Improving situational awareness for railway control teams
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Improving situational awareness for railway control teams

What if you could see the emotions inside an incident management control room before starting your shift? Imagine being able to prepare yourself for the pace and intensity required to work alongside your colleagues. That's exactly what we did for one of the UK's largest railway operators by conceptualising novel ways to visualise the number, duration, and severity of ongoing incidents.

One of the major rail networks in the UK approached Mimagroup, a leading ergonomics design company, to redesign their control room layouts. During this process, Mimagroup identified an opportunity to improve the situational awareness for oncoming shift staff by creating a novel way of visualizing past and ongoing incidents and approached Parallel to conceptualise this idea.

A typical problem

Mimogroup's engagement highlighted a common issue among incident management teams and senior stakeholders: a silo mentality. With 12-hour shifts and an average of 250 minutes to resolve issues, team members had limited visibility of each other. These factors often led to difficulties during handovers to oncoming staff, potentially causing a loss of situational awareness and delays in incident resolution.

The approach

To address these challenges, we envisioned a range of displays for different user groups. For the geographical incident teams (referred to as "pods"), we wanted to provide an emotional glimpse into the pod prior to starting the work shift. This would allow for better mental preparation and help answer questions like:

"Am I entering a stressed environment?" Are there loads of incidents, or is it more slow-paced?"

For the central teams, we wanted to visualise all current and recently resolved incidents to provide a better understanding of what was happening at any given time. This would help them understand exactly how many incidents there are, at what level, and who has made what decisions. Finally, for the senior team, we wanted to create a "god view" of all current and past incidents. This would provide oversight over all incidents and their interdependencies between pods, enabling the optimisation of incident management orchestration.

An incident clock

We developed the concept of an "incident clock" to visualize all the incidents for the past 18 hours, including both resolved and ongoing issues. The visualization adopts a circular/spiral structure based on a 12-hour clock face, allowing for an intuitive understanding of duration and start/end times. The incident clock has three levels of severity: red, amber, and yellow, with green reserved for any resolved incidents. Each incident management team received its own incident clock, as they were spread across different locations.

Incident clock showing all ongoing and resolved incidents for the past 18 hours

Emotional visualisation

We wanted to hone in on the idea of capturing the "temperature of the room" by developing a dynamic visual summary of all the ongoing incidents in an abstracted animated shape. To convey the emotional state of the incident management room, we used both the percentage of colour distribution (total number of red/amber/yellow incidents) and motion (slow/calm vs. fast/erratic).


This type of visualisation is less accurate than numbers, however, it communicates on a deeper level. We intuitively understand colour and motion much better than black-and-white numbers in a spreadsheet. For instance, when everything is 'Red' and moving erratically, we can feel the high emotions in the room, which matters more than knowing the exact severity level.

Visualising emotions of the control room on the go


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