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See what others can’t with Esri’s solutions for Situational Awareness

How do you make informed decisions when they matter most? How do you see patterns, connections, and relationships when others can’t? In the high-volume streams of data from multiple sources, it's sometimes difficult to know what is happening, when and where. By using location intelligence and the power of geography, you get to see a more holistic view of the situation on the ground by leveraging real-time sensor feeds and live updates from field personnel. Taking a location-based approach leads to smarter and faster decisions in the moment and allows you to anticipate future actions. Esri’s suite of situational awareness solutions help users integrate large volumes of information, monitor operations, track resources in real-time and make better-informed decisions with extra confidence. Improved knowledge of the situation is a big advantage in achieving mission success and often results in reducing risks, property damage, and loss of life.

Situational Awareness or SA is often defined as “knowing what’s going on around us”, or as “the perception and comprehension of the environment within a defined time and space, and some projection into the near future”. SA is dynamic and often affected by decisions you make to rectify the situation. Have you noticed how some people can make stressful decisions with remarkable ease? While some may be lucky by just winging it, effective decision making is typically the result of having a high-level of awareness in a changing environment. Most decision makers have little difficulty in choosing options, but their real challenge is understanding the complexities of the situation before selecting the best course of action.

How is effective decision making possible today? One sure way is by leveraging GIS technology and its visualization tools. When coupled with your knowledge, experience and understanding of the environment, you develop a stronger sense of SA and make more effective decisions. Many Defence and Security agencies are already using GIS to improve their SA and increase their analysis capabilities. An integrated GIS system can store information along with its location in a geodatabase, that lets people see what is relevant to their current location. This fused information, also known as location intelligence, improves not just their SA but also their response times by enabling faster decision-making at all levels of command.

How does Esri help you achieve this high-level of SA to make better-informed decisions? How do you pick the right ArcGIS products and solutions to meet your mission requirements and get a better understanding of your operational environment? Let’s look at some trends in the industry to see how successful organizations are achieving high-level SA through GIS.

Depending of your situation you might need to first create a digital twin of your area of interest before you start deploying a solution. A digital twin is simply a virtual representation of real-world physical objects, processes, relationships, or behaviors. In a GIS context, digital twins are typically virtual models of real-world assets or land features, along with the information models, data, reports, analyses, and other available attributes.   

With ArcGIS, users can create digital twins by combining, 2D, 3D, BIM data, and real-time feeds in a dynamic system to help describe buildings, networks, landscape, and entire cities or regions if required. They can then explore those geospatial digital twins in a web browser, on their mobile devices or through desktop applications from Esri and our partners.

ArcGIS Dashboards

First, let’s look at ArcGIS Dashboards, which have been front and center during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every organization using the ArcGIS system, whether online or on premise, can take advantage of dashboards to visualize data trends, monitor status in real time, make informed decisions, and inform their community. Dashboards convey information to users by presenting location data and analytics using intuitive graphics and interactive maps on a single screen. You can configure and adapt these dashboards to specific audiences, events, or situations, giving users the ability to select and filter the relevant data they need to get the sought answers. The various elements within the dashboards are all linked, providing on the fly dynamic results as users explore the data from various web maps, tables, charts, and gauges.

There are different types of dashboards available to serve many levels of users within your organization or to share information with the public. From strategic, operational, and tactical to informational dashboards, each type help viewers track key performance indicators helping gain a deeper understanding of the situation. No matter which type you choose, your dashboards will provide intuitive visual displays that presents data in an easy-to-read and adaptive format. All relevant information can be seen on a single screen with multiple windows, facilitating a quick understanding of the situation and a more rapid decision-making process. Just like the dashboard in your car gives you important information such as speed, fuel, or warnings, our ArcGIS Dashboards display the current state of your event at a glance, without the distraction of underlying details. 

This strategic dashboard tracks the number of COVID-19 cases by region across Canada.

ArcGIS StoryMaps 

ArcGIS StoryMaps is another product well-suited for maintaining and sharing situational awareness during your mission or while managing an event. Maps have always been part of storytelling, and a good narrative supported by moving maps can often influence decisions and increase awareness of the situation during an event. ArcGIS StoryMaps enhance your authoritative maps with text, images, and multimedia content to make it easier to tell your story, elaborate your plan, and present your results.  

ArcGIS StoryMaps give your viewers a stronger sense of location by displaying spatial relationships and adding visual credibility to your story, plan, or proposed actions. Instead of static PowerPoint slides, use ArcGIS StoryMaps stories to brief your superiors about your operation or project by using web maps, live feeds, streaming videos, and other media to support your presentation. ArcGIS StoryMaps offers a compelling way to make your point without having to switch modes from PowerPoint to a GIS map or a separate application. You can even export your PPT slides and use them in your story if need be. Here’s a good example of an ArcGIS StoryMaps story that brings the narrative to life.

Esri provides a flexible, easy-to-use ArcGIS StoryMaps story builder tool to weave your content together into a compelling and interactive story that's easy to present, publish and share with your organization. You can also embed other web applications into your stories like dashboards, live videos, and social media feeds, and align them into tabs or segments so that you can tell your story in a more logical and efficient order. Embedding web content is a great way to add important context from external data providers. So, pull up a chair, grab a snack and launch the app, it's StoryMaps time! 

ArcGIS Mission

A more recent product available with ArcGIS Enterprise is ArcGIS Mission, a situational awareness and mission management solution for a comprehensive understanding of the “tactical” environment. ArcGIS Mission is a unified and integrated solution that supports tactical planning and operations, enabling organizations to manage deployed resources during critical incidents, when real-time SA is required. ArcGIS Mission provides the ability to create teams, assign members, designate maps, and share documents for mission operations, allowing teams to make better decisions from a single authoritative system of record. Mission team members can track, monitor, task, and coordinate their movement via location sharing and mobile peer-to-peer communication.  

Video: See how to set up ‘panic’ button functionality in ArcGIS Mission using QuickCapture.

Mission planners can easily define their operating environment with overlays, allocate resources within their area of interest, assign tasks to deployed teams and then share critical information with their team members and leaders. As the situation on the ground evolves, incident commanders can visualize the mission dashboard to get real-time updates from the field, make changes to the plan, and quickly reassign or update all personnel involved. All the key mission data is documented and stored in the database for use in after-action reports or post incident review. Next time you set out for a “Mission: Impossible”, give our ArcGIS Mission a test run, add Tom Cruise to the stunt and watch your teams in action!   

ArcGIS Mission has three components: Manager, Server, and Responder.   

ArcGIS Field Maps

Esri has also extended many of its SA solutions to the mobile environment as part of our field applications. The latest app ArcGIS Field Maps will soon combine five field capabilities into a single sign-on app that is easy to use and simple to deploy. It’s an all-in-one mobile app for smartphones and tablets that uses interactive maps to help field workers perform data collection and editing, find assets and information, and report their locations in real-time. ArcGIS Field Maps is powered by web maps that have been streamlined to meet the workflows of your deployed personnel. You can use the app to populate your dashboards or story maps and get real-time updates from the field. Because it is built on the ArcGIS system, everyone using these web maps and mobile apps, whether in the field or the office, can benefit from using the same data to share their collected information and SA in real-time. With Field Maps, you don’t need to be out in left field anymore!

Real-time GIS and Situational Awareness

Finally, Situational Awareness also requires the capability to simultaneously integrate, analyze, and display streaming live data from multiple sensors, devices, and social media feeds. ArcGIS Velocity for ArcGIS Online or GeoEvent Server for Enterprise, enables users to capture live information from sensors, moving objects, or anything that changes over time, and then automatically detect patterns, trends, and anomalies. You can define the filters and parameters to automatically capture real-time data over the mission area with up-to-the-minute intelligence on what's happening on the ground. This allows deployed personnel and commanders to access time-critical information and make timely decisions.

With real-time data integration, you can search and stream live feeds across multiple platforms, and overlay these data feeds onto digital imagery or topographic base maps. The data can then be layered with other information for additional context such as critical infrastructure, road networks, dangerous materials, and demographic data. Getting the location of a moving object is one thing but our system can also track entire fleets of vehicles, vessels, or aircraft in real time allowing instant decision-making within a much-improved situational awareness. Monitoring your operations and tracking resources in real-time not only allow you to make better-informed decisions but also help your organization turn those decisions into coordinated action and ultimately mission success.


So back to my original question: how is effective decision making possible today? The answer: by applying geospatial thinking to your problem! Our brain can conceptualize and make sense of the data much quicker when seen through dynamic web maps and up-to-date graphics. Because any situation can change completely at any time, the key is to provide precise and real-time SA throughout the event and share it quickly with those who can make the right decisions. My suggestions only cover some of the more pervasive and relevant GIS products that Esri has created to achieve SA and improve decision making. Your success will depend on choosing the right tools to gather relevant data, understand the situation, solve problems, and share information within your community. Also remember that we, as humans, always seek to convey our understanding in the most natural of ways - by telling stories about things that happen or matter. So next time you want to achieve situational awareness and see what others can’t, create a web map that can be used anywhere on any app or device, and keep your stick on the ice, … I mean keep your eyes on the map!    

National Security Seminar

Want to hear more on Situational Awareness? I encourage you to join me for Esri Canada’s annual National Security Seminar, on Wednesday May 5th from 1:00 to 4:30 PM ET. Our virtual, free seminar will be comprised of short presentations with live demonstrations to show the latest ArcGIS solutions and applications for Collaboration, Situational Awareness, and Intelligence Analysis. Our theme for 2021 will be collaborating and creating a better understanding with Web GIS solutions. Save the date on your calendar for this event and register today.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Pierre A. Bilodeau is the Defence and Security Industry Manager at Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on advising customers how to use GIS technology to support their mission planning, situational awareness, and decision making activities. Pierre joined Esri Canada in 2008 after 32 years of service as a Military Engineer Officer, including 18 years with the Defence Geospatial community. Pierre believes that all you need to succeed is a good plan, a “map” to get there, and the courage to press on to your destination. Map on!

Profile Photo of Pierre Bilodeau