Sunday, February 7, 2016

How's your S.A.?

I don't remember now what set the ramp manager off, but he was soon in the middle of a spirited rant.

J. was a former marine who had strong opinions about things.  An often-repeated story about him was that when he was in charge of the smokejumper base, he made the rookies run the five miles around the airport carrying items they had brought with them for the summer that he deemed unnecessary.  People were a little scared of him.

His diatribe that day was about how oblivious most people were.  Specifically, people in parking lots and how they rarely looked around.  "A serial killer could just grab them!" he declared, shaking his head.

In firefighting we have a concept called "Situational Awareness," usually shortened to S.A.  "Watch your S.A.," people say.  This means being aware of what's going on around you, the big picture as well as the details, the changes on the horizon.  Losing sight of this has contributed to a lot of fireline fatalities.

I see this all the time.  On the first day of a weather class I'm teaching, I ask the students what type of clouds are in the sky.  None of them know.  They didn't notice.  On trails, I walk behind people for a quarter mile before they see me.  Luckily, I wasn't a bear.

Although I'm bombarded by the concept of SA constantly, I still manage to lose it at times.  At the ski hill, I fail to notice a slalom course blocks a run, and then have to wait till I can quickly traverse across it.  On another day it is so foggy I get lost and take a black diamond run by mistake when I meant to do a blue.  In Chile I miss a sign and stand in a long immigration line, only to find that I need to go to another line to pay a fee and then go to the back of the immigration line again.  It happens to everyone.  But I practice.  I eye the beginning skiers and gauge if I can get around them or if I should wait for them to move on.  I look for bear tracks on trails.  I think about what I would do if a slope avalanched, the weather changed, or a mountain lion appeared.

Do any of you do this?  If you're outdoors people, I suspect you do.  How's your S.A.?
A bear was here.


  1. Good awareness alert, even for those of us who are not usually in potentially dangerous or true wild places and situations. We can always be more SA, when crossing streams, picking camping places, following a trail. The rash of snowmobile accidents, and deaths, in our region this year is an unfortunate example of not being aware of where you are and what you are doing.

  2. Thanks for the post. I can tend to be clueless sometimes and I try to be mindfully more aware!

  3. I know, it's hard at times though not to zone out.


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