The truth is, most people are not able to operate effectively in a crisis, at least not without some significant prior experiential training.
The secret to reacting well in a crisis – you’ve done it before and know what to expect.
Having experienced a similar situation before allows you to speed up the mental imaging of what comes next. It allows you to have access to a preconceived solution. It gives you the tools to meet the challenge at your fingertips. So, it stands to reason that participating in realistic training, exposing you to the possible decisions or events you may need to deal with, is a fantastic use of your time.
BUT – What if it’s a completely new situation?
The worse thing you can do in any circumstance is let your inaction become your action. It’s a terrible feeling finding yourself flat footed, without a plan and unable to make a coherent decision. However, if you are empowered with two simple tools, you can speed up your reaction time and be more efficient in your application to a problem.
OODA Loop – designed by the US Air Force Colonel John Boyd, for pilots operating in the Korean War, the OODA loop has been the go to tool for the military for decades. The main theme is to complete the OODA loop cycle faster than the enemy.
It is predicated on the actions of Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act.
“In order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries–or, better yet, get inside [the] adversary’s Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action time cycle or loop. … Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries–since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns they are competing against.” – John Boyd
Even just saying these steps out loud can help you to orientate yourself towards the problem and speed up your reaction times.
At, At, What, What, What
The next tool is a simple communicative strategy first used by Panzer commanders in the Second World War. The power of this tool lay in its simplicity and speed of delivery. It was also one of a number of reasons as to the success of the Blitzkrieg. Communicative brevity without human nature and waffle.
At – This time (give a time of the event that has taken place)
At – This place (Give a grid reference, address or other location format of the event)
What – What has happened (Give an outline of the event that took place)
What – What is happening now, or what you are doing (Give a description of current actions taking place)
What – What I need, or what I need to happen (Give a detailed description of what resources or actions are required to fix the situation or assist in the situation).
Military context would look something like this –
At 101430ZOCT18, at Grid 4564 2343, the lead vehicle of Yankee Platoon struck an IED, no casualties, however the vehicle is non-combat effective and on fire. Platoon is conducting salvage of mission essential equipment and has adopted a defensive posture. I require an airstrike to destroy the vehicle in place prior to 110600ZOCT18.
Civilian Context –
At 2:30 this afternoon, at 22 Jersey Road in Liverpool I watched a car crash into a tree. There are two people injured at the scene. I have given them first aid and they are now sitting on the grass. I require an ambulance and a fire truck will be needed also as there is a lot fuel spilt on the road.
Triage of stimulus.
Think of the brain as a simple engineering system which has to function within the real-time constrain of the natural world. Under normal conditions the brain is both rapid and reliable, but during a crisis it can be overwhelmed. Every brain has an upper tolerance to a certain level of incoming stimuli. The trick, during a crisis, is to identify the stimulus that is of no consequence. You need to actively control your brain to switch off to the white noise (perhaps it’s the screams of the injured, perhaps it’s people running all around you, maybe it’s your own non life-threatening injuries). Triage the stimulus so that you are paying attention to the threat, or the real situation. It’s not uncommon for people to be killed focusing on an immediate and overwhelming issue, right in front of their face, when they should have been thinking about the threat.
The brain receives information from the surrounding environment in the form of energy waves. These waves are converted into nerve impulses by transducers such as eyes, ears, smell and taste buds, pressure receptors, touch receptors etc.. which pass the information to the brain through their separate and dedicated channels. The brain then integrates this information to construct a model of the environment and the individual then responds to this model.
The operational component of the brain is not infinite. In fact, it is limited twice: it is limited in its storage capacity, in other words, the brain can hold only so much operational information at a given time and it is limited in its processing capacity, the brain can process information at a given maximum rate and no faster. Both these capacities can be exceeded but only by trade-offs elsewhere in the brain’s function…
All of these concepts I have tested throughout my Special Forces career. I know that if you can triage the stimulus manually, approach a crisis using the OODA Loop framework and then report what you see with brevity (using At, At, What, What, What) you will respond faster and more efficiently in a crisis.