Expectations are Important to Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness is developed, maintained, lost, and regained at three levels. The highest level of situational awareness is developed from being able to make realistic and accurate projections of the future events. The projections are sometimes called “mental models.” Projecting the future facilitates being able to see bad things coming… in time to change the outcome.

If there were ever a theme that runs through everything I teach in my classes about situational awareness it is just that: Being able to see the bad things coming in time to change the outcome.

One of the best ways to see the bad things coming is by forming expectations about the future outcomes of the activities happening at the emergency scene. When a crew is given a task there should be two expectations that arise from the assignment:

1. What will the successful outcome look like as a result of the crew’s performance?

2. How long should it take the crew to get that task done?

Thinking in terms of a successful outcome keeps the focus on the purpose of the crew’s assignment as it relates to the overall incident action plan.

How long it should take for a task to be completed is based on many factors (which I will write about separately in a future article). It is important to place a time expectation on task completion, especially if the conditions of the incident are fast-moving and deteriorating.

The highest level of situational awareness… projection… predicting the future… is based on setting realistic and accurate expectations.

SOLUTION: Part of the size-up should include thinking about the future. Not only what it will look like, but how much time it should take to look that way. If  the expectation is something should happen within five minutes, it is at the five minute mark that an assessment of the progress should be completed. Does the incident look like it should? If not, why? And more importantly if not, what should be done about it that will ensure the safety of personnel operating in the high-risk environment.


1. If an incident is deteriorating, why would a commander continue to allow personnel to perform high-risk, high-consequence activities when it appears things are heading toward disaster?

2. Why is it so hard for emergency response personnel to change gears and go in a new direction once an aggressive action plan is in motion?

3. What are some best practices for how to assess progress against expectations?

Safety begins with SA!


The content for this post is taken directly from the highly acclaimed programs, Fifty Ways to Kill a First Responder and Mental Management of Emergencies. These programs have been presented to more than 23,000 public safety providers from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

If your department or association is interested in hosting a program to improve situational awareness and decision making under stress, contact me at: support@richgasaway.com or call me at: 612-548-4424.

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  1. Pingback: When Budgets Impact Staffing, Tactics Must Change | Situational Awareness (SA) Matters!

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