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Flawed Expectations of Personnel Can Impact Situational Awareness

You develop situational awareness by using your senses to capture information (Level 1 situational awareness). Those clues and cues are then processed into understanding (Level 2 situational awareness). Once you understand what is happening, you can then make predictions of future events (Level 3 situational awareness). This article focuses on the third level of situational awareness, making predictions (forming expectations about future events).





imaginationComparing the clues and cues from your current situation to past experiences forms your expectations. Expectations are rooted in imagination. As you develop expectations you are anticipating future events. Therefore, by definition, expectations are fictional. Simply because expectations are fictional does not mean they are wrong or inaccurate. Expectations may be right and extremely accurate.

Personnel expectations

One of the expectations formed on arrival is whether or not a crew (or crews) are going to be able to successfully complete incident objectives before incident conditions deteriorate and cause an undesirable outcome. In order to make such predictions, it is essential to know something about the crew members, specifically, it is important to know the crew(s) quantity and quality. This influences your expectations.

Flawed expectations

One of the ways that company officers or commanders can be challenged when it comes to making accurate predictions of future events is to have flawed expectations of the crews. These flaws are often manifested in expecting too much, too quickly from crew performance. When the crews are not able to perform to the commander’s expectations, Level 3 Situational Awareness (being able to make accurate predictions of future events) is flawed.

Rich Gasaway’s Advice

Part of the size-up that forms situational awareness is a crew size up. This size up is important for the company officer and for the command officer. Look at crews and based upon what you know about their size, quality and their history working together (i.e., are they well practiced together, as a crew), form expectations about how long it will take a crew to accomplish a task.

Try very hard not to set expectations higher than crew abilities. This will cause the company officer (or command officer) to become frustrated – and possibly distracted – if the crews are not able to perform to expectations. It can also cause the company officer or command officer to under estimate how long it will take a crew to accomplish a task, which flaws the expectations as well.

Set realistic expectations by conducting a crew size up. If your department is career, this may be accomplished at the beginning of the shift by looking at the roster. For volunteer departments, where personnel come from home, the crew size up must be dynamic. As a command officer, it is simply not enough to know the engine is arriving with 3 or 4. You must know WHICH 3 or 4. As you know, it MATTERS!

Action items

1. Discuss how to assess the competency of crewmembers.
2. Discuss how variations in crew quantity and crew quality can impact being able to form accurate expectations of future events.
3. Discuss how variations in crew quantity and crew quality should be factored into decision making.



If you are interested in taking your understanding of situational awareness and high-risk decision making to a higher level, check out the Situational Awareness Matters Online Academy.
CLICK HERE for details, enrollment options and pricing.


Share your comments on this article in the “Leave a Reply” box below. If you want to send me incident pictures, videos or have an idea you’d like me to research and write about, contact me. I really enjoy getting feedback and supportive messages from fellow first responders. It gives me the energy to work harder for you.




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