Frustration

Frustration

Frustration Can Impact Situational Awareness

Anyone who’s been frustrated knows it can consume a lot of your mental energy and thinking space. This can significantly impact your situational awareness. In fact, depending on the level of frustration, your brain can be hijacked by all-consuming thoughts about what is causing the angst. While operating at an emergency scene, frustration may draw your attention away from perceiving and understanding critical clues and cues that form situational awareness.

Some sources of frustration

There are many things that can cause frustration at an emergency scene. As I reflect back on my experience and conversations with police officers, I can offer this small list of sources of frustrations that can impact your situational awareness:

  1. Receiving incomplete or inaccurate information from dispatch about the nature or details of the emergency you are responding to.
  2. Delayed response times because of a train or traffic jam.
  3. Fellow police officers that did not know how to perform their jobs effectively (this includes not only technical job knowledge but also being physically unfit to perform the duties, causing a team member to fatigue quickly).
  4. Tasks not being completed as quickly as you expected your fellow police officers to complete the tasks, or tasks not being completed at all.
  5. Performing independent actions (i.e., freelancing). Police officers performing actions that are not consistent with the overall incident objectives, causing confusion and safety concerns.
  6. Police officers complaining about having to do their jobs, sitting on calls too long, or dodging calls.
  7. Inadequate equipment to get the task done efficiently or general lack of equipment or other resources.

With little effort, I am confident you could easily add to the list of things that have frustrated you from time to time while operating at incident scenes. And, if you’re being honest, you’d probably admit that your mind wasn’t completely on-task while you were pre-occupied with the frustrating issue or condition.

Tangible example

I can recall a good example of being frustrated when I was dispatched to a motorist assist in my city.  While enroute to the call my partner was dispatched to a property damage accident on the highway.  My partner got on the radio and said he was very close to my motorist assist and requested that we change calls.  I agreed with him, and we advised dispatch we would change calls.  I found out later that my partner had driven past his property damage accident, and it had multiple vehicles involved and included some commercial vehicles.  It was a huge mess!  I was so frustrated by my partner that I became very angry on my call and didn’t treat the people I was dealing with very well. I noticed my attention being drawn away from other critical tasks.

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

It can be very difficult to control your frustration at an incident scene, especially when expectations are not being met. If you find yourself becoming frustrated, and thus fixated on something happening, try these suggestions:

  1. Be mindful at all times of the role you are playing and how important it is for you to stay focused on your role for your safety and the safety of others.
  2. If the source of frustration can be set aside and dealt with later, delay addressing it at the incident scene. Of course, matters of safety should be addressed immediately to prevent harm to members and civilians.
  3. Employ a stress reduction breathing technique: Breathe in on a four-count. Hold for a four-count. Breathe out on a four-count. Delay your next inhalation for a four-count. This will cause a small increase in carbon dioxide levels in the blood and slow the release of chemicals that can hyper-focus attention. The old adage of “take a deep breath” has some merit.
  4. If you are in the command role, consider delegating the frustrating issue to a subordinate and let them resolve it. This will allow you to keep your focus on the important task of commanding the big-picture incident.
  5. If you must address the source of frustration, be courteous and professional and adopt a mindset of being helpful. Avoid confrontational language or demeanor (like using your frustrated, annoyed or agitated voice).

There is too much at stake if your situational awareness erodes as a result of frustration. And if your eroded situational awareness results in a casualty, you’ll be very disappointed in yourself that you yielded your awareness of your critical role to your frustration.

Action Items

  1. Discuss a time when your awareness was drawn off-task by a frustration.
  2. Discuss some strategies you have used to reduce the impact of frustration.
  3. Discuss strategies for addressing frustrating issues in ways that will not make matters worse.
  4. Find that person who always seems to be calm under pressure and ask them to share their best practices with you.

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Police Science and Leadership at Bemidji State University and is a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Freelancing

Freelancing

In some police departments it is standard practice for the first arriving officer on-scene to deploy independently. Oftentimes these officers are highly trained, highly motivated and action oriented. What they are lacking is coordination of their efforts. The potential problem with independent action is it may be unrealistic to think multiple individuals can arrive at varied times and make the same assessment of the situation/conditions and know, automatically, what other officers are doing and the goals they are trying to accomplish. This can cause problems with team and incident situational awareness.

 

A Play Book

It is important for police officers to have a shared understanding of each member’s role during high risk operations. This complicated task may be easier to accomplish when everyone is trained to a common set of procedures. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs) can help ensure members understand the performance expectations. Unfortunately, some organizations do not have SOPs or SOGs – they have no playbook. A lack of written Standards does not automatically spell trouble for police officers but it is a contributing factor in many casualty investigations.

 

Rehearsal

As important as having a play book, practicing the plays is equally important. If an organization has written Standards but does not train personnel on how to perform coordinated actions based on the Standards the incident operations are likely to be disjointed and confusing. It cannot be assumed that writing and distributing Standards is going to result in a common understanding of their meaning or a well-coordinated operation.

 

Coordinated Actions

In addition to having a playbook and practicing, it is important (and sometimes overlooked) that police officers still need to be coordinated. Complex and dynamically changing incidents are commonplace. Incident circumstances often require actions that cannot follow written Standards. The more unique the problem, the greater the likelihood for resilient problem solving. Professional football teams have play books and they practice those plays to perfect their coordination repetitively. Yet teams still have coaches and coordinators to ensure the members perform in a coordinated way.

 

To ensure team success, be that a sports team or an emergency response team, someone needs to establish and maintain a big picture view of the field/incident right from the beginning and coordinate the actions of all the participants. This is especially important for police officers because the participants almost always arrive in a staggered fashion. This is unlike a sporting event where the team members are all present from the start and it’s easier for the coach to coordinate the actions. Absent someone to coordinate actions, an incident can degrade as the independent, uncoordinated actions of police officers fail to achieve a common goal. The situational awareness at an incident is dependent on the coordinated actions of each team member.

 

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

Develop standard operating procedures/guidelines. Practice them as teams, in context to how the team members will perform in realistic environments. Ensure one of the first arriving police officers assumes the role of incident commander and coordinates the activities of other police officers. The person in charge should maintain a “big picture” view of the incident.

As soon as possible, however, someone needs to assume a role as the coordinator of other incoming personnel. This is where the coordinator can pay-off in spades by ensuring all the essential tasks are being assigned and coordinated.

 

Action Items

  1. Discuss the challenges that can arise from engaging in independent actions without coordination.

 

  1. Discuss an incident where independent actions challenged incident coordination and impacted situational awareness of incident personnel.

 

  1. Discuss ideas for how to improve team situational awareness and multiple police officer coordination at dynamically changing incidents.

 

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Police Science and Leadership at Bemidji State University and is a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Context Dependent Learning

Context Dependent Learning

As public safety providers, we could make a fundamental improvement in developing situational awareness by looking at how we train. There are some valuable lessons from brain science that can help improve the design of our training programs. One such lesson is “context dependent learning.”  It has been validated through numerous studies. If you are a training officer, this article may cause you to rethink how to train fellow police officers.

The concept of context dependent learning is fundamentally simple, yet often overlooked in the training of police officers. Essentially, it means if we train police officers in the same environment in which they are going to perform their work they are far more likely to recall their lessons when put back into the same environment on the job.

I remember I had this experience once in the gym I work out at.  I remember we were training for an event call “Murphy”. It’s a very grueling workout that begins with a one mile run, then proceeds with 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats, and finishes off with another one mile run. This is all done while wearing a 20 pound weighted vest. We would do this at the gym every Memorial Day.

I can recall doing this workout several times and I practiced and trained for it at Yorfit in Ramsey, Minnesota.  I used the same weighted vest, the same pull up bar, and I ran the same route around the building every time.  My times reflected this and I got my personal best time while training at my gym and doing the Murphy on Memorial Day.

Fast forward a few months and I did the same workout, only I went to a different gym.  I wasn’t used to their pull up bar and I didn’t know the exact route I was going to run. The lack of familiarity had a huge impact on my times.  I had never trained in this environment before and my results showed it.

A more formal research study involved two groups of SCUBA divers. One was the test group and one was the control group. The researchers put the test group in ten feet of water and gave them some information to memorize. They did the same thing with the control group, except the control group was on land. Then the researchers tested the participants by putting both groups in ten feet of water and asked them to answer questions about what they had learned. The group that learned the information while in the water had a remarkably better recall than the group that learned the information while standing on dry land.

This is an example of context dependent learning. It can work while wearing SCUBA gear in ten feet of water, and it can work in police training. If we train police officers how to perform hands-on tasks while in a classroom, they are likely to recall less of what they learned when they are in the field.  We need to do more realistic, context-dependent, hands-on scenario-training that involves stress.

Drew Moldenhauer’s advice

Train police officers in the environment in which they will be performing their tasks. It may seem trivial, but science suggests the brain ties the lessons to the environment. The more the learning environment mimics the working environment, the stronger the lessons are encoded into memory.

I recall learning many of my active shooter lessons in a classroom. It wasn’t very realistic. To improve recall, put police officers in their natural working environment and teach them how to handle realistic situations. The lessons will be more readily recalled when needed most.

Action Items

  1. When you were trained in your basic police skills, did your learning environment always mimic the real-world environment you would operate in?
  2. Provide some examples where instructors taught basic skills in a context dependent environment that you would consider unique.
  3. Share some ideas for how your training programs could be improved by using context dependent learning.

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Stop Judging to Improve Situational Awareness

Stop Judging to Improve Situational Awareness

Often times when I am talking with police officers about the role of situational awareness and casualty incidents, especially the ones that have recently occurred, they share with me their opinions and frustrations about the performance of the police officers and the decisions made by command staff. If I have learned anything, it’s that police officers are very opinionated and, in general, are not very understanding or forgiving when assessing errors of their peers.

Stated another way: Police officers are quick to judge. I used to be this way also. Earlier in my career I would ask: Why were they doing that? Now, I ask: Why did it make sense TO THEM to be doing what they were doing at that moment in time? Asking the latter question opens my mind up to learning. You see, I can offer all kinds of opinions as to why I think the police officers were doing what they were doing. But I cannot possibly know the answer to the latter question without asking the people directly involved.

It is critical to learn everything possible about why casualty events occur so the lessons can improve the safety of all police officers.  My students often look at a police videos and make a quick judgement about what they see.  I tell them we need to take a moment and understand the officer’s point of view.  We have to factor in that we’re using hindsight to judge their actions.  An officer has a split second to respond to a rapidly evolving event.  They have to make a decision that they will live with forever.  After the event, observers and critics have all the time in the world to judge their actions.

Recently, I asked my students if it’s ever acceptable to shoot a suspect 17 times? Most of my students said absolutely not and that would be excessive force.  I then played them a video out of Chicago where it showed an individual not listening to police officers.  He had a large knife and charged at a female officer.  She tried tasing him twice with no success.  The other two police officers had to shoot this man 17 times before he fell.  Even after that, he was still clinching onto the female officer he was trying to stab.  I believe I proved my point and the students understood.

Unfortunately, in society today there are many people who want to judge the work of police officers.  These critics have never worn our uniform or even done a ride-along.  Their perspective is from the outside and they have never had to make the decisions police officers are faced with every day. I believe this quote by Theodore Roosevelt sums it up the best:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

When police officers stop judging and start learning, situational awareness will improve. Borrowing from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Stop judging the performance of fellow officers and seek to understand why the actions and decision they made, at the time of the casualty event, made sense to the them.

Everyday life:

Judging is so easy to do.  We can sit back and judge nearly every incident out there.  However, are we just a critic?  Or are we the person in the arena?  Have some respect when you hear headlines of a bad action done by an officer.  Pay close attention to the factors that led to this incident happening.  Don’t be so quick to judge.  Think of what the officer perceived and understood at the time of the incident.

Discussions

Discuss the process your department uses to learn from your near-miss and bad incidents.

Discuss the process you use to learn from the near-miss and bad incidents that occur in other departments.

Discuss the value of having a facilitated debriefing (conducted by an independent facilitator) to help your organization learn from near-miss and casualty events.

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].