Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 31, 2010

Heightening my situational awareness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Lecture points on Situational Awareness (S.A.)

Let’s face it: I’m highly distractible. I tend not to notice what’s going on around me because I am concentrating on something, or my thoughts are intruding, or I am mission-minded. I am an object of amusement to friends who can’t figure out how I could “miss” something or other, or fail to see  ______ (fill in blank), or not notice what so-and-so was wearing, driving or doing.

Today, however, I need to jack up my Situational Awareness a notch or three. I am going back on the river, only this time it’s running at 22,000 cubic feet/second instead of the 12,000 it was last time I was rafting. We’re nearing the peak of snowmelt. The Colorado is full and fast.

Fortunately for me, part of our Basic Technical Rescue training included a lecture on Situational Awareness and I photographed one of the posters with bullet points on it — a handy review! Let’s look at it through Kathryn’s eyes.

1. I am to be suspicious and have “controlled paranoia.” In the class I saw all the instructors watching every detail like hawks, ‘knowing’ that some bumbling student could construct a faulty anchor or mindlessly step where they ought not. On the river I can’t blithely trust that whoever is rowing us through the rapids knows what s/he is doing, or that my PFD will save me from every danger, or that if I am ejected from the raft someone will be able to get to me. I have to be suspicious of everything.

2. Asking “Am I distracted?” is like asking “Am I alive?” — the answer is always, always yes. Whether a solid mindfulness about this will help me is another question. I’ll work on that today. When I’ve been in dangerous climbing places with a companion who says simply, “Stay focused here,” it is very helpful to my scattered brain. I need to train myself to shut out distractions.

3. When my heart rate goes up, my IQ goes down — or at least my ability to make wise, well-considered choices in the moment. Staying calm is of paramount importance. This is a learned ability; I have quite a ways to go.

4. Keep a list of red flags — learn from previous mistakes or triggers, and add to it with every operation or event. It’s no wonder that the seasoned rescuers who have “seen it all” have a much wider repertoire of skills. The old “Remember when…?” is useful when a parallel experience presents itself. Today I’m going to study the water surface and ask my river friends for help interpreting the signs. There will be PLENTY of rafts on the river on Memorial Day and I can learn from watching them go through rapids, too.

5. Trusting my gut is something I ignored until my 40s. It’s a gift to learn the intuitive skills of tuning in to what my innards are saying. Telling others what my impressions are is the next step.

Leave a comment: How’s your Situational Awareness? When do you need it to be most keen? Have you found other things that help you be more tuned in to your surroundings? What distraction-eliminators work for you?


  1. I’m just glad we were able to support you with a training run and obligitory practice swim in the swift waters of the Daily.

    Comment by Ed Oak — May 31, 2010 @ 10:41 pm | Reply

  2. Think of it as dancing. The more you know about dancing in general (rafting/kayaking) the better off you will be, but you then have to know about your present dance partner (river & craft) to have a successful dance. Finally, there is the step you are about to execute (that swirling cavity beside the boulder) that must be analyzed the moments before you enter it and managed split-second-by-split-second while you are in the midst of it.
    And then you do it again and again – and then the dance is finished and you know you have left behind a thoughtful, creative and graceful relationship with a worthy partner.
    I know you are a good dancer, so this should work for you.

    Comment by Leroque — June 1, 2010 @ 8:49 am | Reply

  3. Are you talking about the daily. You know, someone has gone down that stretch on a paco pad! I’m just kidding. Not a big river fan myself ever since we flipped in our duckie with my daughter and her and I ended up under the boat. So your concerns are understandable. Way to really take that training home with you!

    Comment by triciao — June 3, 2010 @ 5:46 pm | Reply

  4. I’m not kidding about the paco pad but I am kidding about giving you a hard time. Oh, no fun hiking this week. Ended up dealing with the reveg contractors out at Sand Dune Arch all week.

    Comment by triciao — June 3, 2010 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

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