Crisis Training – The best time to learn is not what you think.

Right now you may be thinking of the old phrase “trial by fire.”  You may even concur with the notion that nothing teaches you to fight better than the fight itself.  This train of logic has barrelled down the information track for decades, but science and better yet real results tell us something much different.  The best time to train for a crisis is before the crisis.

Listen in to the Risk Control Show as we discuss Crisis Training in detail.

How learning takes hold

In his excellent book, psycho-cybernetics (pick up a copy below if you haven’t read it), Max details the learning process for people in states of fear and emergencies.  Stress is a killer, literally and figuratively.  Being under high levels of stress and trying to retain information doesn’t work.  Sure, you can succeed and accomplish tasks, such as getting out of a burning building, saving someone or putting out fires.  However, the next time you go to do the same function, your “trial by fire” training won’t have helped at all.  So much so, that you will be starting all over again, learning from the beginning.

The findings of numerous tests of people with varying cognitive abilities show that it takes roughly six trials (6 runs at the course) to learn the life-saving skills when not in crisis.  That’s six bites at the apple in a stress-free training environment.  Take that same course, people with varying cognitive abilities and put them in a crisis.  Now it takes more than 23 trials to learn the same life-saving skills.  The only difference is that the 23 trial group will do no better on a new course because the skills didn’t set in.  It’s kind of like accidentally winning at chess – or as the old saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.

Why does your emergency planning stink

If you are not getting the results that you want, not only in emergency planning but in all aspects of work, the answer is just the right kind of training.  Wagers aside, your agency most likely does training just like every other agency – hurry up and hurry it up.  It is no way to become learned.  Ask yourself, when where you hired and when did you receive emergency planning training?  What was it like?  Was it during a drill or in a classroom?  Again, wagers aside, I would hazard a guess that it was during the first fire drill of the year.  Let us know in the comments below.

Two years to perfection

In 2004, I took the reins from a seasoned risk management professional who had just one task.  That task was to build an emergency plan, train all the staff and make them functional.  I arrived and quickly learned that the only copy of the program was behind a locked door in the Super’s office.  Bad idea.

So, I went to work.  I made copies of the plan – more than 100 90-page documents and handed them out to every staff member.  Next, I told them to read it and come to our first training in 3 weeks.  They showed up.  I asked.  How many of you read the plan?  The answer was not good.  Only one person, so I sent them on their way.  Read it.  We will hold this same training in 2 days.  Again, I sent them home.  Read it.  Three more days passed.  As they say, third time is the charm.  Finally, everyone read it.

We spent the next two months going over every detail of the plan.  We talked about roles, determined what we needed for tools, and role-played in our minds and at the tables.  The first actual training was simple.  Get everyone out and accounted for. Easy and a win for everyone.  The next six months we started building and training only on each teams tasks.  Win, win, win, win.

Why it worked

At the end of two years, and training every month, I could put this team up against any organization out there and I would guarantee they would save your life.  Why because through successes and training in stress-free environments they learned the skills.  They understood the roles, responsibilities and tasks that must be performed and they could apply those skills to other areas.  It was ingrained in their minds. They learned a valuable ability – improvise, overcome and adapt.  Not to mention teamwork.

This team was so impressive that they were written about in the newspapers and ultimately asked to the Governor’s Conference held in Hawaii as well as FEMA’s National Training Center to talk about their planning process, skill building, and team building training.

What should you do now

Think long and hard about your training programs.  Having trouble with forklift accidents?  Why?  Have you sat down and trained your staff?  Have you gone beyond hurry up and hurry it up?  Have you allocated a real budget?  Have you assigned enough time?  Sit down and create that stress-free environment and you will be amazed at the results.


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