Situational Awareness

Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Mar 2022


The cornerstone of good decision making is good situational awareness. Leaders can increase their decision space by attaining and maintaining good situational awareness. Decision space is simply the amount of time that a decision maker has for considering options before reaching a required decision point.


Situational Awareness Cycle


Observation and communication are linked to Situational awareness. The graphic shows an arrows circling line art of an eye and eyebrow with the words Gather information, Change, Perception, and No change circling the eye as well.

Situational awareness is depicted as a cycle because the situation and people’s perceptions are constantly changing. This internal cycle continues as long as people are awake. Everyone starts with an initial perception of any given situation and then continuously updates it with new information. People gather information through both observation, which includes input from the senses, and communication, which includes face-to-face conversation, written communication, and radio or telephone exchanges.

Simply paying attention is an important part of maintaining good situational awareness, but even more important is determining what to pay attention to. All perceptions are subject to filtering and focusing: people constantly filter information and shift focus. People also produce a lot of internal inputs such as thoughts about what to do next, stress, memories of similar experiences, fear.

Those with more experience in an environment often can more easily filter out distractions and unimportant details and focus on the most salient information.

Discussion Points:

  • What does situational awareness mean?
  • What are the actions that influence situational awareness?
  • Is it possible to lose situational awareness?
  • Does your situational awareness match reality consistently?


Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
10 Standard Firefighting Orders, PMS 110 
18 Watch Out Situations, PMS 118
10 & 18 Poster, PMS 110-18
NWCG Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center


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