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The Armadillo Effect: Art of Foreseeability

The Armadillo Effect: Art of Foreseeability

by: Thomas D. Kuglin Jr.


            Have you ever wondered how Armadillos are always seen dead on the side or the middle of the road? Have you wondered how a squirrel jukes back and forth in the roadway when a vehicle approaches sometimes making it across and sometimes not? Have you wondered how an Eagle is able to soar high above and a precisely locate their prey? These questions have a direct correlation to situational awareness. Exploring these offer a microcosm of the progression of developing situational awareness. Developing situational awareness comes from experience, training, and the ability to recognize and identify clues. The references only offer a perspective as it relates to a realistic parallel and analogy between these questions and situational awareness.

            Situational awareness is the perception of environmental elements and events with the respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and projection of their status after some change in variables. Situational awareness involves being aware of what is happening in the environment to understand how information, events, and one's own actions will impact goals and objectives, both immediately and in the foreseeable future. One with an adept sense of situational awareness generally has a high degree of knowledge, an intuitive feel for situations, people, and events that play out within the system. Lacking or inadequate situational awareness has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents or injuries attributed to human error. As such, situational awareness is especially important in work environments where the information flow can be high and poor decisions may lead to serious consequences.

            Within the system, the ability to perceive data, comprehend its meaning, and project impending or future outcomes lead to the basis of solid decision-making and performance of action. Individual factors affect the ability of recognition leading to process completion. Goals, objectives, knowledge, experience, training, and abilities dictate the progression of being situationally aware to the level of decision-making necessary to accurately foresee future occurrences. Predicting foreseeability should be a practice in every company and chief officer's toolbox.

            A great example of situational awareness and foreseeability using cues, understanding meaning, projecting events, making informed decisions, and performing the action is reading smoke on the fireground. Reading smoke helps a company or chief officer discover the specific location and intensity of a fire, building collapse potential, and the likelihood of a hostile fire event like flashover. Consider the following cue recognitions and the determination of situational awareness to make an informed decision and refining tactical objectives:

  • Turbulent vs. laminar flow- recognizing turbulent flow indicates impending flashover whereas laminar flow indicates the box is still absorbing heat.
  • Thick, black, fast smoke- Close to the seat of the fire, super hot smoke capable of instant ignition, maybe a vent-limited fire that needs air
  • Thin, black, fast smoke- Flame-pushed smoke; Fire nearby that is well ventilated
  • Dirty white smoke with velocity- Heat-pushed smoke that has traveled a distance or has had the carbon/hydrocarbon filtered (like smoke through a crack)
  • Same color (white/gray) and same velocity from multiple openings- Deep-seated fire, possibly located well within a building or in combustible voids and concealed spaces
  • Low volume white smoke from more than one location of a large box- Serious fire deep within
  • Brown smoke- Unfinished wood reaching late heating; usually a sign that a contents fire is transitioning into a structural fire
  • Yellowish-gray smoke from cracks or seams- Warning sign of impending backdraft

            Connecting the dots and assuring a linear progression of attaining situational awareness is essential for developing and adjusting strategy and tactics and most importantly providing an avenue of increased safety and welfare for operating units on the fireground. The parallels come into view when revisiting the earlier questions. The armadillo represents those lacking or having inadequate situational awareness. Bad or informed decisions are made based on lack of experience to recognize the clues to foresee potential hazards resulting in serious consequences. They tend to have tunnel vision and only focus on one thing without consideration of other factors around them. The squirrel represents indecisive actions resulting in potential bad decision-making or luck by making a hail mary decision and it working without consequences, not identifying or recognizing available cues, or inability to process those cues in a rapid manner to make a critical decision. On a positive note, it represents active learning and the transition phase from tunnel vision and lack of experience to advanced identification and recognition of cues and decision-making. The eagle represents the ability to identify and recognize all available cues, with precision, to make the best decisions that create positive incident outcomes and derail impending consequences and have overall command and control of emergency incident operations.  

            In principles of risk management, if it is predictable- it is preventable! Developing the knowledge, skills, and abilities to enhance your situational awareness sets the tone for an emergency operation resulting in the best possible outcomes for life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation. It is always better to be proactive than reactive!



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