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Situational awareness: Man vs Machine

Alert ! – situational awareness, the concept of knowing a complex dynamic situation and being able to decide and act on it quickly, and more importantly, decide better and faster than the adversary would have.

Situational Awareness[SA] seems to have derived out of aerial combat and the complex spaces which arise in air traffic control towers.  More recently there have been some papers written about the application to the complex dynamic situations which can now arise in the modern industrial/process control room.

It all seems good, however I wonder if there is a basic premise that is being missed.

John Boyd, a great military strategist defined the OODA [Observe Orient Decide Act] loop for the benefit of better understanding how combatant strategies can be modeled and their interaction determined. Situational Awareness has adopted this model and defines itself as the state of knowledge pertaining to a dynamic situation or filtering of that knowledge to enable fast strategic decisions to be made.  Shifting from the military domain to the industrial domain, one is left wondering how situational awareness in the classic sense really applies. Who is the enemy ?

For the military situation, an fighter’s strategy or tactics are in play continually against the enemy, yet in the plant, the operator is not pitted against an intelligent machine [at least not yet] but rather has to control the machine for an emerging situation which might generally be unforeseen.  The operator’s frame is not continually shifting, but dealing with well know operational points.

Some of the process of Situational Assessment, or the gathering of appropriate data to enable fast real-time operational decisions to be made should be effective for control rooms, but the requirement to continually shift the awareness frame based on an enemy counter strategy seems not to apply.
Therefore – does the rest of the whole set of situational awareness technologies really apply ?

Feel free to comment on situational awareness in general and more specifically the way it might work for your control room situation.

The role of Situation Awareness for the Operators of Process Industry Salman Nazir, Simone Colombo, Davide Manca*

John Boyd’s OODA Loop Wiki