and around an organization? What should be done to respond to an emergency and reduce its impact? Who needs to be notified? How should both on and off site responders receive information about a triggering event?

In addition to conducting risk assessments and developing emergency plans that answer these questions, facility managers can use situational awareness technology to operationalize their crisis plans. In a life-or-death scenario, every second counts, and that’s why life safety applications should run on a dedicated, end-to-end wireless network instead of an 802.11 broadband.

Here are some examples of the third-party integrations used to facilitate situational awareness for life safety:

• Fire panels

• Fixed duress (e.g., panic buttons, pull cords and emergency call stations)

• Local mobile duress (onsite)

• Wide-area mobile duress (off site)

• Nurse call systems

• Telemetry devices

• Infant abduction systems

• Specialty call cords (air activated, light touch)

• Bed/chair sensors

• Wander management systems

• Mobile health monitoring systems


Security has been driven largely by a law-enforcement mindset so it’s prosecutorial in nature. However, prosecution doesn’t have anything to do with immediate safety and security. An organization has to address a security threat as it unfolds and hopefully before it spirals out of control.

With situational awareness it isn’t necessary for personnel and other staff to sit at a monitoring station waiting for an incident to occur. The information about a triggering event is sent to them automatically via the appropriate devices and can include live video. With this capability, video from security cameras closest to a triggering event is pushed directly to desktops so responders can see what’s happening, plan and prioritize the appropriate response and allocate the necessary resources.

Examples of the third-party integrations and sensors used to facilitate situational awareness for security include:

• Access control systems

• Security panels

• Door/window contact alarms

• Motion detectors

• Audio sensors (e.g., gunshots)

• Glass-break detectors

• Indoor and outdoor security cameras

• Social media monitoring

• Facial recognition

• Crowd counting


Sensors exist to monitor just about anything in any environment. If the sensors and environmental controls are integrated for situational awareness, then real-time alerts are generated if a system fails, a sudden change occurs or a hazardous substance is detected. With alerts specifying the situation to the appropriate responders, potential threats to property, inventories and convenience/comfort can be mitigated or avoided all together.

By regulating lighting, temperatures and other building systems, facility managers can also improve energy efficiency and lower costs without impacting operations. They can also schedule reminders for preventative maintenance, including replacing lightbulbs, filters, batteries, etc., to keep systems maintained regularly.

Examples of the third-party integrations and sensors used to facilitate situational awareness for environmental monitoring include:

• Building management systems

• HVAC systems

• Power generators

• Boilers

• Pools/spas

• Equipment monitors

• Freezer/temperature monitors

• Smoke/flame detectors

• Moisture/humidity sensors

• Carbon monoxide, ammonia and detectors for other gases

• Cigarette busters

• Power on/off sensors


The first step in mass notification is defining the “mass,” meaning which individuals or alert groups should receive notifications and decide when and how they should receive it (via email, text, telephone, PA system, etc.).

Event-triggered alerts should be set for different kinds of situations and include specific instructions; for example, an alert to signal a tornado warning with accompanying siren and a shelter-in-place message. Mass notification also can be campaign-triggered; for example, tenants receive renewal reminders via phone call, text and/or email when their lease is nearing expiration. Mass notification also includes sending alerts on demand when unplanned events or changes occur, in addition to sending updates as an unfolding situation changes; for example, a school may need to announce inclement weather and subsequent closings, bus delays, etc., to staff and parents. In this instance the telephone is still relevant for organizations that need to contact large numbers of constituents. Alerting/mass notification is automatic once all of the protocols and escalation paths have been established.

Some examples of third-party integrations used to facilitate situational awareness for mass notification include:

• Smartphones

• Landlines

• Mass-dialers

• Two-way radios

• Public address systems

• Pagers

• Strobe lights

• Emails

• Closed-circuit televisions

• Wall boards

• Video walls

Benefits of situational awareness

Situational awareness provides a platform for a holistic approach to life safety, security and environmental monitoring. It enables facility managers to have greater control over the sites they manage, as well as helps address and tackle security threats of today’s world, while simultaneously streamlining the way building sites are managed.

Harnessing existing stand-alone systems, making use of centralized alerting capabilities, incorporating mass notification, and analyzing response performance through the use of reporting tools provides managers with an unprecedented amount of control over their environments. Situational awareness software is no longer a luxury, but is now instead an indispensable component of modern facility management.

A scientist and 25-year technology veteran, Mike MacLeod is president of Status Solutions, founded in 2001 following the deadly incidents of Columbine High School and 9/11. These incidents, combined with MacLeod’s expertise in computer-telephony integration, led him to base the company on the idea of operational status, threat detection and response. With bachelor’s degrees in biology and forestry, MacLeod combines the scientific method with business acumen to successfully bring new technologies to market to make a societal difference.

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