Training for Emergency and Unlikely Situations

It seems like a dire subject when we think about training for emergency or abnormal situations, but not all training can ever be planned & delivered for completely predictable or ‘safe’ environments or scenarios.

So before we dive into this topic further how can we define ‘safe’?

Safe can have many definitions depending on the industry or the subject that is being instructed upon, but let’s for the sake of the article settle on ‘safe’ being;

“A secure environment where activities can be conducted without risk of disruption & where people have no exposure to any threatening hazards of any sort.”

Let’s just work with it for now!

The 404 error
Expect the unexpected

So . . . When we use a definition such as this, abnormal can technically be anything that falls outside of the above definition and emergencies can not only be disruptive to operations, but also hazardous to the people and material conducting activities.

One thing to think about at this point is that abnormal or emergency situations can typically be regarded as rare. And when we think about rare circumstances our natural tendency is to want to ignore them.

Training can be Disruptive
Training can be a costly and disruptive process

As an example, motorcyclists are encouraged to practice emergency braking techniques often in controlled environments, but how many actually practice? Emergencies likely won’t happen to us, so why bother to keep the skill up to date?

You can see where this is heading, but one point to remember and really take note of is that training is expensive, both as a client, and also as an instructor. So knowing that an abnormal or emergency situation is not just possible but potentially probable and that preparation can be expensive, we are left with two options that we can examine.

  1. Training can be expensive so if a situation is not likely to happen then is it worth covering?
  2. The possibility is known, but we choose not to prepare for it.

One point to make clear now is that abnormal situations vary on an absolute scale between industries and sectors down to certain individuals, but the local scales of the impacts can be large regardless, whether it be a disruption to service or operations leading to some down time through to a situation that can impact on thousands for an extended period.

New York City Blackout, 1977
Some failures will have bigger impacts than others


So what is the cost of training & what is the cost of failure?

This is now venturing into risk management, but training carries two costs. Firstly as a client it is going to cost the upfront value of the training, and also the time that it is going to take to become competent in a skill.

Let’s set time at $100 per hour (Cheap in some circles) and say that a course is going to take 40 hours to complete. As a client you would expect the course to be set at No Less than $4,000 excluding other consumables, and that it will take a week to complete.

If you’re an employer, not only are you going to be staring at $4,000 per trainee, but you’re also going to face 40 hours of disruption while the trainee goes through training and those roles and responsibilities need to be distributed elsewhere.

Naturally if something is unlikely and this can save 10 hours of training then this becomes a corner everyone wants to cut. It gets trainees back into work, clients trained sooner, and costs are reduced.

So this corner cutting can save 10 hours & $1,000 dollars per trainee, but what happens when the training required to handle failure is not delivered?

If an organisation has 20 employees and a manageable failure occurs which disrupts everyone for 2 hours, then the cost of this failure is $4,000 (personnel costs only).

If training could have reduced the impact from 2 hours of downtime to 1 hour, then the extra disruptive training pays for itself after the first failure, and our costs (Theoretically) balance. Each failure in future which becomes better handled actually saves an organisation money. But . . . This is actually not the complete point here. Read on!

So is it about prevention & Risk Management?

Rarely used skills need to be kept up to date for when they may be needed.
Emergency Braking is a skill that must be kept up to date.

Training for abnormal or emergency situations is much less to do with risk management but most importantly more to do with being able to respond and react to the abnormal situation itself—and preventing additional failure once an event has occurred. 

Unlikely situations can be taught, but are seldom remembered when required. How can proper preparation be achieved?

We make the emergency more likely!

The use of exercise or simulator based scenario training is exactly how we prepare for unlikely and emergency situations. Setting up specific training scenarios (where required) is how we create proficiency and skill in people who have to deal with unlikely and emergency scenarios.

Rehearsing specific scenarios is exactly what makes regular people extraordinary in emergency or crisis situations, and this can only be achieved through scenario specific training with repetition.

Soldiers are regular people who have been trained to do extraordinary things.
Training makes regular people extraordinary.

Carefully setting the outcome, creating the situation, and then let the scenario play out. As an instructor in these training situations it can be important not to get involved and simply take notes on what takes place for feedback later. The timely & accurate feedback is what will make your clients and an organisation better where required.

As mentioned training is expensive—particularly on organisations. Staff are out of place, roles & responsibilities need to be distributed to maintain output, and there is also the financial cost. Clients will pay both in dollars and hours, but this final question is not only directed towards employers;

What is the cost of failure?

And to educators running lessons and courses, if you know there is an abnormal situation; What is the cost of ignoring these lessons?