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This briefing note presents a definition of situational awareness. It explains the complex process of maintaining situational awareness, focuses on how it is lost and proposes prevention and recovery strategies.
This briefing note is intended to help the reader gain and maintain situational awareness, to prevent falling into the traps associated with its loss and to avoid the negative effects of its loss on flight safety.
A widely accepted definition of individual situational awareness comes from Endsley (1988) :
|Situational awareness is
The Aircrew Incident Reporting Scheme (AIRS) model in Figure 1 illustrates the most common factors that determine a pilot’s situational awareness. As developed by Airbus and British Airways, AIRS contains various personal, informational, environmental and organizational influences that affect crew actions and, in turn, can be affected by how the crew performs.
Figure 1: Elements of Situational Awareness
The main components of situational awareness are:
Situational awareness is not just a theoretical notion. It is pertinent to most accidents or incidents, it is real, and its absence causes accidents. Research from The Australian Transportation Safety Board (ATSB) indicates that human factors are a contributing cause in around 70 percent of all incidents and accidents. Approximately 85 percent of incident reports include a mention of loss of situational awareness. Degraded situational awareness can lead to inadequate decision making and mistakes. This is illustrated in Table 1, which identifies causal factors in approach and landing accidents identified in the Approach and Landing Accident Reduction (ALAR) Toolkit.
Table 1. Causal Factors in Approach and Landing Accidents
|Factor||% of Events|
|Inadequate decision making||74%|
|Omission of action or inappropriate action||72%|
|Non-adherence to criteria for stabilized approach||66%|
|Inadequate crew coordination, cross-check and back-up||63%|
|Insufficient horizontal or vertical Situational Awareness||52%|
|Inadequate or insufficient understanding of prevailing conditions||48%|
|Slow or delayed action||45%|
|Flight handling difficulties||45%|
|Deliberate non-adherence to procedures||40%|
|Incorrect or incomplete pilot/controller communication||33%|
|Interaction with automation||20%|
4 Issues and Factors Involved
Gaining and Maintaining Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is having an accurate understanding of what is happening around you and what is likely to happen in the near future. As shown in Figure 2, Endsley’s definition suggests that situational awareness includes three processes:
Figure 2: Gaining and Maintaining Situational Awareness
To build a mental model of the environment, it is necessary to gather sufficient and useful data by using our senses of vision, hearing and touch to scan the environment. We must direct our attention to the most important aspects of our surroundings and then compare what we sense with the experiences and knowledge in our memory. It is an active process and requires significant discipline, as well as knowing what to look for, when to look for it and why.
Our understanding is built by combining observations from the real world with knowledge and experience recalled from memory. If we successfully match observations with knowledge and experience, as shown in Figure 3, we have developed an accurate mental model of our environment. This mental model has to be kept updated with inputs from the real world by paying attention to a wide range of information.
Figure 3: Understanding the Situation by Matching Mental Model and Real World
Our understanding enables us to think ahead and project the future state of our environment. This step is crucial in the pilot’s decision-making process and requires that our understanding, based on careful data gathering, be as accurate as possible.
Situational Awareness and the Decision-Making Process
Situational awareness is strongly related to the decision-making process. Figure 4 shows a simple model of the tight coupling between situational awareness and decision making. Situational awareness must precede decision making because the operator has to perceive a situation in order to have a goal.
Figure 4: Situational Awareness and Decision Making
The Decision-Making Loop
Our actions are driven by goals. To help us act to achieve our goals, we use our mental models to anticipate the outcome of our action. This can be thought of as feedforward.
The more we anticipate accurately, the more efficient we become in our tasks, the more energy we save, and the more we can preserve resources for unexpected situations. Conversely, by comparing the results of our actions with set goals, we can modify our actions or, if necessary, our goals. This feedback is vital to the success of the process.
Feedback and anticipation help keep our mental picture of the world aligned with the real world.
A major loss of situational awareness occurs when inappropriate mental representations are activated in spite of real world evidence. People then act “in the wrong scene,” and seek cues confirming their expectations, a behavior known as confirmation bias.
In other words, situational awareness influences our decision making and allows us to stay ahead of the aircraft:
5 Losing Situational Awareness and How to Deal With It
Many factors can cause a loss of situational awareness. Errors can occur at each level of the process previously described. Table 2 lists a series of factors related to loss of situational awareness, conditions contributing to these errors and guidelines to prevent them. Refer to the Situational Awareness Quick Reference and Reminder for a more exhaustive list of best practices, prevention strategies and lines of defense. Accident and incident reports provide a good basis for determining the relative effect of the various factors on situational awareness.
Table 2. Factors involved in Loss of Situational Awareness
|Level 1: Perception|
Confirmation bias: Information is misperceived. Expecting to observe something and focusing our attention on this belief can cause you see what you expect rather than what is actually happening.
|Level 2 and 3: Understanding and Thinking ahead|
6 Key Points
7 Associated OGHFA Material
The following OGHFA material should be reviewed along with the above information:
Situational Awareness: Loss of situational awareness is a factor in many of the situational examples listed. The following are a few of those relevant to this subject:
8 Additional Reading Material and Websites References
8.1 Additional Reading Material
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