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On Wednesday we were joined by Rick London, Police Line Training Captain and Human Factors manager for the National Police Air Service. Rick is also chair of the CAA’s ‘Flight Crew Human Factors Advisory Panel’.

The webinar focused on research into decision making and the dynamic nature of it. Rick’s research was centred around Gary Klein’s ‘Recognition primed Decision’ making model and elaborated on the thought process behind ‘How do we make rapid decisions?’

Firstly, what do the experts do?

The ‘experts’ would often see if the situation was familiar, imagine a course of action and usually look for the first workable solution. They don’t tend to generate lots of option, and instead usually run options one at a time, rarely comparing them with the notion of being poised to act rather than paralysed by all options available.

Working in the Police Force, and understanding policing has a ‘moral endeavour’, Rick wanted to assess the impact of this on decision making, and therefore tasked a sample of police helicopter pilots with three different scenarios and compared their individual responses.

The Scenarios.

Using three different scenarios, Rick gave all participants one minute to assess each situation, whilst slowly building up their situational awareness.

Scenario one involved a routine search for a missing person, however in this case it was a suicidal individual. On the south coast of England, the pilots were tasked to work with the RNLI to scour the coastline and locate the person. Fuel and weather were ok, and they believed to have made a sighting. However, Rick increased the tension somewhat by making this routine task suddenly escalate…

He gave the crew an ‘Engine fault message’ on the CAD. On a particularly reliable aircraft, this was very uncommon. The crew then suddenly had to come to a quick decision on what to do…

Rick asked questions; What are you currently thinking about? What options are you considering? What options have you discounted if any? How do you rate the current threat to the crew and scenario in general?

Scenario two was similar involving a missing 12-year-old child in cold mountainous terrain. Do they try to land on the difficult terrain? Do they land somewhere easier close by? Do they report where he is and leave?

Finally, scenario three was based around someone stranded in the water at a local Swansea seaside town in the height of the summer holidays.

What were the findings?

In all three scenarios, Rick found that personal ethics and background played a large factor in how the pilots managed the various risks each scenario presented. For example, in scenario two recency played a large factor. Those who had recently undertaken snow training were far more inclined to ‘land on’ than those who hadn’t. Also, parents with young children were affected by the age of the missing person, it pulled on their heart strings.

The pilots each seemed to carry out a personal risk assessment for the scenario and the aircraft and this established “We are a sum of all our life experiences, stories heard, points in our careers and family.”

Another interesting finding from this investigation was that 45.1% of all decisions made rested on a consideration that limited that decision. For example, in scenario three one commented ‘I don’t want to see someone drowning in-front of me’. Therefore, constantly in the back of their mind there was an underlying factor that could cause an immediate response if this suddenly changed.

All this led Rick to refer back to Gary’s RPD model and simplify it. In short when assessing ‘Will it Work?’ in terms of your decision and the answer is ‘Yes, but’, you need to modify. If instead the answer is just ‘Yes’ then implement.

On a more personal note, Rick learnt from this experience also. He learnt to ‘define the threat’ as it runs the schema in the background. Similarly, if there is a parameter then say it out loud! It forms a verbal contract with yourself but also empowers your crew to challenge if you get task focused. This is great to practice and take back into our return to commercial operations. It maintains the shared mental model, essential in a multi-crew environment

The end of the webinar led to questions with participants asking, ‘How do we account for emotions in our briefings?' In response, Rick reasoned you have to ask yourself questions like ‘Would I do this if it was foggy?’. If you think of it in a safety conscious manner and not from a personal ‘moral endeavour’ standpoint then it’s far easier to assess the situation without bias. For example, sometimes air ambulance pilots aren’t told the full scenario until they’ve made the decision to go or not.

Look at fuel, options, weather, fitness (IMSAFE), have you briefed enough? The importance of briefing was highly emphasised, and how this was crucial to our risk management assessment.

A ‘Dynamic risk Assessment’ procedure used in police operations was another great learning point from this webinar. Before landing in an unfamiliar scenario, the crew are to perform a risk assessment using a score matrix of low, medium or high in order to inform decision making.

In summary…

Many of the pilots with a commercial background were in awe of Rick’s abilities to make tough ‘dynamic’ decisions in a short period of time. They expressed how the commercial world was ‘far easier’. Yet, as Rick confirmed, you have pressures all the same. Of course, you’re not going to be sat contemplating whether to land on the side of a mountain in snow or pressured by the timeframe of a missing individual. Instead, you have company and commercial pressures that will also greatly affect your decision making. Hundreds of passengers sat behind you wanting to reach their destination on time, a company with large financial pressures, a sick passenger onboard…

All of this needs to be considered and greatly affects the decision-making process, just like that in a police helicopter. A useful tip Rick gave was to constantly ask yourself ‘what’s changed?’ With this notion your SA is always up to date, and you’re ready to implement your plan.

In the current climate, when many are on the ground, decision making isn’t centred around the cockpit. However, you can practice these ‘dynamic’ tools in your current daily lives. It’s important to rehearse scenarios, options, and decision-making tools to build ‘resilience’. You need to be ready to use these frameworks when next sat in a holding pattern, on minimum fuel to decide your course of action.

This webinar is now live on our website to watch on demand here.

Evie is an (f)ATPL holder and ‘Marketing and Communications Assistant’ at Resilient Pilot. Explore the rest of our website to meet the whole team, connect with a mentor, or utilise our vast range of resources to help you stay Supported, Current and Connected.

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