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].

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]

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].

Know Your Equipment

Know Your Equipment

I’ll never forget the day I was issued the newest Electronic Control Weapon (ECW), commonly referred to as a Taser.  As a department we were all very excited, yet, nervous to see the ECW’s and we were ready to test them out on training day.  ECW’s are a critical piece of equipment that allows law enforcement to use a less lethal means of subduing a non-compliant suspect.  We were all very comfortable with our previous ECW. We knew this one was different and would take more training.  Most police officers are not the biggest fans of change, especially when it comes to learning how to use a new tool that is more complicated than what we are used to.

The old model ECW was simple, turn it on, point, and pull the trigger.  This would release the top dart exactly where the laser was pointing, and the other dart would deploy in a downward angle. The distance between the darts would be larger as the target got farther away. If the suspect was non-compliant after being hit with the darts, we could simply pull the trigger on the ECW again and the suspect would get another electric pulse.

The new model had two cartridges and when you pulled the trigger the first time it would deploy just like the old model.  However, the second dart would not deploy until you pulled the trigger again. We were not used to this and it confused a lot of officers.

To prevent a second deployment from happening, an officer would have to deploy the first round and then hit a black button on the side of the ECW to give the suspect another jolt. If the officer accidentally pulled the trigger again, a second round of darts would go flying wherever the ECW was pointed.  This made many officers very nervous because we knew under stress this would be very difficult to remember.  In a controlled environment we were able to operate the ECW just fine. But under extreme stress, we suspected officers might revert to the old way of training and would pull the trigger a second time, causing more darts to fire. If that happened, we knew it could possibly lead to a use of force issue or we could end up shooting our own partner.

KEY TAKEAWAY: 

Situational awareness requires a conscious effort to capture the clues and cues (i.e., information) in an often-chaotic environment.  When police officers have to focus so much cognitive energy on how to operate their equipment, their situational awareness will be impacted. New equipment should be used a lot in training to help develop muscle memory.  Under stress, officers often revert back to previous training. If officers are using new equipment, but haven’t trained well with it, they may end up using it incorrectly in hostile, highly stressful, situations.  There is too much risk for an officer to wait until they are in the middle of a dangerous rapidly evolving situation to learn this lesson.

Everyday life: 

Think of the time when you bought a new power tool.  Did it have new or different safety features you weren’t comfortable with?  Did you take time to practice with it and familiarize yourself with its use?  What would you do if you were in a stressful situation or if fatigue set in?  Invest the time to ensure you are comfortable with how your new equipment works, especially equipment that operates differently than equipment you are well-practiced with.

Discussion:

  • Discuss the process a department should use to ensure members are familiar with new equipment before it is placed into service.
  • Discuss a time when you made a mistake operating equipment in a high stress situation.
  • Discuss what steps should be taken if an officer observes their partner make a mistake while using equipment in a high-stress situation.

Drew Moldenhauer

 

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 Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in 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.