Situational awareness is one of the toughest operational outcomes to deliver – there’s no one layer of planning, procedures and technology that can bring it together. The PSIM-like complexities that come with delivering situational awareness seem to preclude affordability – or do they?

WHEN you think about the modern security solution, which combines local, wide area and public networks, core services like power supply, local and remote storage, physical security and related automation systems, the delivery mechanisms onsite and via mobile networks, you start to get a sense of the challenges.
According to Mathieu D’Arsigny, Genetec’s director of Enterprise Unification Product Group, situational awareness can be essential to an end user, depending on its field of operation.

“A classic example of this is the use of mapping software to display cameras, doors, audio devices or any other sensors that surround the location of an alarm or incident,” D’Arsigny says. “This provides the tools for the operator to react and respond quickly to the incident. For end users who operate across a large territory, like government or a law enforcement agency, knowing the location of an emergency and being able to quickly assess the surrounding environment can be vital.

“So, providing as much reliable contextual data and information as possible can help improve the efficiency of operators. This contextual data can be sophisticated (such as data on a map) but can also be very simple, like showing the camera monitoring a door if there is an alert, or the camera surrounding a perimeter when an alarm is triggered around this perimeter.”

According to D’Arsigny, part of the challenge of many integrations is identifying the key elements of effective situational awareness – those system functionalities or procedural outcomes that end should users be focusing on.

“There needs to be the right balance between providing information that will make the operator more efficient versus overwhelming them with too much data or manual steps to process,” he explains. “That’s why the ability to setup a response environment based on the trigger is essential.

“It’s certainly more complex to configure the system to react to events and alerts, but if this complexity drives efficiency for the operators there’s a large long-term gain to be had. The ability to filter the noise to trigger alarms only on relevant scenarios means the operators are better able to prioritise important situations. Finally, the ability to guide the operator based on what they observe or can analyse from the alert is also something that can help achieve greater efficiency.”

A key element of situational awareness in most people’s minds is integration of multiple sub systems in such a way that it’s possible to attain a snapshot of a site or multiple sites via a single interface but D’Arsigny says this is only a first step.

“If the system is not able to filter and display information and assets that are relevant to the operator then this approach can lead to information overload,” he explains. “With the example above we could decide to only display all the sub-system assets based on a notification and let the user access these assets based on their judgement. But how about going one step further and, based on the type of notification, the system can then automatically display the relevant cameras to the user, so they don’t need to act upon receiving an alert. This is key to making operations more efficient for the end users.”

In D’Arsigny’s opinion, is it possible to deliver situational awareness for large, even enterprise, operations without an expensive PSIM using the functionalities of existing management systems and integrating existing security solutions, including alarms, access control, automation, lifts, CCTV, fire, etc?

“Yes, definitely,” he says. “And the key to this approach is unification. There needs to be an abstraction layer – but on the backend and not at the frontend like a PSIM. All sub systems, such as CCTV, fire, etc should talk to a data conduit that allows sophisticated operations such as policy enforcement, automation and visualisation. The unification approach is especially appealing to large organisations, because it not only provides a single interface for operators, but also a single platform to maintain and a single application to train operators and administrators on.

“The pros of this approach include both cost and time savings in terms of user training, of IT maintenance / configuration process to implement since one core system is needed. It also means that as the operators are using a single application, they have a single way of working, which is more efficient,” D’Arsigny explains.

“The cons of this approach are the limitations in terms of what systems can be brought into the unified platform. As this integration resides on the backend it requires a bit more architecting to include in the unified environment when compared to a user interface integration from a PSIM. So, while the UI integration can procure a larger

feature set and flexibility, this comes at the cost of providing a standard operational method. Providing such a standard operational method or workflow can mean having to compromise and apply, in some cases, limitations in feature set.”

For many users, there may be a growing sense that the best way for smaller single site operations to deliver situational awareness affordably is via cloud solutions but D’Arsigny argues that this depends.

“Cloud is one approach to delivering a solution and has its pros and cons depending on the solution the end user needs,” he explains. “This is why we believe in a hybrid approach. We advocate supporting cloud-based, on-premise and hybrid (interconnection of on-premise components with cloud components) to better provide a solution to the end user. If the single site is a remote facility where no on-site personnel can provide maintenance, then maybe this is a good candidate for a cloud system.

“But if another site is isolated and doesn’t have bandwidth to provide services such as video streaming, then an on-prem system can be better suited. And if we push this application to the next level we can add the capability of both types of site to be interconnected through the cloud, so a supervisor can access both – this is the flexibility that we believe is needed in a modern security platform.”

Something that’s central to delivering situational awareness is the interface, according to D’Arsigny. But while mobile apps can be useful, they may not have the required capabilities and careful design is the key.

“The user interface is vital in providing situational awareness to operators,” he says. “A mobile app, whether on a phone or tablet, can be used to manage that if the system applies the logic mentioned previously, try and filter the information and provide what is necessary for the user given the context. Mobile devices are a challenge for UX designers as they offer limited real estate to display content.

“Displaying relevant information in a clear and intuitive fashion is key. But any complex scenario can be adapted to a mobile environment; start small and add layers as you go. This is like the newspaper approach – you start with the frontpage, then sections, and finally articles, by letting the user ask for more information at their own pace.

“We also adopt the most commonly used UI pattens and mobile gestures into the app, as most users intuitively know the more they swipe up the more detailed information they get, like searching for a restaurant, you see it in the map and as you swipe up you see the address, then the menu, then images of the food, using this muscle memory we can give security users the same experience, they see the camera in the map, swipe up and you see a thumb nail, keep swiping and you go full screen with PTZ control for example. This all leads to greater efficiency in situational awareness.”

Over at Inner Range, Steve Mitchell agrees that situational awareness is important for many end users when it comes to security and business operations.

“Proper situational awareness helps to assess the severity of a situation and to react accordingly,” Mitchell explains. “Situational awareness also helps inform the initial response to an event, as well as the ongoing responses as the event unfolds. With adequate scope, a solution that delivers situational awareness can also allow seemingly unrelated issues to be identified and addressed early before they escalate into major problems.”

When it comes to delivering effective situational awareness, the system functionalities and/or procedural outcomes end users be focusing on include aggregating information from multiple sources into a single location, proper prioritization, allowing more important issues to be handled first and the delivering of live, up to date information to allow operators to properly judge and react as an event evolves.

A key element of situational awareness in most people’s minds is integration of multiple sub systems in such a way that it’s possible to attain a snapshot of a site or multiple sites via a single interface – is this conception correct, according to Mitchell?

“Yes – information can come from many sources, but if multiple different systems need to be accessed then the response can be slow or some of that key information is missed,” he explains. “A central interface allows a current event to be focused on, while ensuring other issues aren’t missed.”

Mitchell argues it is possible to deliver situational awareness for large, even enterprise, operations.

“Systems like Integriti can achieve a high level of situational awareness without the price tag of a typical PSIM,” he says. “Integration has become common place now, so many of those components offer high level interfaces, and were likely already integrated for the day-to-day running of those sites. The functionality gap has closed significantly between enterprise systems like Integriti and the traditional PSIM solution.”

When considering the pros of a non-PSIM approach, Mitchell says they can be less expensive and put more power in the hands of integrators needing to tailer a solution to the needs of their customer, instead of requiring the PSIM manufacturer to make the changes.

“Meanwhile, the cons are likely to be that it will be harder to replace the system, though at the enterprise level, this was already going to be hard,” he explains. “It will also require more effort on the part of the integrator to deliver the solution.”

Could the best way for smaller single site operations to deliver situational awareness affordably be via cloud solutions? Mitchell argues that remotely accessible on-site solutions are likely to be more cost effective and more reliable.

“At the smaller end, dedicated on-site solutions that can be remotely accessed provides a more reliable solution, especially when integrating different systems,” he argues. “Such solutions will be more cost effective and reliable than cloud, in my opinion. Importantly, the small site’s internet connection should not be a core component for proper situational awareness – you want the system to be able to function seamlessly if the internet goes down – communications modules like T4000 and other 4G backup solutions can help maintain remote connectivity.

“With on-site solutions, high or low-level integrations can help increase situational awareness while minimising the potential points of failure. There isn’t the option for multiple redundant servers, fully battery-backed IT infrastructure and so on in a small site – for such applications smaller yet still powerful systems that can combine several components, like Inception, which has access control, alarms and automation, paired with a T4000 for remote connectivity, can ensure events get raised so a user can start investigating events in real time as they unfold.”

When it comes to the interface required for affordable situational awareness, Mitchell argues this depends on the size of the site. In some cases, existing workstations will be more than adequate for the task.

“Smaller sites are generally limited to simple alarms, video verification and event histories, while sites with more information to analyse and interpret may need a dedicated interface, scaling up to dedicated on-site guard houses in bigger operations,” he explains.