Report into Heathrow Winter Resilience

The recent enquiry report into the response at Heathrow airport to the recent winter snow raised many interesting points about communications in a complex control environment and responding to difficult situations.


The report highlighted the problems in managing real-time communications between different groups and functions all trying to collaborate.  We often see this in our control room design work - the resource required to disseminate information is often too much so only partial information is shared.  We have been looking at a number of projects recently where shared systems automatically enable visibility of information held by other functions so reducing this problem - providing communications in parallel rather than serial.

This kind of information sharing is important for different teams to retain the "big picture" overview of the situation, one which is often changing rapidly.  Good situational awareness is critical for the right decisions to be made at all levels of crisis response.

The report also flagged some interesting issues about the physical location of controls in relation to the events going on (many of the control rooms involved had no visibility of the airfield to give them that important contextual information) and in relation to each other.  Co-location of control rooms has its problems but it can be effective in short-cutting some of the communication flows.

One final point of note was the importance given to managing passenger needs during the crisis. Inevitably the focus of many operations during events like this is to focus on restoring the service as quickly as possible.  But if all resources are directed on this then the operation ignores supporting the passengers during this stressful experience.  It was good to see recommendations covering passenger welfare both in terms of provision of regular, up to date information and in providing temporary facilities in the airport.

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DESIGN AND THE HUMAN FACTOR: Report into Heathrow Winter Resilience

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Report into Heathrow Winter Resilience

The recent enquiry report into the response at Heathrow airport to the recent winter snow raised many interesting points about communications in a complex control environment and responding to difficult situations.


The report highlighted the problems in managing real-time communications between different groups and functions all trying to collaborate.  We often see this in our control room design work - the resource required to disseminate information is often too much so only partial information is shared.  We have been looking at a number of projects recently where shared systems automatically enable visibility of information held by other functions so reducing this problem - providing communications in parallel rather than serial.

This kind of information sharing is important for different teams to retain the "big picture" overview of the situation, one which is often changing rapidly.  Good situational awareness is critical for the right decisions to be made at all levels of crisis response.

The report also flagged some interesting issues about the physical location of controls in relation to the events going on (many of the control rooms involved had no visibility of the airfield to give them that important contextual information) and in relation to each other.  Co-location of control rooms has its problems but it can be effective in short-cutting some of the communication flows.

One final point of note was the importance given to managing passenger needs during the crisis. Inevitably the focus of many operations during events like this is to focus on restoring the service as quickly as possible.  But if all resources are directed on this then the operation ignores supporting the passengers during this stressful experience.  It was good to see recommendations covering passenger welfare both in terms of provision of regular, up to date information and in providing temporary facilities in the airport.

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