What Can Possibly Go Wrong: A First Hand Account of Military and Emergency Service Operations that Didn't Always Make the News, Yet Had Strong Potential To, Or (did) End in Tears.
Having spent twenty-nine years in operational roles ranging from diving (military and commercial) to professional firefighting (urban, maritime and mountain), marine rescue (surface and subsurface), aviation rescue (rotary and fixed wing), plus another twelve years teaching emergency response and emergency management in a range of disciplines, I have both seen and been directly involved in some monumental stuff ups! With retirement on the horizon I have looked back at some of the more memorable of these experiences; drawing on reports, logbooks and personal records to put my recollections to paper. The initial intent of this work was to produce a document for my family, but ultimately it has resulted in analysis of some terrifying, and at times hilarious, events from my past for my peers to evaluate. Although not intended as an academic examination, I have utilised skills acquired later in life from a Master of Emergency Management degree to assess my performance and those I worked with. Don't expect graphs, formulas, in-text citations and references, this is a story intended to make you laugh and on occasion perhaps utter the challenge, 'bullshit, that would never happen!' But I assure you it did. Occasionally, lack of understanding from those reporting the events I describe merely made us look good. Typically though, the types of stuff ups I've documented didn't always make the evening news or were just buried deep inside a newspaper. Either way, the level of error was regularly diluted (or concealed) with PR spin. For example, how often have you heard news stories with this type of language? "The extreme nature of the task meant that the search had to be suspended until first light..." or "Weather conditions made the job of responders challenging..." Although impossible situations occasionally confront responders, these are rare. Therefore, regardless of PR spin, one fact of response will always remain true: as long as humans of any age, race, gender or education level are involved, things will and do go wrong, irrespective of how sophisticated or state-of-the-art equipment may be. Simply put, we are the weak link that causes stuff ups. Real professionals are acutely aware of such human weakness, and because of this, they develop a 'healthy paranoia' that pushes them to train regularly, and realistically, to maintain appropriate preparedness. Healthy paranoia is a term an old colleague of mine first coined when briefing a Search and Rescue (SAR) task containing significant challenge. I now use it to describe how a good operator's subconscious regularly challenges the norm. For example, regular evaluation of role responsibilities and procedures, robust debriefs, asking hard questions of your team members, or leaders (early), all help to keep a team sharp - and ultimately this will mitigate the amount of PR spin required. Such healthy paranoia often manifests in daily routine as a simple question. "What can possibly go wrong?" The answer is always the same. "lots!"
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