Training Opportunity

Situational Awareness and Risk Exposure Training Concepts 

by Douglas S. Hansen

Like many things, training and the subject matter have come a long ways in the past few years.  Employers are learning it makes good sense to invest in training, especially Safety Training.

Studies have shown that there is an Return On Investment (ROI) of  $4 up to $39 for every $1 a company invests.  It improves morale, team continuity, not to mention, “it helps keep OSHA satisfied.” 

This is advanced training it is the base layer for safety in general, but it is by no means, “common or basic.”  Situational  Awareness is one of those catch phrases people use.  Kind of like the word “synergy,” many people use these words, but it is much more than a simple word or phrase. 

This training prevents accidents and saves lives.

“Situational Awareness (SA) and Risk Exposure Training” is the foundation of high-performance and safety.    It is an essential part of anyone’s training.  It is especially important for those people who are involved in high-risk activities.

A page like this can’t hope to communicate the full concept or train anyone in Situational Awareness or Risk Exposure Evaluation.  But it can add to a person’s knowledge about Situational Awareness and may help prevent accidents.  It also helps to convey why military personnel, public safety officers, EMS Personnel, and other Professionals who work in life and death activities; stay strive to stay “Situational Alert.(SA)”

When a person is unable to properly evaluate the risks associated with a given activity it creates two negative situations:  Overconfidence associated with a safety hazard, or Under-confidence.  Everybody knows the consequences of “Overconfidence.”  It creates incidents and lost-time accidents.  

But many are unaware of how Under-Confidence creates accidents too, plus productivity goes down – they do not move effectively without confidence.   Instead of focusing on the details of the job, they are overly concerned about being injured or making a mistake. 

If we disregard the personal injuries and just look at the monetary side of things, ” the average cost to a company for a losttime workplace injury is $7,500 — per Lost-Time Accident.  – Superior Glove:   “companies that participated an OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program saved a combined amount of approximately $130,000,000 in a single year!”

Teaching the concept of SA and then training someone to employ the skills is the objective.  I can share ideas, but training is an important part of teaching process associated with SA. 

In life, and especially the workplace, there are many things going on around us, all of the time.  Now, if we are trying to “multitask” (*which happens to be a myth) we are not aware of things around.  There are skills that help “program” our minds to be more aware.  Here’s an example: a lady is walking down the sidewalk, oblivious to what is going on around her.  The consequences are 


For example, The little red dots are all the various inputs our brain is receiving at each and every moment in time.  During this training, I explain how the mind handles and prioritizes what it brings to our attention.  Which is good, but more importantly, I train the participant in skills to help protect them from these kinds of consequences.

Since there are so many of these things going on around us all of the time, nature has given a process to help manage them.  We might go nuts, without this process to manage this input.  “We would not know which things are important” and in need of further attention, or which ones were just background noise that we could ignore.

The process is called sensory gating.  It mediates the various input with a network in the brain which involves the reticular process or formation, which involves the auditory cortex prefrontal. There are other areas of the brain associated with sensory gating too.  They include the amygdala, striatum, medial prefrontal cortex, and midbrain dopamine cell region (GABAergic neurons only) – “just in case you are into the details.”

Natural Rock Fall is a hazard that we have mitigated.  This is “Spring Cleaning,” removing accumulated rockfall, getting ready for summer visitors at Timpanogos Cave National Monument. After we installed this special system the Park Designed, we trained Cave Maintenance Professionals how-to focus on work, yet notice sights, sounds, smells, and other things that warn them about possible rock fall.    We have moved the retractable rock fall net out of the way. After spring cleaning is done, we pull the rockfall drape across the chute.  It is retractable to prevent winter avalanches from destroying it.

The important part is understanding the process and how to manage or train it to filter out unimportant things (input); yet pick up on the critical (input) sounds, sights, smells,  vibrations, etc. . . . so we can use them to our advantage.  Once our sensory gating system picks up on a critical input it hands it off to other processes.  kind-of like the bigger more focused bull’s eye(s) on the target example above.

We either file the information away for future use, like remembering where there is a slippery spot on the floor or a low beam in a doorway which we need to duck down as we go under it, or . . .  Training our mind to recognize which ones need an immediate autonomic action, and which ones to hold on the edge ready for immediate use, or know which ones can be filed away as a heightened area of interest, is also part of the Situational Awareness process.

With training, I help you learn how to prioritize things, that may need to be used as an autonomic action.  For example, if someone going to punch us in the nose.  Many would duck or block it, without thinking consciously about it; and maybe even counter punch.     If it is deemed a heightened focus item, our mind considers it momentarily and determines how serious of a threat it is. Then either dismisses it, or moves it to the action phase.

At any moment in time, we are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of small cues.  A skilled master is very aware of them, and and has learned to understand the associated potential threats.   

“We do not do what we know, we do what we have learned”

The average person is not very aware of these and rarely has any preplanned sequences ready to deal with the potential threats.

In situational awareness training, I teach you how to recognize these cues, and how to set your sensory gating process to filter out the unimportant ones, and how to set it so you act upon the important ones.  Becoming a situational awareness master has saved my tail many, many times. 

Here’s an example;

We had just finished a day of climbing in the hot sun.  Waiting at the base of the granite cliffs was an ice-cold stream, which we often jumped into, to cool and refresh ourselves.  The stream had actually carved a slide down through the granite, that dumped the water into a pool; then continues down the mountain.

Well, I jumped in, slid down the slide, and splashed into the pool at the bottom.  From there I swam over to the side.  This day there were other people enjoying the stream as well.  They happen to be congregated around the place I usually used to climb back up to return to the beginning of the slide, so I decided to exit by climbing up a big boulder that bordered the stream.

It was rather slippery, but I figured I could climb up and over it to the trail on the other side.  I was just about on top of it, which was about eight feet above the stream.  Then I started to slip.  The next thing I knew I was airborne and falling towards a big boulder  just below the surface of the water.  “Oh . . .”

What saved my tail was that, while I was climbing up the boulder, my mind had noticed the large boulder; about a foot or so under the surface.  As I was I was falling towards it, I reacted  with little or no thought.   Responses are much too slow, actions like this must be mentally trained into a reaction.  “I did all I could to flatten my body, so that when I hit the water I would do a major back “flop” on the surface of the water.   

I did that to prevent me from penetrating deep into the water, and hitting the boulder.  Had I landed standing up, on my side, or worst yet, head first, I would have been in serious trouble.  It worked well, my back was red and stinging from slapping against the water, but it prevented me from hitting the boulder. 

Part of situational awareness training is learning to avoid the consequences of events like that; and learning how to minimize the consequences, if the undesirable event occurs.  In this case, even if I had hit the boulder, my flattening out on the water surface would have reduced the force, of hitting the boulder, thus helping prevent serious injury.  In this case, I did not hit it.

I remember noting the fact that there was a boulder just below the surface of the water, as I started to climb up, and I made a small mental preplan to flatten out in the event of a fall.  Once I slipped my brain put 2 + 2 together and gave me a solution to minimize the negative effect of the fall.  Sometimes, I have made a second grab for a handhold or made another swing with my ice axe as I was starting to fall.  Doing so prevented a fall, or turned the situation into a save.

Below is a Risk Exposure Matrix I use for training personnel how to evaluate their risk exposure.

A system I have designed for risk assessment. It makes figuring out the question, “Is it safe?” more tangible.  

I publish these pages as my contribution to a better today and better tomorrow.   Of course, I would be thrilled if you choose me to help fill your training requirements and needs.   I also do verbal visit/walk through consultation, and formal in-depth consultation; and along with speciality projects.