What makes people panic? What makes people lock up under pressure? How can another person, in the exact same situation, perform calmly and under control?
All of us can think back to when we were doing something for the first time. Not knowing what to expect creates a nervousness and anxiety. Depending on the level of risk or consequence, your performance can be significantly affected. Now consider, after ten to twelve repetitions, how your performance improves. You become relaxed and smoother in your response. Professional athletes reach a level called “unconscious competence”. When asked what they were thinking when they sank the three-point shot at the buzzer, they respond “I wasn’t thinking about anything.”
Elite soldiers train constantly, so that when the time comes they can calmly and confidently step off into this air to begin a 30,000 feet free fall toward the earth’s surface.
So how do we apply this to Emergency and Disaster planning. We first must move past the wall of denial and accept that “it could happen here”. Once we accept the possibility, we can then ask, “What if (fill in the blank) happens?” From this question we identify the three or four best alternatives. Then we drill those options, determining what works well and what doesn’t work so well. These drills are the lowest level of training at the end user level. The options must be repeated until they are second nature. These drills do not take long and can be repeated many times. As you progress through the options, the circumstances should be altered so that options two, three and four must be utilized.
Drilling like this leads to exercises that are larger and more complex. Exercise design focuses on primary objectives. Observer/Controllers should be utilized to evaluate those objectives. Over time, after repeating the drills and conducting the exercise, individual decision making will improve because of an increase in knowledge and an increase in experience. Realistic and challenging training creates a “stress inoculation” by telling the brain “I’ve done this before.” So, after creating scenarios that mirror what can happen and drilling in responses, the decision to act occurs faster, easier and smoother. The harder we train and prepare, the easier it becomes.