Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 31, 2010

Heightening my situational awareness

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

April 20, 2010

BTR, Day 1: Knots, rappelling, situational awareness

This poor pack was loaded by a complete amateur, who can barely heft it. That is going to change.

I felt like I was trying out for “Survivor.” Heck, my pack weighs more than 1/3 of what I do! Glancing around to size up the other trainees, who were hefting their huge packs with a grace and ease that made me marvel, I resolved that I would NOT be the first one booted from this island.

Every last one of them was Law Enforcement, wilderness fire fighters, Search & Rescue, back-country or river rangers. Only one was Interpretation, and that was me, and that raised eyebrows from some others who asked “How did you pull that off?” Interpretation is historically its own division and gets involved in rescues only after all other avenues have been exhausted. A few folks asked me if I thought my supervisor would support me in getting out there for rescues, to which I responded that I hoped so and would look forward to talking with her about my desires to do just that.

After introductions and a serious safety talk, we were broken into our four training groups for the week. Each has nine students and four instructors. The much-anticipated Knots Test took place right away, and I PASSED with ease. (Many thanks, Ed.) I have a little work to do on my Munter Hitch, but that will be easy to master.

Hitches must be tied to something, so we gather around the litter to practice

Most of us have rappelled before, but some hadn’t, so we set up for that. We had to learn to tie ourselves off in mid-rappel so our hands would be free for rescue tasks.

I was watching the clouds build up as each hour passed; it was a glorious 72-and-sunny day, but in Canyonlands that can change in a flash. As our day wound down, the final hour was to be a lecture on Situational Awareness and factors that can diminish our attention to our environment. The teacher moved the class from clifftop to parking lot because of the threat of weather, and the wind still blasted sand into our eyes and ears and teeth, but it was a great illustration of the importance of not allowing distraction to deter us from our task.

Brandon, our highly capable instructor -- from Grand Canyon

At the close of the day I looked around with satisfaction and gratitude. One down, four to go. The leader had promised us that the first day would start off easy, but as the week progressed we would be increasingly challenged. I know I have to take things one day at a time, and have my nose in the manual every evening. Final test Friday is open book, so I don’t have to memorize kiloNewtons and breaking strengths, but I sure do have to work hard to know what I am doing.

(Continued in next post)

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