Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Situational Awareness in Mountain Rescue Operations Stage 1 - Perception of the Relevant Information

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”  Observation is the key to perception.  

In this first step of situational awareness, we are looking for clues.  These clues can come in many forms, including: 
• Sensory clues - something you see, hear, smell, touch; 
• Anticipated clues - something that comes from prior experience; and 
• Innate clues – something you just “feel in your gut.” 

In conventional search missions, for example, rescuers are looking for CLUES more than they are looking for the missing subject.  Why?  Simply because there are far more clues than there are missing subjects, and by finding and following clues, one can find the missing subject much more quickly. 

The first stage of situational awareness – perception – is arguably the most important stage.  After all, without perception of information, one cannot really comprehend, interpret and draw conclusions. Many accidents in search and rescue operations result from a series of different things happening.  There are often a number of contributing factors that, if occurring individually, might not have resulted in an accident.  Break any rescue accident down, and you will often find that there were a number of elements that came together to make that accident possible. 

In this important perception stage of Situational Awareness, rescuers need to be very attentive – not only to the occurrence of situations that are beyond their expectations, but to the frequency and number of those situations. This perception stage requires that you OBSERVE!  In order to be an effective observer, one must remain attentive.  This can be one of the greatest challenges to a search and rescue professional, as periods of  inactivity and boredom can hamper one’s ability to be an effective observer. Similarly, searchers and/or rescuers who are overworked might not be able to observe the environment around them.  This too can be a serious detriment to one’s ability to be an effective observer. 

Stay tuned to our blog for the continuation of our discussion on Situational Awareness with Stage 2 Comprehension and Interpretation of the Relevant Information.

For more information on situational awareness in mountain rescue operations
, check out the Mountain Rescue Associations public education programs @

Courage - Commitment - Compassion
     Mountain Rescue Association 

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