Situation Awareness

Situation Awareness is the perception of environmental elements as they change in time and/or space, understanding how these changes will likely play out in the immediate future, and realizing what sorts of responses their future states might require from the person who’s carefully watching things play out. In other words, situation awareness is about paying mindful attention to your environment and planning the ways you can respond if it keeps changing the way it’s changing now. Situation awareness is taught and applied in public safety, military, and civic leadership contexts.

A National Weather Service report about the inadvisability of seeking shelter from severe storms under a highway overpass, published in the late 1990s and no longer in print, describes how situation awareness specifically might help people determine the best response to a tornado in a given place and at a given time. The reference to “someone driving through central Oklahoma on May 3, 1999” is a response to the disastrous consequences of people seeking shelter from tornadoes under highway overpasses, as described on the page Intellectual Ways of Knowing and Learning About Tornadoes.

“Yet another approach might be to introduce the concept of situation awareness into a general program of severe storm safety preparation – sort of a “Personal Insurance Policy.” The concept of situation awareness is not new, and has been used in training by the military and aviation industries for many years. Situation awareness can most simply be defined as being aware of the surroundings (environment) AND THE DIFFERENT POSSIBILITIES IN THAT PARTICULAR ENVIRONMENT, and then making appropriate decisions based on the perception of what is happening (or has the potential to happen). In the case of someone driving through central Oklahoma on May 3, 1999, situation awareness would work something like this:

1. I checked the forecast for central Oklahoma this morning before I left home to drive from location x to location y. The possibility of severe thunderstorms was mentioned.
2. I am in Oklahoma.
3. It is springtime (severe weather season in the southern Great Plains).
4. It is a warm and very humid day.
5. There is a strong southerly wind blowing.
6. There is static from time to time on my radio.
7. There is a big dark cloud in the southwest sky.

Actions based on this assessment of the environment:

1. I should turn on my radio and check what is going on with the weather.
2. I should not drive blindly into a storm if I don’t know what’s going on.
3. If I see a tornado, I need to find out how it’s moving, so I don’t drive into its path.”


Return to Integrated Ways of Knowing and Learning About Tornadoes.