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]hGasaway.com.

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].