Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters

One of the situational awareness best practices I share with first responders is the need to develop meta-awareness. Most responders, including me before I immersed myself into the study of brain science, do not understand the concept of meta-awareness, yet it’s a critical component in the development and maintenance of your personal situational awareness.

Meta-awareness means to be consciously aware of your situational awareness. You’re probably still thinking, Huh? What does THAT mean?

Simply this: When you’re operating in the environment of high-risk and high-consequence at an emergency scene with changing conditions and immense amounts of work to be done, you can, quite simply, lose track of whether or not you are maintaining your situational awareness.

Maybe stated another way, you get so busy doing stuff that you don’t think about what is required to develop and maintain situational awareness. And then, before you realize it it’s gone and that may set you on the fast track to a near-miss or a casualty incident.

So how do you develop meta-awareness? You do it by first understanding what situational awareness is. This lesson is rarely taught in first responder training programs. When it is taught instructors rarely provide a thorough explanation because they don’t understand the complexities of situational awareness. I don’t blame the instructors. Most of them, well intended as they are, were not adequately taught about the complexities of situational awareness. So they tell us to Pay attention!

Once you understand what situational awareness is, the next lesson is to understand how you develop it. Then the next lesson is to understand how you lose it. And the final lesson is to understand how you get it back if you do lose it.

Meta-awareness is rooted in the first two lessons: Understanding what situational awareness is and how you develop it. Here is the abbreviated lesson and I do mean abbreviated. It takes me a full day in the classroom to teach this so be cautious about thinking this summary will do it for you.

Situational awareness is being able to see the bad things coming in time to change the outcome. You do this by capturing clues and cues in your environment, comprehending what they mean in context and using your understanding of the current situation to make accurate predictions about future events.

Flawed situational awareness is a big deal for first responders. In fact, it’s the biggest deal! Look at near-miss and casualty reports and you will see it or something similar like miscommunication implicated over and over again. Yet, so many first responders don’t know how to fix the problem. Fixing that problem is my mission. Please let me know how I can help.

About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and decision-making processes used by first responders. In addition to more than 30 years in the fire service, including 22 as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAMatters.com) has enjoyed more than a million visits since its launch in October of 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at Support@RichGasaway.com or (612) 548-4424.