Situational Awareness can Save People with Disabilities in Crises

Posted by on August 17, 2020  /  0 Comments

Abstract – The article presents the necessary elements of universal design for a situational awareness platform. It builds on Endsley’s three level model and emergency data exchange standards. Thereby, the platform will lay the foundation for wide range of ICT-enabled tools that can customized to benefit each and every heterogeneous disabled persons groups.


PWDs are highly vulnerable to disasters. Image source: CMB Australia

Individuals with disabilities are disproportionately affected in disaster, emergency, and conflict situations. One reason is the lack of access to comprehensible and appropriate risk information and means for crying for help to be rescued – we know that People With Disabilities (PWD) are 2 – 4 times more likely to die or suffer in a disaster relative to others. Assisting the heterogeneous PWD populations in crises can be complex. Thus, building capacity to cover each and every disability variation can become overwhelming and resource intensive for, local and national, emergency services to prepare for and respond to.

LIRNEasia’s report: stewarding situational awareness for safety of people with disabilities, systematically discusses how a situational awareness platform can overcome the offer mentioned challenges by improving the adaptive capacity of PWD, their family, and caregivers in responding to crises. Most importantly because a situational awareness platform has the ability to overcome the prevailing problems with information asymmetry and ICT accessibility

This is why

Central to situational awareness is gaining deep insights of what crisis situation has occurred and how to make sense of it; also referred to as the mental model. The idea of a “situation” presents the contents of situational awareness states as to how the situation unravels and transitions over time in frames and focuses on situational awareness as the set of information pieces that satisfy decision-making in the midst of ongoing dynamic uncertain processes.

This example of Endsley’s three level situational awareness model shows an elderly lady receiving a ‘heavy rain’ alert. She is concerned because she lives by the river and chooses to observe the situation; then, make a choice to evacuate if the river was to rise to a critical spill level.

The doctrine of situation awareness is influenced by Endsley’s model. One that is quite commonly used and accepted by emergency communication practitioners. Why it matters is because it is a universal concept and is profoundly attributed to empowering PWDs and their Caregivers (often family) with adaptive capacity to face the individualistic every day and occasional catastrophic crises. In the three levels of situational awareness, the information will help one to perceive as to what is happening and be able to comprehend the extent of relevance as to why one should care; when the situation is comprehended a person can make projections on the various choice regarding what they should do about it. Thereby, they are empowered to decide and act on that crisis for their own safety.

A situational awareness platform will offer shared, team, and task situational awareness that are essential ingredients for managing the crisis.  A crisis management team, with respect to PWDs in crises, would include their caregiver, family members, community, disabled persons organization, and the emergency services, who interact dynamically, interdependently and adaptively toward a common and valued goal, objective, and mission in managing the crisis situation. Each one of them will have assigned specific roles or functions to perform in a crisis situation. To that end, team situational awareness is the degree to which every team member must possesses the information required for his or her responsibilities. Instrumental to the success of the team is a high level of shared situational awareness between team members and providing an accurate common operating picture of those aspects of the situation common to the needs of each member. Also important is insights to the task situational awareness that is associated with the information relating to the tasks different members of the team have to perform and have performed for managing the crisis.

How it’s done

The universal design, in this case, takes a technology neutral and open source approach for an integrated and interoperable situational awareness platform comprising four key blocks: (i) external interfaces (ii) DiDRR functional components, (iii) data exchange, and (iv) data processing.

Interfaces that allow PWD to interact in exchanging crisis information must be customized to fulfill the needs of each and every heterogeneous group and in the context of their cultural norms and local environment. The interfaces will need to build on tools that are integrated into their daily lives; mainly because they are bound to be always on and ready to use. Moreover, daily use technologies it will not require excessive training and an effort to become familiar with the operating functions and features.

We recommended that crisis response and emergency communication planners follow the concepts of a universal design in building the situational awareness platforms. Thereby, it encourages the PWD and humanitarian community to build useful and easy to use crisis communication interfaces that are customized for the needs of the individual heterogeneous groups.  

To achieve a universal design of a situational awareness platform, it is important that the information exchange platforms are standardized and versatile. For such the Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL) – managed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS-Open) and the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) – a platform managed by the United Nations Coordination Office for the Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) can be instrumental to making the situational awareness platform interoperable. Of particular interest is the Tracking Emergency Clients (associated with the People Finder Information Platform), Tracking Emergency Patients, Common Alerting Protocol (ITU X.1303), Situational Reporting (SITREP), and Resource Messaging emergency data exchange standards. 

In our report, we have identified four critical applications that can offer standardized situational awareness for effectively managing pre-crises, on-going-crises, and post-crises situations. They involve tools for

  1. SHRINC to map resilience in communities, as well as manage activities to mitigate the risks and to be well prepared to bounce back better,
  2. SAMBRO all-hazard all-media alerting & messaging broker (sometimes referred to as multi-hazard warning),
  3. SAFIRE first response for recording incidents, dispatching response resources, and managing the incident throughout the life-cycle, and
  4. SHARE-Hub relief and rehabilitation that connects the needs for goods and services to those who will supply them 

Sahana situational awareness platform tools: SHRINC, SAMRBO, SAFIRE, & SHARE

Widely used XML, JSON, PDF, GIS, and CSV file formats are able to share meaningful situational awareness data that follow the EDXL and HDX data standards. The data can be easily shared between software services through message brokers that essentially use RESTful APIs as the conduit and various data exchange methods like synchronizing databases, RSS/ATOM Feeds, and HTTP Requests. These technologies offer a comprehensive crisis communication platform that complies with universal design norms. The universal design opens up opportunities for technology developers and technology advocates to work with their PWD communities to introduce meaningful and easy to use software applications.

Who can benefit

Mobile Apps and mobile technology is ubiquitous and becoming an instrument of insurance for PWDs. Mobile Apps integrated with web technology can easily offer meaningful solutions addressing team, shared, and task situational awareness. The Internet of Things (IoT) has emerged and is promoting automation that can be leveraged in offering useful situational awareness solution; as well as using the situational awareness information to drive IoT solutions to bring about safety to PWDs. Voice-enabled telephony services can be resourceful; especially, for low-literate and less text-savvy users. Given that the data exchange platform is standardized, it makes it easier for developing and scaling specialized devices for PWD groups. Therefore, it is highly encouraged that national and local crisis response and emergency management practitioners should adopt standardized situational awareness platforms along with best-practices for strategizing and operationalizing them in support of inclusive crisis communication – essential for Disability inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DiDRR).

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