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Situational Awareness

A common operating picture is a web based platform for fusing, analyzing and viewing key information sources decision makers need to plan for, respond to and recover from emergency incidents. Public safety professionals are often called upon to make rapid decisions in critical circumstances based on the best available information at the time. This usually requires the synthesis of data from many different sources. A law enforcement official responding to a homicide in a vacant structure might need to fuse multiple sources of data to determine the incident history in the location of the building. A fire officer responding to smoke showing in a warehouse needs to decide quickly whether to send his firefighters into the building or mount a defensive attack. Responding officers to either of these scenarios might need to know the building construction type, who might be in the structure, whether there are open warrants at that location, whether repeat calls have come from the location, etc. A well designed common operating picture can provide such information when, where and to whom it is needed.


Paper mapping is often the first product a Public Safety agency uses to gain insight into Situational Awareness. Many times, agencies will develop basemaps and/or preplan products that they will then use to mark up during an incident. This information can be communicated with other units by taking photos of the maps and sending them, or (more commonly), delivering the mark ups to a GIS Specialist supporting the incident in order to capture the information and begin to transfer it to other field and command and control elements.


The next phase of the Situational Awareness map is a web map that is able to be updated by the GIS specialist supporting the incident. This map is an improvement because it speeds the information distribution to those that need it by removing the artificiality of data creation and re-digitization seen in the paper map creation process.


Situational Awareness at its pinnacle is much more than layers on a map describing the current situation. It becomes a well-organized fabric of data that is very selectively contributing to the picture. It is a system that understands the user, his or her context and role, and tailors information to that person (in that place). It is more accurately described at this level as Decision Support rather than a Common Operating Picture. It is integrated with CAD, RMS, AVL and Staffing/Resource systems. It is also interactive and updated with field units. As an example, the National Interagency Fire Center uses the Enterprise Geospatial Portal (EGP) this way. It combines all strategic and tactical information into once system used by all levels of response and overhead.

Example: NOAA Maps Pollution Response Example: FEMA Maps 2013 Colorado Floods Example: NIFC Uses Data to Fight Fires

More Resources

Cal PreP - Fire Awareness Map

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services’ (Cal OES) Cal Prep Fire Situation Awareness app provides an overview of fires, weather conditions and potential impacts in California.

Type: Web Mapping Application
Last Modified: September 8, 2021

NAPSG Situational Awareness Viewer

This Situational Awareness Viewer provides an example of how geospatial tools can be configured by technologists to support public safety decision-making. It combines live feeds, incident data, and base data identified as core information.

Type: Web Mapping Application
Last Modified: October 4, 2021

NAPSG Situational Awareness Web Map

NAPSG Situational Awareness Web Map template.

Type: Web Map
Last Modified: June 18, 2021

Situational Awareness Map

Map showing hazards, facilities, and infrastructure used in the Situational Awareness Viewer configuration.

Type: Web Map
Last Modified: August 2, 2018

Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness data and symbology.

Type: Feature Service
Last Modified: March 17, 2017

Situational Awareness Viewer for Narragansett, RI

The data displayed represents a situational awareness view of Narragansett, RI based on Category 1-2 hurricane evacuation zones.

Type: Web Mapping Application
Last Modified: July 30, 2017

Eagle Situational Awareness Web Map

This Web Map includes base and operational layers for a Situation Awareness Viewer web mapping application (Demonstration for NZEUC 2016).

Type: Web Map
Last Modified: July 21, 2017

Situational Awareness Web Map of Fire Hazard in San Diego County, USA (Exercise Only)

This is a situational awareness map for fire hazard in San Diego County.

Type: Web Map
Last Modified: August 14, 2016

Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness Viewer data and symbology.

Type: Feature Service
Last Modified: July 20, 2020

CAPSTONE Situational Awareness Viewer

This is a Situational Awareness Viewer that supports local Emergency Management training and response operations in the cities of Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. The image source for the thumbnail is solutions.arcgis.com.

Type: Web Mapping Application
Last Modified: March 21, 2018