Situational awareness

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with Situational awareness

Situational awareness represents a fire control commander’s perception and understanding of the fire control function’s activity. This includes all ongoing incidents, subsequent emergency calls and the impacts of supporting workloads that result from these and other activities. It also includes how the fire control commander anticipates that the fire control function’s actions will affect a situation. Good situational awareness is key to making effective decisions. When handing over command, it is important that fire control commanders ensure that the level of situational awareness is maintained.

The three stages of situational awareness are:

  • Information gathering
  • Understanding information
  • Anticipation

Accordingly, fire control commanders should:

  • Know the typical sources of information available to them; this will assist them to obtain and maintain situational awareness
  • Be able to interpret the information they have gathered, together with their knowledge and experience, to form a clear picture of the situation; this process will continue throughout all aspects of fire control activity
  • Be able to anticipate how fire control activity will develop and change based on their understanding and experience; in particular, they should be able to predict the impact of their actions on fire control, incidents and subsequent activity

Fire control commanders need to be aware of the factors that can assist them to obtain and maintain effective situational awareness. They should understand how to put in place the means to monitor the fire control environment to detect changes and maintain an accurate understanding of the situation. This may include the use of:

  • An appropriate command structure
  • Clear lines of reporting that are understood by all team members
  • Effective communication
  • Command support resources
  • Operational assurance
  • Active monitoring

Effective situational awareness ensures that the fire control commander’s interpretation of the gathered information reflects the actual situation. Fire control commanders should be aware of the factors likely to adversely affect their situational awareness. These may include:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Biases that affect decision-making, memory recall and interactions with others
  • Poor communication, for example unstructured briefs and debriefs
  • Excessive spans of control
  • Distractions during critical tasks
  • Assumptions that are not confirmed as accurate
  • Poor information management, for example failing to record or validate information

Information gathering

To accurately perceive a situation, a fire control commander should gather and analyse information to anticipate how a situation may develop and what impact the actions taken by fire control personnel may have.

The gathering, assessment and provision of risk-critical information by fire control personnel is essential to ensure the safe resolution of incidents. Command decision-making can be significantly affected if there is a lack of risk information or if information is not passed on. The fire control commander should establish effective communications and awareness of roles in their team to ensure that information received from an incident ground, other control rooms, members of the public and other agencies is shared and recorded without delay on incident logs.

One of the fire control commander’s tasks is to apply suitable control measures. To do this, they must be able to gather all available information about an incident or event. This is likely to include information from the pre-planning stage, such as risk information.

Fire control personnel will gather information from a variety of sources to gain accurate situational awareness. Fire control is the primary source of information for responding personnel, and information gathering begins prior to the arrival of personnel at an incident. Fire and rescue services should ensure that fire control personnel have access to all the information they need, including risk information.

The following sources of information should help to establish situational awareness throughout all fire control activity:

  • Incident logs
  • Resource availability systems
  • Calls from members of the public
  • Personnel:
    • Fire control personnel
    • Operational personnel
    • Subject matter experts
  • Other Category 1 and Category 2 emergency responders and control rooms
  • Other agencies
  • Safety information
  • Operational intelligence
  • Site-Specific Risk Information (SSRI)
  • Site information such as:
    • Layout plans
    • Evacuation strategies
    • Emergency plans
  • Environmental forecasting tools such as:
  • UK Met Office weather forecasting
  • UK Met Office Fire Severity Index
  • Environment Agency flood information and river/sea levels
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency information
  • nidirect – Flood Maps (NI)
  • Information and briefings provided by Local Resilience Forums
  • Information and briefings provided by Tactical and Strategic Co-ordination Groups
  • Audio and visual equipment, including:
    • Closed-circuit television (CCTV)
    • Aerial resources such as helicopters, satellites and drones (classified as a type of unmanned aircraft by the Civil Aviation Authority)
    • Technologies allowing the streaming of video footage from callers, other emergency responders and fire and rescue service personnel
    • Call recordings

Visual equipment, such as CCTV and aerial resources, is only of benefit if the downlink is available and accessible for fire control personnel to view when gathering information about the incident.

Social media may be a useful source of information, however the information should be questioned and checked for accuracy.

Access to live television news channels may assist with building situational awareness and planning and management activities during major incidents or events of national significance.

Sources of information may need to be referred to at any time during all fire control activities to ensure the information is still relevant and up to date. If possible, the accuracy of all information should be assessed and confirmed prior to being used for decision-making. Incident logs should be used to record the information gathered.

There may be barriers to information gathering, including:

  • The accuracy of information received from callers
  • Failure of technology, such as telecommunications
  • Lack of availability of resources, such as audio or visual systems

Contingency arrangements should be considered and put in place in the case that technology fails, or resources are not available.

Other barriers to information gathering may be due to difficulties in communicating effectively with callers. This includes those who may:

  • Be affected by the incident and show signs of distress or confusion
  • Have disabilities that impair communication
  • Not have English as their first language

Situational awareness responsibilities for all personnel

As fire control personnel perform their tasks, they may gain new information about hazards or risks. Each person has a responsibility to record this information on incident logs, to inform the fire control commander or another appropriate team member and to ensure it is relayed to operational incident commanders. New information may affect incident plans and the safety of people, property or the environment. Therefore, it is important that fire control personnel are aware of their responsibilities for identifying hazards and assessing risk to support accurate situational awareness.

Fire control personnel should be aware of the additional resources available to them when handling emergency calls, such as interpreting services or geographical location tools. Fire control personnel should also be able to identify when additional call handling support is needed and know how to alert the fire control commander, another supervisory manager or suitably experienced team member.

Remote situational awareness

Fire control commanders are remote from the incident and should therefore consider the reliability of elements contributing to their situational awareness. They should question any assumptions they have and constantly review the accuracy of their situational awareness. They should consider factors such as messages received from the incident ground, information received from other Category 1 and Category 2 emergency responders and the consistency and accuracy of information received from callers.


There may be situations where fire controls receive emergency calls for another fire and rescue service, for example during spate conditions resulting from extreme weather conditions or a major incident. Fire control commanders should be aware of the methods for managing these situations and for communicating situational awareness and critical information with fire controls that may be receiving such calls. Fire control commanders should be aware of the methods for affected and assisting fire controls to communicate during such events and ensure that fire control personnel are briefed appropriately. To allow these methods to be practised and tested, fire and rescue services should consider providing joint training activities with other fire and rescue service control personnel.


Control rooms play a vital role during a multi-agency incident. Swift and concise communication with other Category 1 control personnel is essential for the sharing of situational awareness. It is essential that dialogue between control room supervisors is established as soon as possible. Fire and rescue services should ensure that methods for the joint sharing of situational awareness are established and that fire control personnel are aware of JESIP Control Room Supporting Principles. Fire and rescue services should also consider providing joint training activities with police, ambulance and Maritime and Coastguard Agency control personnel. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the JESIP Joint Doctrine and the JESIP Control Room Supporting Principles.

The M/ETHANE model is widely used by emergency responders and their control room personnel to share incident information. It is recognised good practice that M/ETHANE is used for all incidents.

M/ETHANE should be used when passing information between emergency responders, their control rooms and other agencies so that shared situational awareness can be established:

  • Major incident declared?
  • Exact location
  • Type of incident, for example explosion or building collapse
  • Hazards present, potential or suspected
  • Access – routes that are safe to use
  • Number, type and severity of casualties
  • Emergency services now present and those required

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions