Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looking at the Big Picture

A recent posting by Chief Ben Waller on the Candle-Moth Syndrome and the reference to Target Fixation brings to light some very important insights related to buildings, occupancies and the risk assessment process. The relationship of target fixation and faulted size-up that ultimately progresses to faulted tactics and the potential for detrimental incident outcomes is typically overlooked and seldom discussed.

Target fixation is a process by which the brain is focused so intently on an observed object that awareness of other obstacles or hazards can diminish. Also, in an avoidance scenario, the observer can become so fixated on the target that the observer will end up colliding with the object.

How many times have you been “drawn” towards a specific tactical sortie, or have disregarded mission critical indicators that were so obvious, after the incident that you wondered what came over you in the heat of the battle? The Candle-Moth Syndrome is just the start of it.

In the realm of building construction, occupancy profiling and risk assessment, company and command officers must strive to develop astute and clear observation skills to quickly scan for key visual indicators that provide validation points on possible inherent building and construction type and systems, looking beyond the obvious at times and quickly processing that data and assumptions into definable strategic plans and tactical assignments-all with the appropriate balance of risk.

The ability to move past target fixation attributes; and the skills to balance presumptive or validated past experience, street level assumptions and intuitive decision-making whether it’s recognition primed decision-making modeling and approach (RPD) or naturalistic decision Making (NDM), scan your operational field broadly and look over your buildings and occupancies with a wider field of vision and beyond. Recognize that some “target fixation” points are very important in the overall processing and assessment of an incident, but are a part of the overall sum of the equating and evolving incident scene.

I’ve spoken about the Predictability of Performance in building construction and occupancies a few times, and the challenge it presents in the context of present day fire suppression operations. Although experience drives a lot, there are times in which past experiences may not be the only recommended force that drives the incident action plan. Be cognizant of the fact that similar building types can perform differently under what may be derived as similar fire conditions. Don’t get caught in target fixation and above all, have an understanding of building construction systems, their correlation to occupancy configurations and ultimately how they perform under fire (conditions). Know your buildings, expand your knowledge, develop your operational skills and enhance your tactical capabilities. It all starts with the structure….at a structure fire.
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