Emergency plans should prevent emergencies.

My wife Shelly and I make a good team. This morning is a fine example. It’s exactly 3.6 miles from Rogue Manor West (our home) to Shelly’s office in Gunnison. That’s 9 minutes under ideal conditions on local roads. Each morning she varies her route and the time she leaves for work, but she never varies the routine of calling or texting once she’s made it to her office safely.

It seems like a simple thing, but it’s an easy way to ensure the safety and security of a wife, lover, and business partner. We don’t take our safety or security lightly. We don’t make the choice on whether to check in after a long trip or a short trip lightly. We don’t delegate important decisions to the ‘flip of a coin’. 

It hasn’t ever taken over 9 minutes to get into town even under the direst conditions. Doubling that number, or 18 minutes, therefore becomes the absolute extreme time to get to work. If no message is received within 18 minutes of Shelly’s departure, the morning emergency plan is activated. This morning when Shelly’s message didn’t come in within 18 minutes after she left, I instituted our protocol and did the following,

  1. Texted Shelly.
  2. Called Shelly’s cell phone.
  3. Called Shelly’s work phone.

When I didn’t get an answer, I headed into town from the home office, following this days’ route to ensure that she wasn’t broken down by the side of the road and she did in fact make it to the office. Thankfully, it’s always been a glitch in the electronics (Gunnison is notorious for phone line’s being down or cell phone service being sketchy) and never a true emergency. These “false starts” only happen a few times a year, but the time it takes to check-in and checkup is well worth the peace of mind.

Many times, folks will visit the Colorado high country for their vacation adventure. Each year some of those folks die here and never make it home. Generally, the ones that create and stick to emergency plans do just fine. It’s not intuitive to create plans for emergencies like unexpected snow or freezing temperatures – even on the fourth of July. Those things might not happen in your universe. I would posit that training is a better solution than being caught off guard.

Taylor Canyon.

Fly fishing Taylor Canyon in Gunnison County is often a “bucket list” dream for fly fishermen and women from all over the world. They scrimp and save for years to be able to access the waters that Shelly and I enjoy as our extended backyard. We can drive for less than 30 minutes from our home and choose from any of the revered and coveted spots along Taylor Canyon for 9 months out of the year. Living in a dream destination has its downsides, it takes a rugged soul to survive the harsh extremes that go with making your home in the mountains.

At 10:00 hours on 19 July 1943 a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber manned by crew Number 14 was en route from Casper, Wyoming to El Paso, Texas on a training mission. This B-24 was only 13 weeks old. A new, young crew was assigned to a plane that had recently been created during a period of rapid production to serve the US troops in World War II. Some of the crew chosen for this trip were picked after a flip of a coin based on the fact that they had low levels of experience and virtually no seniority.

High above Taylor Canyon in Gunnison Colorado, enveloped by the endless sky and amazingly beautiful Gunnison National Forest (just 25 minutes from where I sit typing) the tail section of this newly minted B-24 E, bearing serial number 41-29027 and assigned to the 390th Bomb Group, came completely off the plane without warning. The plane plummeted to the ground, burning in at coordinates 38 45′ 55.8” 106 39’ 15.0” killing all ten crew members and the flight surgeon heading for El Paso.  

By lunchtime Mountain time, US Forest Service crews were headed into Taylor Canyon to fight the massive forest fire generated by 2000 gallons of 100-LL Avgas. The fire burned so hot that what little wreckage remained glowed for days – no one including recovery crews could get close to the crash site.

There is a plaque now denoting the exact location. Some wreckage was never recovered and can still be viewed. The remains of many of the occupants are still interred there, they were never removed. It is a sobering reminder of how quickly life can end and a reminder that sometimes it seems to come with very little warning.

Carole Died on Potosi Mountain.

Potosi Mountain, Nevada was named after a high-quality silver producing geographic feature in the Andes. Miners heading into the mountains to find their fortunes thought it would be good luck to name the Nevada mountain after a moneymaker in Bolivia.

Remember, for most of the world, World War II began when Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939 yet the United States didn’t enter the war until after 07 December 1941 when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor.

Carole decided then that she wasn’t waiting around for anyone. She started fundraising for the war effort immediately. In January of 1942, she was jet-setting across the United States raising money for the war effort. To give you an idea of how influential Carole was, she raised 2 million dollars in Indiana alone. Remember, this occurred years before the internet and social media – 2 mil based solely on her in-person pleas to get people to donate.

Her husband was waiting across the country waiting, eager for her trip to end. He was quite influential as well. He had appeared in a film – a motion picture that he had no interest in but one that ended up being quite popular. While rehearsing for a scene in that film, the producer and director noted that Carole’s husband had a hard time during a wardrobe change necessary to the plot. They asked Carole’s husband if he had any idea how to make the change more efficient and the man did – he left out his t-shirt and that seemed to do the trick. He could now make the wardrobe change and convey the message the director and producer wanted without fighting an undershirt. Carole’s husband had enough star power to change how men dressed for the next decade. Based solely on his omitting a t-shirt, many American men discarded their t-shirts as well creating an economic slump for the once essential and popular garment.

Carole left the Indiana war bond rally with her mom in tow, along with her husband’s press agent. The plan was to take an overnight flight back west so Carole could link up with her husband and tell him the good news. She had recently found out she was pregnant with his baby and might have to stop flying for a while. Carole’s mom and the press agent weren’t too hip on flying halfway across the country. Carole relegated whether they were taking the plane or the train by offering a coin flip.

Carole won the toss.

That night, TWA (transcontinental and western air) flight 3 stopped briefly in Las Vegas to refuel. While taking off, at 19:07 hours local time, the Douglas Sleeper Transport to California crashed into Potosi Mountain at 8300 feet above sea level, just below Double-Up Peak. The crash killed the famously beautiful comic Hollywood actress Carole Lombard, her Mom, her husband (Clark Gable’s) press agent and 15 US Army soldiers headed for the west coast.

You see, to ensure that the airport in Las Vegas wasn’t the target of enemy bombers, the landing lights and directional beacons had been turned off. The pilots and crew didn’t have a chance, they flew blindly into the night and into the mountain. Carole Lombard was 33 years old and at the top of her Hollywood stardom. Would she have chosen to fly knowing that the airstrip lights would be off?

Cary Grant, another actor at the top of his Hollywood game, was patiently waiting for Carole at the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nevada. When word got to him that the plane crashed with no survivors, Clark Gable sat motionless, his cigar burning a line in the wooden bar that remains visible to this day some 78 years later. Like the B-24 in Taylor Canyon, the wreckage of this TWA flight remains with the wreckage on the mountain, too remote and steep to recover.

Cost Benefit Analysis.

You must measure the COST of a cost-benefit analysis before proceeding too far along the lines of conducting one. First, understand that a CBA is a quantitative analysis. That means it is designed to measure the quantity of something rather than the QUALITY. An important distinction.

Jules Dupuit (1804-66) c.1860 de French PhotographerGiving credit to Jules Depuit, the famous French economist who first coined the phrase and the process in the 1840s. Back then, acting as an engineer, Depuit wanted to determine whether it was cost-effective to go ahead with a major project. He added up the benefits of each of the proposed courses of action, the considered the monetary costs associated with each of them to determine what value each had over a specified period of time (we now call this a period of investment).

We don’t always have the time or finances to envision a course of action through the eyes of an economist or an engineer, but I would caution that we always have more time than merely leaving a decision up to chance (the toss of a coin).

Critical Vulnerability Assessment.

Now a critical vulnerability assessment or CVA is quite a different matter. You would likely use this approach to first identify and quantify your resources, then rank them, prioritizing them in the most vulnerable to the least or vice versa. You would engage a CVA whenever you wanted to mitigate the most serious LIKELY vulnerability so as not to risk your most valuable resource.

First, remember that criticality lies in the eyes of the beholder. I would therefore rank human life at the top of the scale. Meaning, of course, that in the situation faced by Carole Lombard I would have used a version of the CBA coupled with a CVA to determine the manner of transportation from Indiana to California (on the Nevada border). I profess that if she had known about the risk at the Nevada airfield, she would have never taken the flight.

The journey in the 1940s via train would have taken Carole 3 days give or take an hour or two. Flying from Indiana to California in the 1920s this flight would have taken about 8 days. By the 1940s this time was down to about one full day. If Carole had left the emotion out of her calculations (merely missing Clarke and excited to share with him the news of her pregnancy) and added the risk posed by no runway lights or directional beacons, then she might be alive today.

Had the preflight checks on Wyoming to Texas training flight been more stringent, the quality control of the manufacture on the B-24 E more detailed and the flight crew more experienced, perhaps the faulty tail section could have been discovered and that crew might be alive today.

So What?

Sense-making leads to problem-solving which in turn leads to informed decision making. Taking the time to flesh out the likelihood of your decisions rather than relegating them to a parlor trick (the coin flip). I call it a parlor trick because it is part science and part voodoo. People thinks it helps make a decision when in fact it’s an act of whimsy or despair.

Remember, most folks still think that a coin flip is a 50/50 proposition. Not true.

First, there is a whole lot of physics in that toss. Another huge portion of the toss is the actions of the person tossing the coin. Finally, there is an element of statistical probability. For example; if the coin toss ends up as a “tails” it’s more likely to remain tails for the next flip or so. This calculation changes if the coin is ‘flipping’ through the air or whether the coin is spinning; a hugely important distinction.

Knowing all of the elements that go into a coin flip, why leave your upcoming choice to this low threshold level of “chance”?

By approaching your life decisions with a vulnerability assessment coupled with a cost-benefit example rather than a probability assessment you could make a world of difference. Literally the difference between life and death. It’s also important to discuss temporal or emergent decisions; time-sensitive or life-altering decisions require rehearsal and practice or when you are finally faced with a life-changing decision you might fail to choose or choose poorly.

In 2017 an electrical appliance malfunction in a London apartment started a fire. Over the next couple of hours, the management told the residents in In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, regulations must be strict and  simplethe apartment complex NOT to evacuate. Much like the Titanic disaster, the folks that designed the building felt that it would contain the fire (like the Titanic would retain buoyancy) and there was no need for the risk of an evacuation (folks may die fleeing the fire or jumping ship rather than just waiting it out).

Here, faced with two opposing choices (people dying in their apartments or in the hallways stampeding each other as they flee the fire) TIME was the critical factor. By the time the fire department working with the building owner decides to evacuate, the 24-story building was a total loss and 72 of the 300 residents had died.

How do you rehearse for such unforeseeable, unpredictable events?

First, stop thinking that they are unpredictable. Next – stop leaving them up to chance and start relying on training. Training and rehearsal are key elements in an emergency strategy. Conducting part-task training then the practical application will help you make tough decisions when uncharacteristic events assail you. Part-task training means taking a smaller set of essential components from a KSA3 (knowledge, skill, attitude, aptitude or ability) and practicing that or those portions before approaching the whole skill.

A dictionary will tell you that practical application is, “bringing something to bear and using it for a particular purpose”. I would challenge the definition is too narrow for our applications. A “prac app” or practical application exercise is where the instructor in charge of your training orchestrates the part-task training elements into a whole and then forces the students undergoing training to demonstrate their ability and proficiency in using the entire skills (the entire KSA3 of a specific task).

Don’t fault the mechanics on the TWA flight. It took a team to bring that B-24 E down. A cacophony of errors.

Don’t fault Carole Lombard for her own death. She merely wanted to get home to her husband 48 hours earlier than the train to Los Angeles. She never thought to ask about the perils along the way.

Do consider getting yourself to Human Behavior Pattern Recognition & Analysis training. It’s training that will change how you sense make and problem solve. It may give you the technical and tactical edge when you are faced with a challenging surprise.

Training changes behavior.




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