On January 15, 2009, Sully Sullenberger, an airline captain, successfully executed an emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River just west of Manhattan Island, New York City, after the aircraft was disabled by striking a flock of Canadian geese during its initial climb out of LaGuardia Airport. All of the 155 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft survived.
During an interview, Captain Sullenberger was asked “How important was your experience in the sky over the Hudson?” His answer struck a chord with us. He replied, “Training in flight simulators, you can’t practice a water landing. We had 208 seconds to solve a problem for which we never specifically trained. The experience and the judgment my crew and I had developed over many decades allowed us to have a creative reserve to deliver the airplane full of people to the surface intact.”
Think about that. 208 seconds. Just under three and a half minutes from the moment that they knew there was a problem, until the problem was resolved. That’s about the time it takes to listen to a song on the radio. Here is a link to a video animation of what happened that day, http://videosift.com/video/Hudson-River-Plane-Landing-Animation-with-Audio. This video uses the actual cockpit conversation with the tower. All of the people involved in conversations remain calm. No one gets excited, no one panics. They do their job. We watched this video several times. We were amazed at how calm everyone was, especially Sullenberger. Sullenberger attributed his success not only to his experience, but to the experience and judgment of his crew. He and his crew had the responsibility for 155 souls that day. Their calm and calculated response to this crisis allowed them to use their training, experience and abilities to develop and execute a plan in 208 seconds. While most of the emergency situations that we encounter may not be as dramatic as landing a fully loaded plane on a river, any emergency situation is alarming in the moment, and how we respond directly effects the outcome.
It is impossible to train for every possible emergency that can happen. Training along with experience allows us to combine all of our knowledge in order to have our very own “creative reserve” to solve problems. For most of the things we do, we take time to determine our course of action, conduct a quick risk assessment and then carry out our plan. We do this hundreds of times a day, without really thinking about it, as if we are on auto-pilot. But what about the urgent occurrences? Will we be calm? Will our actions have a positive effect on the outcome? Again, we can’t train on every scenario, but we can plan and train for probable situations to sharpen our problem solving skills. Good training provides an avenue to generate problem solving ideas, learn thought processes and simulate reaction time in a controlled environment. Training is where you can try things and make mistakes to see what the outcome could be. Training combined with experience will give us an advantage to keep our nerves calm when problems and issues arise. Circumstances such as fire, severe weather and personal injury can be simulated and we can train to resolve those types of situations.
Had that aircraft crashed that day, it could have been a tragic loss of life, up to 155 people. However, the loss of one life is equally tragic. Most workplace accidents and injuries occur to one employee at a time. We must respond to these accidents and injuries quickly with adequate resources as we would with a wide spread catastrophe. We need to look at every incident as an opportunity for improvement, a chance to prevent this from occurring again.
At most jobs, we are not directly responsible for as many lives as Captain Sullenberger. We are responsible for ourselves, and our co-workers. Be the best at what you do. Absorb as much information as you can about your job and pending threats and be prepared to KEEP CALM AND RESOLVE INCIDENTS.