What comes with us to an Incident?

Dec 05, 2022

The Driving Series - Part 1

A long time ago, I was learning to teach emergency driving to first responders. On the first day, the chief instructor asked each of the instructors-to-be to rate how safe a driver they were on a scale of 1-10. We rolled our eyes and scored ourselves around 7 on the 10 point scale (with 10 being the safest). Of course we were safe drivers! The chief instructor then gave us a quiz. It asked us how often we drove, how much we drove over a year, whether we could choose not to drive in adverse conditions (e.g. rain, fog etc.), how often we drove at times when we'd usually be sleeping (i.e. shiftwork) and so on. The quiz gave us a score and we were told to subtract that number from 10. This was our new safe driving score - no one scored over a 3. The light bulb moment? Not one of the questions dealt with our individual driving skills, ability, or experience. These were all external factors that we brought to the driver's seat before we ever put the key in the ignition.


Then, we moved on to how much of a gap to leave between two vehicles driving in the same direction. We looked at the physics of how far it takes a vehicle to stop when travelling at different speeds. Because it's hard to judge distance when travelling at speed, we talked about the gap in time. For example, watch the car in front pass a fixed object and count. One thousand, two thousand… you have a two second gap. We took the minimum stopping distance in seconds and added human reaction time. Now you have a safe stopping distance under ideal conditions. Being intrepid incident managers, we know that ideal conditions almost never exist. For every less-than-ideal factor, add one second to your reaction time. Raining? One second. Tired? One second. Responding to an emergency? One second. It didn't take long to have a total that meant that you had large gaps between you and other vehicles if you wanted to be able to stop in a hurry.


Now you get handed the (metaphorical) keys to an incident. You’re going to drive this incident from business cycle objective A to business cycle objective B, under emergency conditions. You need to do this safely (you’re not allowed to do burn outs in an emergency vehicle, even with the flashing lights) and you need to be functional at the destination.


Before the incident begins, what are the less-than-ideal factors that you need to consider?


·      Complex incidents are unusual. This is not a normal workday.

·      Incidents are inherently stressful.

·      Incidents rarely happen in nice weather during normal working hours.

·      An incident team is not in a bubble. Their family/ friends/ colleagues could be impacted.

·      How long has everyone been working?


These factors and many more impact our decision making and increase the probability of making a mistake. Trying to plan how long something will take? Add 10% for each less-than-ideal factor. Making a high stakes decision? Add another check/balance layer for each factor. Wondering how long to set your business cycles? Subtract an hour for each factor. This isn’t a prescription or an exhaustive list, it will change depending on the nature of the incident and your organization.


Remember, this is before we even account for the energetic and visionary leadership that you bring to the table (and no, you don't get to add points for being great). Safe, effective incident management means that we need to acknowledge what we are bringing with us before we ever turn the key in the ignition.

Stay tuned for Part 2....