Why situational awareness is critical:

During a crisis or during business as usual we MUST understand what is happening that can impact us. Situational awareness enables us to understand the probability of threats. Accurate information is critical and it must be available in a timely manner.

During a crisis making fast accurate decisions can be the difference between life and death. Situational awareness alert systems and Internet of Things tools such as sensors, cameras, robots and traffic cams provide extraordinary value.

During business-as-usual situational awareness can provide bottom line value. For example, understanding where to build or not build a new facility. What is the history of the region? Is the proposed new location on an earthquake fault-line or in a flood zone? Are there new business disruptors entering our sector? That is import information and we can get it if we know where to look in a sea of data. Does the upcoming seasonal weather forecast pose revenue opportunities or threats. I have first-hand knowledge of spinning informational advantages into bottle line revenue.

Situational awareness tools:
Think about it, wouldn’t even a few additional seconds or minutes be critical if you could warn your employees of an approaching tornado so they could gather in the core of your building and away from windows or prevent them from going to lunch and driving toward extreme danger? What about a near real-time alert of an earthquake?  What about being forewarned of a rapidly approaching tsunami?  During a recent tsunami ocean sensors coupled with notification systems saved many lives. I certainly would value that extra time to get my employees to higher-ground and safety. It can be life-saving priceless information.

Notice I stressed the information must be accurate. Inaccurate information can be worse than no information. I have seen some very bad alerts. Some can be dangerous and some just down-right embarrassing. I got burned once… before I knew better I acted on an inaccurate piece of info I received from a vendor and communicated it to management. It was embarrassing. I had to sheepishly retract it. Hey, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice it’s shame on me. It will not happen again to me and I hope it never happens to you.

Analyzing situational alert vendors and their capabilities:
One way for you to begin learning about the types and quality of alerts that are available is to visit some of the top situational alert vendor sites. Read everything you can. Get familiar with the strengths of each vendor. The type of data they specialize in, case studies, their technical infrastructure, source and breadth of the data they use and provide…

Then contact the vendors to get a demo of their service. Pilot the ones that seem like they may provide the type of alerts important to you and your employees.
Depending on what you are looking for, one vendor may fit your company better than others. For example, if you are seeking risk information for executives that travel to foreign countries one solution is very strong. They have a great deal of information on foreign infrastructure and risks. They even have a service that can assist you in extracting executives in peril.

Some vendors are very strong with weather alerts. They even have in-house meteorologists to advise you. Other vendors are great with beyond weather situational alerts. Some are very good with providing threat awareness mapped to logistic delivery routes. You can use their information as-is or customize as necessary.  If you need some recommendations for my favorite situational alert vendors, please contact me. I will be happy to send you a special report suggesting my favorite tools, depending on your needs. I will also update you on a free app I am currently building that cultivates alerts from many reliable sources.

Some vendors use rooms full of analysts to cultivate their alerts and others use computer algorithms.
Most vendors have informative dashboards and push alerts. Formatting of the alerts is often structured in a consistent manner meaning if you are creative you can grab the alerts, parse them and do something actionable with the results.

Some have an API integration with mass notification systems. This gives you the ability to forward information to the appropriate people so they can act on them in a timely manner. It can save you valuable seconds and minutes.

Some systems include historical information of previous alerts that you can use to do a risk analysis on geographic threats. This can be useful in site selection and for predictive analytics of possible future events.

How to roll your own situational alert solution:
If commercial vendors  cannot provide the type of alerts you are looking for or  you do not have a budget or you want to supplement the alerts you get from vendors, you can create your own streams of situational alerts. The Internet is rich with data. You might be familiar with the term ‘big data’. The Internet is ‘really big’ data. It includes very large sets of structured and unstructured data.

Structured data is often stored in relational databases or spreadsheets. It is neatly formatted data. Structured data fits nicely in the rows (records) and columns (fields). Product orders, customers, vendors…

Unstructured data includes all of social media. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, websites… Harnessing this type of big data for situational alerts and predictive analytics can be worth its weight in gold. There are gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes, exabytes, zettabytes and yottabytes (1,024 zettabytes) of data to analyze so it is no easy task to determine patterns and make predictions. But it is doable and incredibly valuable to be able to ‘connect the dots!’

ff topic tip but really interestingThis very cool site describes in real world terms the size of gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes… have fun!

I will whole-hardheartedly admit I am a data freak. I scour the internet seeking interesting data sources and connections. I have started a few businesses based on mashing up data to ‘connect the dot’ value. Some were even back-in-the-day before the Internet. The exciting thing is that the available data-sets get better every day and opportunities are all around us to benefit. The more up to date the data the more useful. There is even a website that tracks API’s for popular and often free data-sets.

Tip – On a basic but very effective level you can begin seeking free sources of public information you trust and sign up for their alerts. For example, I find great value in Notify NYC for local New York alerts. I have received many actionable alerts from them in a very timely manner.

Tip – Search local sources of alerts including your Office of Emergency Management, Police and Fire departments. More and more are sending alerts. I subscribe to many of them.

Tip – I also make use of API’s, JSON, XML and RSS feeds to access public government from NOAA, USGS and many other sources as the information is updated to their sites. The feeds are automatically available in my homegrown reader system. There are many free reader apps available. Let me know if you need guidance in finding good ones.

Tip – An example of a great feed is that of openweathermap.org. They have a free version as well as reasonable priced subscriptions, if you are making many calls to their database.

Tip – A great source of API feed listings is www.programmableweb.com. Do a search on that site for ‘weather ‘ and I think you will agree.

Tip – A great source for RSS feeds is Google News:  https://support.google.com/news/answer/59255?hl=en

Tip – For one example of just how good this data bonanza can get go to – http://w1.weather.gov/xml/current_obs/seek.php?state=ny&Find=Find

Tip – I also use Google Alerts daily. It has provided me with timely situational awareness information plus lots of other powerful information.

Tip – Try Hootsuite to data-mine Twitter information.

The bottom line is I think you will find the data you need is out there, whether it is a commercial solution or one you craft on your own. Start investigating and testing data sources or contact me for further suggestions on situational awareness solutions.