As I shake the new team member’s hand, I say, “Hi, my name is Dan…what’s yours?” He replies and with a, “It’s great to meet you and welcome to the team” I turn away and realize I don’t have a clue what this person’s name is. How is it possible that I shook this person’s hand and looked into their eyes as they stated their name and I don’t have a clue? Where was I?

The U.S. Coast Guard defines SA as, “…the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regards to the mission.  More simply, it’s knowing what is going on around you.” are many barriers to this simple focus requirement for team members.  The reason an individual may not be “in the moment” during a mission can be very complex.  It may involve a personal issue, expectations, or lack of clear understanding regarding the mission.  The cause is not as important as the implications for personal and team safety and mission success.

Particularly at initial response, there are chromosomes that exist in the DNA or Double Helix of emergency incidents. The top three chromosomes of an incident, in my mind, are chaos, lack of information, and a certain percentage of the available information will be wrong. These factors are always present to more or less a degree, it is not a maybe.  Knowing this, SA, which is always necessary in emergency response, is critical to first responders.  Any deviation from what we have been told, despite being told like it was gospel, may be validating what we know is actually true…a certain percentage will be wrong.

We use management systems, e.g. the Incident Command System (ICS), to bring order to chaos and to develop incident information, but identifying discrepancies from what we are told requires a high level of SA.  Expectations based upon erroneous information are an obvious and common error.  When discrepancies are discovered, it must be shared with the team and ultimately resolved.  Team safety and mission success are at stake.

Hear, See, and Share…Hi, my name is Dan…what’s yours?

By: Dan Hourihan
Douglas County (NV) Sheriff’s SAR
Past President, MRA