Situational awareness has been a frequent topic of my conversations and presentations lately. Many executives I talk with claim they are believers in situational awareness and conduct annual employee training. But, what they don’t realize is that situational awareness is not a one-time event – it is an ongoing process that extends from the workplace to our homes and even to our recreational destinations.
“The criminal element frequently tests existing security measures by entering restricted areas or blending in to the work environment, ‘tricking’ security personnel by the manner in which they conduct themselves,” said Commander Antonio “Tony” Lopez, a member of the Denver Police Department for more than 30 years. “Since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement has partnered with the communities that we are entrusted with serving and protecting to increase everyone’s level of situational awareness.”
Prior to this date in our nation’s history, Lopez said, it was a common belief that the onus for preventing crime and terrorism-related behavior rested squarely on the shoulders of local law enforcement and the federal agencies tasked with these concerns.
Everyone’s an observer
The most simple security systems are often the most effective. The federal government developed a very uncomplicated, yet clear, suggestion for the public, “If you see something, say something.” This basic approach encourages everybody to be an observer and, as we have all heard in airports, “Report suspicious packages or persons to the nearest law enforcement person.” This basic approach increases security from a few officers to an army of observers.
“Many organizations believe that since they have video cameras, they are safe,” said Lopez. “However, many of the systems only include a few fixed cameras that record a specific area or cameras that don’t use infrared technology to record in the dark or cameras that aren’t working, but are left as a ‘deterrent’. Sophisticated bad guys very quickly figure out the recording system’s limitations and will exploit these weaknesses. A good recording system with updated technology is an investment in a safe and secure environment.”
Situational awareness doesn’t only mean watching out for bad guys. We also need to be watchful of dangerous situations.
A risk management associate told me about an arrivals/departures information board at an airport that had come loose from its wall mounting and no airport employee checked or noticed. This sign eventually fell and injured a child. The message here for managers is that every employee must be a risk manager and view the facility through “what if” eyes.
“We must take a different view of venues that we visit,” Lopez said. “Whether a movie theater, arena, stadium, convention center or shopping mall, we must ask ourselves, ‘If something bad happens, how can I escape quickly?’ It is basic human behavior to leave a building the same way we entered, so I encourage people to look for alternate exists – to have a plan of what they will do in an emergency situation. Most law enforcement folks will confirm that having a simple escape plan greatly improves the chances of avoiding harm.”
It’s a team effort
Many organizational executives declare that they have situational awareness covered because they employ a risk manager, whose job is primarily to determine what can go wrong. The problem here is that one person cannot cover an entire facility, even a small one. The solution is to create a risk-aware culture wherein every employee is a risk manager and practices ongoing situational awareness. Creating such a culture starts with managers leading by example by “talking the talk” and “walking the walk.”
“Entrusting one employee with this responsibility is a recipe for disaster,” Lopez said. “Each supervisor or manager must share in this responsibility. Develop a workplace culture that seeks to incorporate each and every employee’s involvement in preparing for security challenges. Employees that feel secure in their workplace and are empowered with a sense of ownership for their buildings will show improved morale and productivity.”
The former CEO of American Specialty Insurance and Risk Services, Pete Eshelman, has a great quote, “Risk is the invisible liability on an organization’s balance sheet.” Eshelman is reminding us that not paying attention to risk can be costly and can cut into profitability. Paying attention to risk is nothing more than practicing situational awareness.