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January 18, 2011

Ind. responders review decision-making skills

By Emma Downs
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Blindfolding a man and handing him a fist full of darts seems out of place at a safety seminar.

But Gary Klein, an expert on critical decision-making, wanted to get people's attention.

Positioning an unseeing man in front of a dart board — while a crowd of people watched, smiled and cringed — was the way to go.

"We're going to see if we can help this man hit the dartboard," Klein said. "And we're going to stay out of the way, because we're not that confident about this."

The crowd laughed and the volunteer threw a dart. Not even close.

For the next 10 minutes, members of the audience coached the dart thrower toward a bull's-eye, with suggestions such as, "A little lower." "A little more force." "A little to the left." Klein, on the other hand, took a different approach. He did what all the other coaches neglected to do. He asked questions.

"Is there any information you need, any questions you'd like to ask?" he said. "Would you like to know how big the dart board is? How far away it is?"

It was one of many aha moments during the Critical Decision Making and Public Safety seminar Saturday at the Public Safety Academy of Northeast Indiana.

More than 200 first responders and emergency workers — including firefighters, police officers, EMS and emergency room nurses — attended the seminar, which was funded by a grant from the Metropolitan Medical Response System. The all-day event included presentations by Klein and Neil Hintze, executive chief officer of the New York City Fire Department's Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness.

Many of the lectures revolved around "recognition-primed decision- making," which describes the quick decisions emergency workers often have to make, Capt. Travis Hostler of the Fort Wayne Fire Department said.

"In a critical situation, you can file through a whole catalog of scenarios in your brain," he said. "You're deciding where your priorities should be, what your next step will be. But all of this happens in the blink of an eye. It's an interesting process."

Sharpening responsive skills and improving workers' ability to communicate are not easy. There's always room for improvement and further education. But staying calm and trusting yourself are two of the most important skills an emergency worker can possess, Hostler said.

"When you stay calm, you take time to think," he said. "That's the importance of a seminar like this. First responders work in situations where you sometimes have to make a decision based on very little information. It's important for us to understand what we all go through — what happens in our brain — as first responders."

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