As I talk with first responders in classes about the impact of distractions and interruptions on situational awareness I find myself often being asked: What’s the difference? While there are distinctly different causes for distractions and interruptions, the outcome is often very similar… a reduction in situational awareness and the potential for a catastrophic outcome.
There are four levels of progression a person goes through in the development of competence. The pathway begins with a complete unawareness of how little a person knows and progresses to a complete unawareness of how much a person knows.
There is a dangerous cognitive phenomenon that can occur along this continuum known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. A person with this cognitive “bias” can be very dangerous and it can contribute to the loss of situational awareness.
Recently I had a video clip shared with me of a residential dwelling fire. The video captures a flashover event. It was reported to me that firefighters were operating inside the structure when it occurred.
As I watched the video progress, it was apparent interior conditions were getting worse, the color of the smoke was becoming blacker, the volume of the smoke was becoming greater, the velocity of the smoke was becoming faster and the density of the smoke was becoming thicker.
Bad things were coming and it did not appear as though the crews operating on the scene could see it. Let’s explore some of the situational awareness lessons of this incident and discuss seven ways situational awareness can be stolen away.
Surely you’ve heard of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” -You know - Partridge in a Pear Tree and all that other stuff that no one really needs or wants, perhaps sans the five golden rings, of course. [Just don't wear them all at once.]
And you know that Santa has good situational awareness. He’s ALWAYS capturing clues and cues. In the spirit of Christmas, I’d like to share with you my list for how to develop and maintain strong situational awareness.
Of course, like any child at Christmas, my list would be much longer than 12 items. So I encourage you to go back through the archives and read some of the more than 150 articles I’ve written here. Because… Situational Awareness Matters!
And if you’re rushed this holiday season, I’ve made it even easier for you to get the valuable lessons from the articles. Consider purchasing the Situational Awareness Matters Volumes 1 and 2 eBooks. These books contain a compilation of 80 articles, bound in book form and easy to read at your off-line leisure.
Let’s get into my wish list for the Twelve Ways to Situational Awareness.
It is quite common that, following a situational awareness program, participants will come up to talk with me and share their feedback on the program. Occasionally, I get emails and postings on social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) sharing positive feedback as well. I want to share an email I recently received from Chris Covington (printed here with permission).
There’s no doubt that in dynamically changing, high-risk, high-consequence environments someone could be called upon to perform many varied tasks, some at the same time.
When staffing levels are low, the likelihood of this situation can increases significantly. The problem this creates is the brain does not perform well when task saturated, especially in stressful situations.
Let’s explore what happens and what the impact can be on your situational awareness.
The social interaction between coworkers may not be on your mind as you think about first responder situational awareness. But the fact is we are all influenced by our relationships with others. We have an inherent internal desire to be well-liked and respected. We also have a very strong internal drive to avoid embarrassment. These traits of human behavior can impact your situational awareness. Here’s how…
“Scene Safe, BSI.” These words have been uttered by every first responder who has ever received medical training. In fact, any responder who has performed a practical exercise for certification knows the first two mandatory skills to be completed on the evaluation checklist are: (1) Ensure the scene is safe before entering, and (2) Don protective gear (BSI – Body Substance Isolation). Ensuring the scene is safe is rooted in situational awareness – being able to capture the clues and cues that helps a responder comprehend what is happening. There’s just one fundamental problem with this.