Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It’s more than just Size-Up; Situational Awareness and Dynamic Risk Assessment

Dynamic Risk Assessment is commonly used to describe a process of risk assessment being carried out in a changing or evolving environment, where what is being assessed is developing as the process itself is being undertaken. This is further problematical for the Incident Commander when confronted with competing or conflicting incident priorities, demands or distractions before a complete appreciation of all mission critical or essential information and data has been obtained. The dynamic management of risk is all about effective, informed and decisive decision making during all phases of an incident.

Situation Awareness, [SA], is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future. It is also a field of study concerned with perception of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic situations and incidents. Both the 2006 and 2007 Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System Annual Reports identified a lack of situational awareness as the highest contributing factor to near misses reported.

Situation Awareness (SA) involves being aware of what is happening around you at an incident to understand how information, events, and your own actions will impact operational goals and incident objectives, both now and in the near future. Lacking SA or having inadequate SA has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error (Hartel, Smith, & Prince, 1991) (Nullmeyer, Stella, Montijo, & Harden, 2005). Situation Awareness becomes especially important in work related domains where the information flow can be quite high and poor decisions can lead to serious consequences.

To the Incident commander, Fire Officer or firefighter, knowing what’s going on around you, and understanding the consequences is mission critical to incident stabilization and mitigation and profoundly crucial in terms of personnel safety. The integration of Situational Awareness and Dynamic Risk Assessment is a mission critical element in strategic incident command management and company level tactical operations as we go forward into the next decade. Traditional incident scene size-up is antiquated and no longer appropriate or applicable to modern fire service operations.

Situational awareness is a combination of attitudes, previously learned knowledge and new information gained from the incident scene and environment that enables the strategic commanders, decision-makers and tactical companies to gather the information they need to make effective decisions that will keep their firefighters and resources out of harm's way, reducing the likelihood of adverse or detrimental effects.

According to a 1998 published Tri Data study report, "Situational Awareness is one of the most difficult skills to master and is a weakness in the fire community. The report goes on to state that "The culture must change so that [personnel] are observing, thinking, and discussing the situation constantly.” It’s all about implementing effective human performance tools; perceptions versus reality, expectations versus realization, comprehension and forecasting, informed decision-making and calculated and formulated risk.
It’s a whole lot more than just “Size-Up”. What do you think?
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