How Are Your Actions In An Emergency Judged By Others?

The Current Problem

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught organization leaders that they need to be prepared for the ability to survive rapidly evolving dynamically shifting situations. Just consider how fast our daily lives changed due to Covid-19. Although this ability to survive changing situations seems like a new normal, it has been taught for years in emergency services. As a trainer for emergency service leadership for more than 25 years, my advice has been, "Prepare and train for 'possibilities,' but respond based on the situation facts and the 'probabilities' it presents."

Today, however, emergency responders, and almost every other profession involved in a rapidly evolving, dynamically shifting situation are very quickly judged and second-guessed by millions of people, frequently based on such a small piece of information that the whole story or situation isn’t considered before judgement is passed, and then repeated and expounded on in T.V., radio, social media and mass media.

I know firsthand how behavior can be questioned, speculated on, misperceived, or otherwise misconstrued, from more than 28 years in law enforcement and rising through the ranks, retiring as the investigation’s homicide lieutenant, hostage negotiations commander, and assistant division commander of investigations. I’ve also been personally involved in officer-involved shootings, use of force incidents, pursuits, vehicle collisions, hostage situations, tactical situations, and many other types of critical response situations or rapidly evolving dynamically shifting situations on-duty and off-duty. None of these were planned, orchestrated event, but because of my preparation and training, I survived. These types of situations many call emergencies, but I refer to them as exigencies because they also happen in the normal course and scope of employment, and are frequently considered as "possibilities," in several work environments.

The Speed of Information…And Misinformation!

A second factor is the speed of information dissemination. Information is being disseminated more quickly than ever about rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting situations, and the behaviors of individuals involved in those situations, which allows for people to make perceptions which inevitably involve using heuristics (rules of thumb), with very little information available.

Many of these rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting situations have formal oversight entities, such as the NTSB, Police Shooting Review Boards, OSHA, etc., but the criteria for evaluating the exigent situations and/or Sentinel Events may be dissimilar and lack a consistent prototype or model for the oversight entities to use. The fact-finding of the situation entirety is very slow and drawn-out, and for good reason. Unfortunately, this allows for people to make their own judgements based on the fractals of information available.

When people are frequently provided a tiny bit of information, e.g., a 10-second cellphone video of police shooting, a still photo, a “sound-bite” of a comment from a political pundit, or an “expert’s opinion” of something that just occurred, often they are then left to make their own determination of what happened, the cause, the source, the validity and or the blame of the situation which they may know very little.

Frequently, these “expert opinions” as to what is occurring or has occurred, in the rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting situation, are shared via social media sites, on such platforms as Facebook, You-Tube, WhatsApp, Tic-Toc, Snap-Chat, Pinterest, Google Plus +, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit, LinkedIn, etc., without having all the information or considering the perceptions of the people actually involved in the situation.

Who is doing the judging?

Another aspect, and perhaps of greater concern, is that the people who are evaluating the rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting situations may have never been in similar situations nor have they had to consider the situational and human factors and may not even be aware of them. This is much like the exchange of information on the internet when many "influencers" comment on a situation without really knowing the facts...because it has yet to be investigated.

This is compounded by mass media and social media sites which have gained a great presence in shaping social mindsets and temperaments towards events. The “CSI Effect” is an example of how media has shaped the minds of jurors, with the expectation that police can perform their jobs just like the average juror sees on the T.V. show C.S.I.

A Proposed Solution

While anyone with a cell phone camera can now be a media reporter and with the proliferation of mass media, especially visual media, the ubiquity of the internet and social media, and the many perceptions and misperceptions which can be fashioned with only using fractals of information. Up until now there has been no common prototype of what factors should be considered when perceiving the limited information in exigent circumstances. Additionally, there has been no specific criteria or prototypical model that evaluators (either formal, informal, or casual observers) possess to consider when evaluating the rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting situation.

By applying a prototypical model, specifically the Exigent Response Model for people to consider when evaluating these rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting events, a more realistic and objective evaluation of the event is probable. Conversely, if more people are considering the human and situational factors based in the model, a smaller amount of divisive, heuristic-based perceptions may be reached, and a more appropriate or reasonable evaluation may perhaps be obtained, thus reducing the polarization of society based on “opinions” in the media, internet, and social media.

Exigent Response Model for Dynamically Shifting/Evolving Situations

The Exigent Response Model for Dynamically Shifting/Evolving Situations, or more simply the “Exigent Response Model,” was developed to give evaluators of rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting situations, organized guidelines to consider and assess the appropriateness of behavior responses in exigent situations where the response behavior is outside of, or different than, the expected behavior responses.

Why is this important to me as a leader?

This model was created to evaluate behavior/actions when the person involved deviates from an expected behavior response due to the exigency (or emergency nature) of the situation as perceived by the person involved. This model can also be used as a guide to consider multiple factors when confronted with fractals of information from rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting situations, such as the information fractals gained from many media, internet, and social media sources. The proposed model is designed to be applied to many types of exigent situations and therefore some specific assumptions which are characteristic of exigencies must be considered.

The “Exigent Response Model” model assumes the following:

Assumption #1. The situation drives the decisions. The chaotic situational environment and the involved person’s perceptions of the incident/event are based on their knowledge, skills, abilities, training, values, ethics, personality, physical, emotional, and mental states at the time of the event and are influenced by workload, stress, and task saturation. Evaluation should be focused on their perception of the chaotic situational environment; at the time they were making the decision(s).

Assumption #2. Fear is involved. Fear can cause autonomic responses in people during stressful situations without their immediate conscious attempt to do so. Therefore, fear must be considered as being present in diverse levels as the person moves from the chaotic situational environment towards a more functional stabilizing environment.

Assumption #3. Perception and thought process is critical. The involved person’s perception of options and thought process. At the time of the event, what was the person’s perception of the availability of workload, stress, and task saturation, available options, resources, time, and information available to transform a dynamically shifting, rapidly evolving, chaotic situation into a functional, stable environment? This must be well-thought-out to determine the reasonableness of the exigent performance response.

Assumption #4. Availability of Information. All available information/input to the person involved in the situation may not be available to the evaluator after the incident. Conversely, the evaluator of the situation, after the fact, may have additional information that was not readily known or perceived by the involved person at the time of the incident.

Assumption #5. Time is imperative. The nature of the event creates a sense to the individual involved that time is critical, whether they are being forced to decide or act, or there is a perception that without action the consequences may become worse, in transforming the chaotic situational environment towards a stabilizing functional environment is a dominant and demanding consideration.

How the Model Works

As the person perceiving the situation attempts to move from the “Chaotic Situational Environment,” to a “Functional Stabilizing Environment,” she/he initially acts within the previously accepted norms, rules, policy, procedures, expectations, etc.

At this point they are lower on the vertical axis as well as to the left side of the horizontal axis and attempt to use the “Established Responses.”

As the established responses either fail, or cannot be considered due to lack of time, no resources, repeated attempts, etc. The person then begins to move into the upper half of the vertical axis as they recognize the “Informative Failure,” and the need for a different behavior or deviance from the established responses to continue to attempt to control the situation.

The person then moves into the right side of the horizontal axis to create a “Productive Deviance,” meaning to intentionally engage in behavior, different from the established behavior, norm, or practice, which is intended to produce positive outcomes or results toward the functional-stabilizing environment.

The person makes these changes or deviations, and “Applied Adjustments” to established responses in purposeful behavior to achieve a functional stabilized situation. These applied adjustments are frequently the “perceived results” that are captured on video, photographs, etc., but commonly without the videographer, or witness(es) knowing why it happened, knowing how the person was perceiving the situation, or without having all the information.

Exigent Response Model for Dynamically Shifting/Evolving Situations is explained in the book, "Because... Why? Understanding Behavior in Exigencies."

Why Organizations Should Consider Using the Exigent Response Model

By learning how to apply the Exigent Response Model for evaluation of performance behaviors during exigent circumstances by those entities with formal oversight responsibility, evaluating these rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting events, such as reviewers of police use of force, emergency response personnel, or other emergency performance, which is outside of previously accepted behavior, the reviewers will have an improved platform to consider the situational and human factors. By providing the Exigent Response Model as a prototype model for people to consider when evaluating rapidly evolving/dynamically shifting events, a greater amount of people will suspend making heuristic-based perceptions and will achieve a more appropriate critical evaluation of the performance response, from the perspective of the person involved in the event, at the time it was occurring.

One of the best examples of not using something like the Exigent Response Model was the evaluation by the NTSB of US Airways flight 1549 as told in the movie, "Miracle on the Hudson." The NTSB originally had planned to sanction the pilot for not following the procedure and instructions he had been trained and given. However, his perception of informative failure, his training, knowledge, skills and abilities of those actions caused him to productively deviate from the established procedures to safely "land" the plane on the Hudson River. Had he followed procedure and instructions given, hundreds of people would be dead, himself included.

Recognized Results of Using the Exigent Response Model

1. Create improved prototype for systematized exigent behavior critique. Formal evaluators of situations who are accountable to critique the behavior performance, to determine the appropriateness of the behavior performance, or evaluate the reasonableness, given the situational and human factors involved, should be trained in how to use the Exigent Response Model for Dynamically Shifting/Evolving Situations© to have an improved prototype to critique the performance.

2. Create better public understanding of fluidity and uncertainty of emergency situations. By using the Exigent Response Model to explain circumstances in initial briefings and dissemination of information in exigent circumstances, the public may have a better understanding of the complexity and have a better platform for understanding and evaluating behavior based on fractals of information.

3. Increase reporting accountability design of exigent behavior responses. Formal evaluators and trainers should be trained how the Exigent Response Model© can help those persons involved in the exigent response behavior document their performance, given the factors involved in exigent or emergency situations.

4. Construct and increase policy accountability and reduced liability. Policy and decision makers should use the Exigent Response Model© when evaluating, assessing, reviewing policies and procedures based on the evaluated performance behaviors emerging from the exigent situation. By focusing on the “Productive Deviance” as feasible options to policies, procedures, organizations may reduce liability of employees operating “outside of policy,” even in exigent or emergency situations.

5. Create a common language for understanding. By using the Exigent Response Model© to account for widespread exigency response behaviors, even given just fractals of information, those evaluating the behaviors will have an improved understanding of the human and situational factors, and expectantly will suspend presumptions, or heuristic-based perceptions which frequently cause polarization and division. With an educational component for the public, the Exigent Response Model© could create a common language of understanding the complexities of the human and situational factors.

Putting It All Together: