How situational awareness technology can improve incident debriefing

Technology acts as a force multiplier for law enforcement, capturing data from multiple sources in near real-time

By Police1 Staff

Major incident management is challenging, especially when it comes to operational safety. During major incidents, police officers, firefighters and EMS providers, often from neighboring jurisdictions, will quickly arrive to help. This rapid increase of first response vehicles and personnel can leave incident command officers rushing to establish a command post to direct resources and stage vehicles safely. The untimely management of major incidents can lead to confusion among first responders or worse, injury or death to citizens.

There can be hundreds of individuals on the scene depending on the size of the major event. Because of mutual aid or major incident agreements, incident command officers will need to quickly identify the different agencies involved to make assignments, find witnesses, direct the media, or render aid to citizens.

Major incidents are naturally chaotic and the ability to recall details, even though essential, is often overlooked. However, police advancements have led to state-of-the-art situational awareness technologies that make recalling details for incident and post-incident debriefs seamless. These technologies can quickly gather critical information that police commanders can use to debrief major incidents.

This technology then gives commanders and investigators reliable information to share with the community immediately and, in the days, weeks and months following a major incident. This information can also be used to guide decision-making, improve training, and enhance incident command and response.

How tech delivers information and intelligence 

Situational awareness software and applications organize data from in-car video, body-worn cameras, surveillance videos, unmanned aircraft systems and other readily available videos. This software can also gather data from radio dispatch logs and GPS data from handheld radios and car-mounted mobile data terminals.

For example, say the suspects in a domestic terrorist bombing incident are thought to have departed the crime scene in a blue Ford Fiesta sedan. By priming the software suite to search for that vehicle, investigators find that a vehicle with the same characteristics was stopped by patrol officers earlier in the day when they observed a minor traffic violation. The investigators now have a license plate to go with the vehicle description, as well as the body-worn camera recordings and personal accounts of the officers involved in the stop.

Without situational awareness technologies, it would be all but impossible for investigators to obtain information of specificity and depth with conventional logs and analysis.

Officers who are trained in situational awareness technologies can focus on their situational awareness and safety, knowing that the technology is recording the minutiae of their actions and observations in real-time. Commanders can later review the information the technology is gathering and assess the details of the incident response. They can drill down to a granular level to determine very specific information like officer and vehicle locations, officer communications, victim evacuation paths and asset tracking and more. This information can be analyzed to determine the effectiveness of response and lessons learned.

A common post-incident lesson learned is vehicle staging. Incident commanders can use situational awareness technology to identify issues with vehicle staging, potentially preventing accidents, injuries or deaths related to improper vehicle positioning.

Having access and insight into accurate information and intelligence will inform major incident debriefings and supplement human recall. Relying solely on human memory during an after-action review is problematic because details will be missed. Access to incident data gives a department the ability to analyze an event and discuss what worked well and what caused response problems better than human memory alone. Agencies can then train their officers to ensure they are prepared for the next major incident response.

Another benefit of advanced, integrated analysis software is the time supervisors save in reviewing body-worn and dash camera video. Many agencies with body-worn cameras require supervisors to review a certain percentage of video recorded by their officers. If a sergeant supervises eight officers and is required to review two hours of video from each subordinate each week, the sergeant will spend almost two working days each week looking at video clips that are mostly unremarkable. With the appropriate analysis software, the sergeant can be directed to the clips that would be included in a “highlight reel” the agency or individual officer regards as most significant.

Integrated analysis software makes supervisors more efficient, and more efficiency leads to more savings. Supervisors can devote more time in the field leading their officers, than sitting behind a desk reviewing videos. There are times the supervisor or crime analyst is most interested in activity taking place in a certain place, rather than focusing on a single officer or group of officers. Utilizing integrated analysis software allows them to direct it to media originating within X yards of a geographic coordinate set, and the user will see only those items. This can be a tremendous advantage when a series of events may have given rise to a significant incident, or there is an allegation of misconduct involving people who frequent a known location. The analyst can determine how law enforcement officers may or may not have contributed to a basis for complaint.

Improving incident debriefing

Immediately following a major incident, there are multiple briefings – press briefings, law enforcement-sensitive briefings and multi-agency briefings. In the weeks (and sometimes months) following, more formal documented investigative and after-action reporting occurs. Public Information Officers should be well trained in their agency’s situational awareness technology.

One component of incident debriefing is answering questions raised by the public, media, victims' families, city government and sometimes state and the federal government. Agencies must be equipped with verified facts. In addition, immediately following a major incident, responding officers will likely receive a debriefing from either their commanders, the assistant chiefs or the chief. Known facts about the incident will be shared.

Situational awareness technology offers command personnel access to key details that occurred on scene, which can supplement and enhance post-incident findings.

Evaluating the effectiveness of the response

After a major incident, recovery begins. Part of the recovery process includes more in-depth internal incident debriefings. Situational awareness technologies are effective resources that agencies need to leverage to inform their investigation to assess the effectiveness of their response and to improve their response for the next major incident.

As an example, during a major incident, there could be a breakdown in incident command (IC) communications. Though this is an unfortunate occurrence, it does happen at some major incidents. Identifying a critical point of failure, like IC communications, is possible through the use and review of situational awareness technologies such as surveillance video, body-worn cameras and UAS video. While no agency wants to hear about points of failure in the aftermath of a tragedy, learning what did not go as planned will improve the agency’s response in the future and mitigate this type or risk from occurring again.


Situational awareness technologies help officers stay safe, allows first-line supervisors to be more efficient, and assist agencies in allocating resources and funding more effectively, which ultimately better serves communities.

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