When Budgets Impact Staffing

When Budgets Impact Staffing

Throughout the police service there are departments whose staffing has been reduced as a result of budget cuts, retirements, and lack of people wanting to get into the field. That is not going to come as a shock to many. What has been shocking for me, however, has been the response to my question of what police department leaders are doing to ensure the situational awareness and safety of line personnel as a result of these cutbacks.

I have heard many, many stories from police leaders about staffing cuts. And when I do, I frequently inquire about how tactics have changed as a result of staffing reductions. It is both shocking and disappointing to get the deer in the headlights look from so many of these leaders. The command staff in many police departments have not held meetings with personnel to discuss how tactics will change as a result of having less personnel. How can we avoid the “deer in the headlights” look?

I can remember back to a time when I worked at my previous department when our minimums were 3 officers per shift.  However, on training days and range days the minimum was dropped to 2 officers per shift.  I recall one frustrated officer asking at a department meeting, “What’s the point of minimum staffing?”  The captain’s response was, “For your safety.”  What I found interesting about this was minimums were for our safety but on training days it was ok to dip below minimums so that the department did not have to pay overtime.  Thankfully, the administration saw this flaw in the system and corrected it immediately.

When police officers are asked what they’re supposed to do differently as a result of reduced staffing I get the same deer in the headlights look. They have no idea. In fact, most of the time the response is, “It’s business as usual.” But it’s not. If less personnel are responding or if the response times of personnel are going to be delayed then, tactically, the same amount of work cannot get done in the same amount of time and this can compromise police officer safety.

Command’s Obligation

Police officers need to hear from command staff, in advance of an emergency, that the game plan is going to change, and the new plan of attack should be shared. Otherwise, police officers will continue to do the same thing they’ve always done, only with less resources… and greater risk. A competent leader should never let this happen.

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

If staffing levels have been reduced or are anticipated to be reduced, command staff should meet with patrol personnel and run through scenarios of how strategies and tactics will change on scenes. A good way to do this is to run a scenario with the former staffing levels, detailing what patrol officers do and what the anticipated outcomes are.

Then run the same scenario with reduced staffing and discuss how the workload and stress changes and how the time to task completion changes.

Discussion Questions

  1. If your department has experienced a reduction in staffing, how have your tactics changed to reflect the reduction and to ensure police officer safety?
  2. Have your command staff sat down with patrol officers during roll call and lead meaningful discussions about how staffing impacts strategy and tactics and how they plan to change their approach to calls for service?
  3. What emergency response challenges from staffing reductions cause you the greatest concerns?

 

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].

Improving Learning and Recall

Improving Learning and Recall

Is there a role for humor while training officers on critical, life-saving, skills?

The flight attendant begins dolling out the obligatory, in fact, federally mandated, pre-flight safety instructions. If you’re a frequent flyer, your situational awareness is probably pretty low. You know the routine and it’s boring. If you’re an infrequent flyer, the monotone, or should I say “mono-drone” voice, of the lead flight attendant is enough to make you bury your eyes deep into the sky magazine. But, on this flight to Vegas, something’s different.

The flight attendant begins by saying:

“Our airline employs some of the safest pilots in the industry. Unfortunately, our flight today doesn’t have any of them, so you’d better fasten your seat belt and pay close attention to what I’m about to lay down. We’re (undisclosed) airlines and we’re going to take all your money“.

All eyes and ears were immediately fixated on the lead flight attendant. Trust me, I was on the flight and witnessed it first-hand. This was one of the best stand-up comedic routines I’ve seen in a long time. I actually enjoyed the flight briefing.

Funny Flight Attendant

What made a speech I’ve heard over 50 times so interesting? There are two explanations, both rooted deep in our cognitive brain. First, the speech was unexpected. We listen with baited anticipation to hear things that surprise us. That’s why talk show hosts and newscasters bait listeners with phrases like, “When we come back we’re going to show you an amazing video you’re not going to want to miss” and we wait to see it.

Second, it was emotional. Emotional messages (and it doesn’t matter what emotion the messages invoke) not only capture and keep our attention, but they help in the uptake and storage of those messages into long-term memory. That’s right, you tend to remember and recall emotional messages and events with much more accuracy than boring messages and boring events. How well does it work? That flight attendant greeting I shared with you was from a flight I took in 2017, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

Ok…for you instructors out there who are sharing important, life-saving messages – remember, make portions of your message unexpected and use emotions. Both will not only keep attention, but they will also help in learning and recall. Anyone who has attended one of my programs knows I use a healthy dose of both. The results are truly win-win. The attendees are satisfied with their day of learning on how to survive an active shooter event. I have the satisfaction of knowing those lessons are going to stick with the attendees for a long time.

I teach my students that when they go in for a job interview to use appropriate humor or some other tactic to separate themselves from all the other candidates.  If they don’t, they will be just a number. Use humor and emotional content to help your lessons stick with your audience.

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

When doing training try adding emotional and humorous messages.  These will help the listeners retain and recall the lessons you teach them.  By using emotional and humorous messages, it will break up mundane training and help your audience be more attentive.

Action Items

  1. Discuss how to use appropriate humor in your next training lesson.
  2. Discuss creative ways to use emotional messages into training scenarios and training lessons.
  3. Discuss ways to make mundane trainings more memorable and improve the audience recall of your most important points.

 

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].

Tips For Improving Situational Awareness Through Training

Tips For Improving Situational Awareness Through Training

Realistic and repetitive hands-on training

It is vitally important that when training sessions are conducted, the instructor do everything possible to ensure the training is realistic (with consideration for safety and compliance with policies and standards). Every time an officer trains, their brain is learning. The more the training environment mimics the real environment they’re going to face, the greater the likelihood their brain is going to recall the lesson through pattern matching.

Repetition helps with information storage and retrieval. It also helps with muscle memory and the ability to perform tasks flawlessly. As the stress levels increase, we become creatures of habit and perform as we are trained. If the training is high-quality and repeated, the chances of high-quality performance under stress are improved.  When we train under stress our mind and body retain the lessons better and we will perform better when faced with a real emergency.

Make it emotional

Emotions trigger the release of dopamine which, in turn, aids in the storage of information. When an event triggers emotions, it is encoded more elaborately. This is just a fancy way of saying your chances of recall are vastly improved. Any emotion works. If, for example, you’re running an officer-down drill, make the radio traffic as realistic as possible to allow the officers to really feel the stress of the call. When stress triggers emotions, behavior changes too and it is good to practice skills in this altered mental state. Lessons learned under stress are far more likely to be recalled under stress. This is known as “context dependent learning”. Replicate the real environment in the learning environment to improve the memory of the lessons.  Setup your scenarios to be as realistic as possible.  Use simulation rounds as part of training.

Avoid hindsight bias

When evaluating an officer’s use of force incident, whether it is one from your own department or one from another source (e.g., a case study or a YouTube video) be aware you can suffer from hindsight bias. Stated another way, hindsight bias is “Monday Morning Quarterbacking”. It is taking what you know about the outcome and then applying your good (often thought to be better) judgment to the situation and coming away believing the persons involved in the use of force incident were not using good judgment in making their decisions.

 

It is always easy to look at an incident after the fact and find the fault in the decision making. Instead of asking, “Why did they do that!?” change your line of questioning to, “Why did what they were doing make sense to them at the time it was happening?” No doubt it made sense to them at the moment they were doing whatever they were doing. It may not have made sense after the fact, but that is the sort of judgment we want to avoid.

Don’t judge

It took me a long time to learn this. Too long, in fact. For years I judged the performance of others based on what I read, heard or saw and rarely if ever, did I take the time to really find out what was happening and how things unfolded. Every officer-involved shooting and use of force incident has a story behind the story. The events that led up to the incident can help fit the pieces together and improve understanding. Some of these back lessons can be gathered from FBI reports but even those reports are often devoid of some of the details and mindsets of the officers.

When you judge others you evaluate their actions using your non-stressed, rational mind. However, when they were making their decisions or deploying their actions they were using high stressed minds and making intuitive decisions. It’s not fair to judge this way because we are not, figuratively or literally, walking in their boots to understand what was going on. If you stop judging, you start learning more… a whole lot more!

What-if scenarios

Creating realistic scenarios, either hands-on or in theory, can aid in learning and how to develop situational awareness in police officers. This is a great learning tool and it’s not difficult to do. Simply take an incident you have responded to and add a small what-if event to it. We used to do this all the time when we worked night shift and would eat our lunch.

For example, you respond to a domestic scene between male and female roommates. The entire event goes nearly flawlessly. The training scenario might be, “What if both parties live there but one party has a guest over and the other party doesn’t want the guest there? Under these circumstances, what would or should we do differently?” Then talk through the decisions to be made and how the scenario might have played out if the what-if circumstances were present.

Avoid massive or unrealistic what-if scenarios for they will only serve to frustrate the participants and learning might shut down. For example, avoid the “What would we have done if a plane landed on the house while we were responding to the domestic?” Could it happen? Sure… ANYTHING can happen at a scene. But the likelihood is too remote to have a training benefit.

 

Once officers get good at basic what-if scenarios you can challenge them with circumstances that build in complexity. Just remember to take small steps. Allow the officers to solve the problem. Don’t give them the answer. They’ll learn more when they deploy their creative problem-solving abilities. Don’t hesitate to talk through why various ideas might or might not work.

Putting slides in the PowerPoint presentation

I often use the analogy that training and experiences stored in memory are like slides in a PowerPoint presentation. Each experience, so long as it was stored in long-term memory, is available for recall. Under stress, your brain searches through long-term memory. What’s it looking for? Not the complete file of the entire experience. There’s too many of those to sift through. It’s looking for a pattern match. Something that triggers intuitive judgment about what to do based on past training or experience. Each of these tips: Realistic and repetitive training, making training emotional, avoiding hindsight bias, not judging and what-if scenarios build and store richly coded experiences that can aid in the development of situational awareness.

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

When you train, seek opportunities to tie-in situational awareness, building best practices into your scenarios. Never pass up an opportunity to talk about what situational awareness is… How you develop it… How you maintain it… How it can erode… How you’d know it has eroded… and How you can strengthen it once it has eroded.

You can’t train too much for a job that can kill you… and at the top of the list should be training on situational awareness. Together, we can make a dent in this problem.

Action Items

  1. Discuss how to create training scenarios that are realistic.
  2. Discuss creative ways to build repetition into training scenarios.
  3. Discuss ways to make training scenarios emotional. It will make memory storage more robust.
  4. Obtain a random use-of-force report and discuss what happened. Take special care to avoid hindsight bias and passing judgment on the responders.
  5. Create and discuss three what-if scenarios.

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].

 

Distractions and Interruptions

Distractions and Interruptions

As I talk with my students 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.

 

A distraction is something that draws one’s attention away from what they are supposed to be paying attention to, entirely unintentionally. For example, a police officer working at a scene might be distracted by a loud noise (e.g., an air horn, siren, a scream, or an explosion). This draws the officer’s attention to the source of the noise (though it doesn’t have to be a noise… it could just as easily be something visual or a smell). While the officer’s attention is focused on the sources of the distraction, however brief, their attention is drawn away from what they were giving attention to just prior to the distraction.

 

An interruption is something that draws one’s attention away from what they are supposed to be paying attention to, entirely on purpose. For example, an officer working at a scene might be interrupted by someone talking to them, by being called on the radio or by receiving a cell phone call. The interruption draws the attention of the officer away. However brief, attention is refocused on something new.

The reason distractions and interruptions are so dangerous for police officers are multiple fold.  First, emergency scenes are fertile ground for distractions and interruptions. There are often loud noises, bright lights, and lots of things to stimulate the visual and audible senses. Second, responders like to share information, and this is often done by radio or face-to-face communications. Each interaction is, without passing judgment on how important it may be, an interruption to the receiver’s thought process.

Every time a thought is disrupted by a distraction or interruption, the brain leaves one thought behind to pick up on the new one. When this happens, situational awareness is at risk because the return to the original thought may not be to the exact place where the thought was left. Or, even more dangerous, it’s possible the brain may never come back to the original thought at all, even though that original thought may have involved the performance of a critical safety task.

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

The best way to avoid the impact of distractions and interruptions is to reduce exposure to them. If commanding this incident, this can be accomplished by being physically remote from direct contact to those stimuli that distract and interrupt. This may mean commanding from a short distance away from the action or commanding from within a vehicle. Designate someone to answer phone calls for you if involved in a major critical incident.

Remember a radio transmission is an interruption. Try to avoid having the entire department drawn off task to listen to a radio transmission that may not even pertain to their assignment. And while consideration needs to be given to avoiding tunneled senses it is important to stay focused on the task.  Teach your new rookie police officers and staff to only use the radio when necessary.  This will avoid numerous distractions and interruptions.

Action Items

  1. Describe an incident scene where a distraction impacted your ability to stay focused on your task.
  2. Describe an incident scene where an interruption impacted your ability to stay focused on your task.
  3. What are some tips and tricks you use to control distractions and interruptions while operating on stimulus-rich emergency scenes?
  4. Are your supervisors located remotely or in the thick of the action? What have you observed about their ability to maintain situational awareness based on where they are located?

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]

Assuming or Creating Risk

Assuming or Creating Risk

‘We will risk a lot to save a lot and risk little to save little.’

There are several variations on this saying, including: ‘Great risks will be taken to save savable lives; Moderate risks will be taken to save savable property; and, No risk will be taken to save what is unsavable.’ Risk management is an essential component to the development and maintenance of strong situational awareness. I believe these sayings relate to public safety and other high-risk environments. By its nature, public safety is risky and no catchy phrase is going to make it safer.  But there is a huge difference between assuming the risk and creating the risk.

First, let me say I am completely guilty of confusing assumed risk and created risk.  Here my story:

One afternoon I was working patrol when I heard over the radio a neighboring agency was in pursuit of a motorcycle that had just passed a bunch of cars on the shoulder.  The motorcycle was headed toward our city, and I advised I would assist in the pursuit.  I saw the neighboring agency officer going at a high rate of speed following a high-performance motorcycle.  I swung in behind them and called out that I would be involved in the pursuit and I would call the pursuit on the radio.  Before long I noticed I was way behind my fellow officer and he was taking huge risks that I was not comfortable with (i.e., Heading into oncoming traffic blindly at excessive speeds).  The motorcycle eventually crashed (and the driver survived).  No officers were hurt in the pursuit.  After watching my squad video and debriefing with one of my supervisors I realized that I had created risk in this event and I should have discontinued due to the safety of the public.

I am not judging the officer from the neighboring agency. There are plenty of critics out there who rant from their high perches of judgment, often in non-productive and disrespectful ways. Tuck this lesson away and recall it often: When we’re judging, we cannot be learning. I hope those who read this here will learn and not pass judgment.

Let’s apply the maxim: We will risk a lot to save a lot. Will the risk of pursuing this motorcycle be rewarded with a worthwhile outcome?

Police work is risky, in fact, life in general can be risky. Every police officer knows that. But there is a big difference between assuming the risk and creating the risk by performing tasks in ways that are unsafe or inconsistent with best practices and sometimes we hide behind the testosterone-laden mantra, “We’re cops. That’s what we do!”

I am a police officer with 15+ years of experience. But I also have other obligations (roles) that are important to me. I am a husband, a son, and a brother (both in the biblical and fraternal sense). Maybe I am a selfish person, but as I age, I look at the big picture and analyze if I am creating risk or if the call I’m going on is assumed risk.  If I am creating risk, it’s not worth it.

 

It takes a real hero to stand up for safety, especially if surrounded by others who are consumed by their self-anointed hero status.

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

  1. Acknowledge the risks inherent in the work we do.
  2. Learn everything possible about how people get hurt and killed by reading near-miss and line-of-duty death reports.
  3. Discuss how to manage risk by using best practices.
  4. Ensure the risks being taken are worth the potential reward.
  5. Train on SOMETHING every day. The way to ensure peak performance is to make incremental improvements over time.
  6. Learn from the outcomes. Even when the outcomes are good, ask, “Did our actions make sense? What were the potential risks? What was the reward we were trying to accomplish?

 

Action Items

  1. Describe what your department does to support taking appropriate risks based on rewards.
  2. If your department had a similar experience (e.g., members were creating risk by performing tasks that do not match the conditions) how would you learn from it?
  3. Have you ever found yourself performing tasks that did not justify the risk? Did you stop or did you continue?

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].

 

Hyper Vigilance

Hyper Vigilance

What is hyper vigilance? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Should you have or should you avoid it? So many questions, so little time. Let’s jump in.

Hyper vigilance is a biological response to stress that causes your senses to go on high alert for danger. Your body goes on super alert status because it senses there is danger in the area. The hormones trigger biological changes that increase the acuity of your senses.

Stated another way, hyper vigilance can help your eyes see things that they might not have otherwise seen if you were not under stress. Likewise, hyper vigilance can help your ears hear things that they might not have otherwise heard if you were not under stress. And, for the sake of avoiding the annoyance of being repetitive, suffice it to say that all your senses are equally hyper aroused and on high alert. The stress of an emergency scene leads your brain to think there is danger in the area which makes your thinking (and in some cases your actions) primal.

Primal Goal #1: Survive!

The goal of the body and brain in a stress-induced, hyper aroused state is simple, Survive! What is out there that can kill you? Can you kill it? Can you outrun it? Those are the questions your brain is grappling with and your alert senses will help it make that determination. The human body is well-suited (based on genetic adaptation) to deal with these short-term stressors.

It was that kind of stress your cave-dwelling ancestors dealt with every day. Eat or be eaten. It was a pretty simple existence out there on the Serengeti. There were no worries about 401k plans, bad economies, looming mortgage payments or kids not doing well in school. The stresses of your daily lives are very different and in many ways – far more chronic and for more cumulative. On the upside, you don’t have to worry about a T-rex eating your kids when they leave the house.

So, we’ve established it. Hyper vigilance is a good thing! Well, don’t pop the Champagne corks yet. We’re not done.

The downside of hyper vigilance

Your brain is a wonderment of science, that is for certain. It can do things that no computer can duplicate. But it does have some limitations. One of those limitations is how much information it can take in, process, comprehend and recall at any one time. The question of just how much information that is intrigued the research community and in 1956 a cognitive psychologist at Princeton University named George Miller provided the shocking answer.

 

Seven! The average person can hold about seven pieces of unrelated information in their working (short term) memory, give or take two (for those slightly above and slightly below average performers). Miller’s studies have been robustly confirmed in numerous studies since. Coincidentally, it was the results of Miller’s research that led to the original seven-digit telephone numbering system in the United States.

This is where hyper vigilance can turn ugly in a hurry. Because your senses are hyper aroused, they are taking in more information about your surroundings. If your surroundings are simple and basic (like fighting a saber-toothed tiger in the jungle of the East Savannah (as your cave-dwelling ancestors did), then you didn’t have to worry about your brain getting overwhelmed with information.

But, put that brain on an emergency scene with dozens, maybe even hundreds of pieces of data coming at you and you are on the fast-track for overload. Some of the data is in writing, some audible, most is visual and nearly all of it is changing rapidly. It is easy to get overwhelmed in a hurry.

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

The solution to this problem was uncovered during the research conducted by cognitive psychologist Gary Klein, also known for his discovery of the Recognition-Primed Decision Making Process. Klein’s research involved trying to understand the decision making processes used by public safety commanders. One of the questions to be answered was: How do you make sense of it all? How do you process and comprehend so many clues and cues?

The answer was a stunner and entirely unexpected. The expert-level public safety commanders said they don’t try to process and comprehend all the information. In fact, there is just a small number of critical pieces of information essential for making a good decision. Commanders noted if they tried to comprehend it all, it would be impossible.

So, what should be on the short list for critical information to capture and process? Obviously, the answer would vary for each type of emergency you deal with.

The take-away lesson is:  Stress causes hyper vigilance which increases your acuity. In a complex, fast-paced environment, that can accelerate cognitive overload. Less information, so long as it’s the right information, is your best ally. There are a couple more caveats about the information. The more complex the information, the more likely you are to be overwhelmed. The more detailed the information is, the more likely you are to be confused. And the more unfamiliar the information is, the more time you will need because you have to learn what the information means.

 

Action Items

  1. Pick a type of emergency and detail the 7 (or less) critical pieces of information you think are essential to making a good decision.
  2. What tricks and secrets do you have for managing information in complex environments?
  3. Describe a situation where you realized, maybe even after the fact, that your senses were hyper vigilant and you heard or saw things that you might not have otherwise seen or heard.

 

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].

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].