Introductory Remarks on Situational Awareness and Disaster Mitigation

Andrew D. Grossman, PhD

There is no denying the importance of first responders in disaster mitigation. Since September 11, 2001 (9/11), fundamental institutional change related to emergency planning moved swiftly, culminating in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Following the attacks on 9/11, analyses covering a wide range of differing perspectives of emergency planning have been published and while these studies often diverged on different issues, almost all agree that disaster mitigation depends on first responders. First responders are the keystone to success in disaster mitigation, for it is their ability to help save lives, to secure critical infrastructure, to enhance emergency safety measures for victims, to centralize on-the-ground, in the moment, procedures to maximize efficient rescue protocols of all types. Perhaps the most important facet to disaster management is real-time, accurate, and shared information to enhance situational awareness (SA). Rescue operations fundamentally rest on SA and without accurate information, first responders are left acting primarily on rote training or making the best “guess” decisions on how to deploy efficiently when they arrive on the scene.

In his discussion on warfare, military theorist and general, Carl von Clausewitz, coined the phrase “the fog of war,” and it is a concept germane to this brief discussion of SA and first responders. The chaos (the “fog”), that culminates in the moments and first hours after a tragedy undermines SA. One of the best ways to minimize (one cannot eliminate) the chaotic moments that first responders must adapt to when they arrive is to enhance SA. The first step is to possess the capability to direct real-time information to all first responders swiftly, accurately, and efficiently.

Consider the following as it relates to public schools and SA: Most public schools have updated blueprints of school buildings, cameras, often security guards, gun screening devices, various drills in the form of “active shooter” drills (an unfortunate ‘normal’ in our lives). This information is stored on computers or online in some format; however, is it sharable information? From macro considerations (think natural disasters) about building construction and safety to the very granular level information such as where bathrooms are located, where an exit door might be located, the layout in detail of all HVAC units are located, even what the inside of each classroom looks like—this information too can be stored but can it be shared uniformly, swiftly, and in the moment of first response? The answer varies, but if the past is prologue and it often is with disaster planning, precise information shared across standardized platforms is a weak link and, a dangerous one at that, in deploying best practices and procedures in emergency situations.

Layers and Legends is a company focused on enhancing SA for first responders and political leaders. The best decisions are made swiftly, efficiently, and as safely as possible. There will always be the “fog of war” moment in a calamity, but it does not have to be a dense fog; to the contrary, information that is detailed at both the granular and macro levels of analysis shared across standardized platforms with responders and political leaders can control and ultimately eliminate the first moments of chaos on scene. The result will be saved lives, saved property, and the rational protection of critical infrastructure.


Grossman received his MA (1990), Ph.D. (1996) in Political Science, Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science, New School University.

He retired from Albion College after 33 years in higher education in May 2021 after 25 years in the Department of Political Science. In May 2021 he became an Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Albion College.

Areas of expertise: American political development and homeland security, international security, and issues of emergency planning and critical infrastructure protection. Grossman has published extensively in the historical and current public policy of civilian defense (today referred to as “homeland security”), American political development, and international security.

His book, Neither Dead Nor Read: Civilian Defense And American Political Development During The Early Cold War (Routledge 2001) is an analysis of the relationship between civilian defense (“homeland security”) and its consequences for American political development during the early Cold War and into the 21st century. His current work deals with the public policy of first response and disaster mitigation issues.