non-technical skills

Assessment & situational awareness


This page covers how and why we should assess our environment in the remote setting (the same applies to clinical situations too). This is often referred to as situational awareness

Situational awareness has been defined as: "the perception of elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future"

These 3 elements have been described as the three levels of situation awareness:
Perception - this is the level at which most errors occur

An alternative description is:

What has happened?
What is happening?
What is going to happen?

What's the point of SA?

Good outcomes are more likely if we make good decisions
Good decisions are more likley if we have a good understanding of our environment



This is a vast topic, so this section just highlights some of the key issues.

Our sensory organs receive more information than we can handle; there has to be some filtering. We have to take care not to filter out stuff we want. For instance, we are more likley to notice a stimulus that differs a lot from "background" levels than one that is close to background levels. In a noisy environment an audible alarm has to be noiser to be noticed.

Gestalt theory

We, unconsiously, try to make sense of the information received. The diagram below illustrates this. There are no traingle or circles!



see the foot of this page for a comment on this picture

This can be helpful - we can "make sense" of the environment faster and may detect threats more quiclky - or unhelpful - we may add 1 and 1 but get 3. This is linked to the cognitive bias to perceive things we expect to find, and to miss things we do not. The "picture" (gastalt) may be inaccurate and lead to incorrect decision making.
LTEM presentation on assessment:
external image pdf.png
external image pdf.png
assessment ssc.pdf

video demonstrating how poor we are at noticing things we do not expect (inattentional blindness):

Video demonstrating loss of situational awareness.
The US Air pilot recognises there is contradictory information coming to him and does the safe thing: he holds short.

Another aviation example of loss of SA is here

Situational awareness in a team setting

Situational awareness can be vital even whon operating alone (e.g. flying an aircraft alone, hiking alone) but it is also a vital part of effective teamwork. The aim ina team setting is for the whole team to have the same, correct, understanding of the environment - this will allow them to anticipate, and avoid, problems, or to recognise when events do not "fit" and that a change of plan is needed.


Each team member must work at enhancing/maintaining their awareness of their environment & thereby assess it.
This is likely to be done more effectively if the team has been well-briefed - it is helpful to know what the key things to look out for are.
Team members' assessment is derived from using their senses of perception.

Situational awareness

Based on their own assessment of the environment, team members generate their (individual) situational awareness.
Since different team embers may see or hear different things, their situational awareness will not be uniform.

Shared mental model

This is a shared situational awareness produced by individual team members sharing their individual ones.
The shared mental model should help team members cary out their assessment, and thus be continually improving.
If members do not share their individual models, so there is a shared mental model, it is likely their actions will be less effective.


Course on sensation and perception

about the picture
there are 13 faces in the background rocks and foliage - did you see them?
Now you know they are there can you not see them?