What can aviation teach us about safety? A lot, if we’re willing to look at what they’ve done, how they do it, and extrapolate from the concepts they’ve used to develop new ways of thinking of safety with firearms.
For many people, this is a dull subject, that they think is beneath them. “I’ve never had an ND, so this doesn’t apply to me.” We assure you that safety matters, and that no one is immune to mishap. Often the guy who has the ND is the same guy who read the same books as you do and who made the same “tsk, tsk” sound at the accident report on his morning news site. (Or who laughed along with us at one of our A Mess of Accidents roundups). Safety begins with the sober revelation that it can happen to you.
Reduction in accidents and fatalities
The numbers don’t lie, and once-occasional fatal mishaps have become extremely rare. The last scheduled airline crash in the United States that caused fatalities. entire years pass with no deaths. Even military flying, much more dangerous that airline aviation, is enormously safer that it was fifty years ago. Fifty years ago, the services thought nothing of losing a thousand planes and crews in crashes — every year!
Certainly part of the mishap reduction story in general aviation comes via the tightening coils of the airline-centric FAA, trying to squeeze it out of existence. GA aviators often joke that the largest office in the FAA, and the only one that has command emphasis, is the Office of Aviation Inhibition. But GA has tightened up on once-accepted practices such as flying after having a few sociables with the guys (in the 1960s, one in four fatal general aviation crashes involved a pilot with ethanol in his system).
But primarily, increased safety has come about by improving training and (especially) culture, making the safe decision the default one, and the one liable to be respected by colleagues.
Aerospace Safety Concepts and Technologies
Many concepts interweave to make the solid web of today’s air safety culture. But we’re going to focus on four formal programs that made aviation safer, and that are adaptable to professional and amateur use of firearms for self-defense, public safety, and recreation.
- CRM – Cockpit/Crew/Complete Resource Management
- ADM — Aeronautical Decision Making
- Tool Accountability
- LO/TO – Lockout/Tagout
To expand on them:
CRM is nothing more or less than using all the resources at hand, informational, material, and, especially, human. The co-pilot of 1967 was more of an under-pilot. He (and in 1967, it was always a “he”) was encouraged to sit still and shut up, letting a valuable safety cross-check from a trained professional go to waste. This video from the FAA describes the history CRM.
Since being developed in the aviation world, CRM has spread to other fields where active risk management is beneficial, including surgery, anesthesiology, and firefighting. Why not shooting?
A primitive version of a CRM technique should be familiar to all shooters: even on ranges where only a designated individual can declare the range “hot,” anybody has the right and responsibility to call “cease fire!” in the event of an unsafe act or condition. This empowers all the shooters to be an extra set of eyes and ears for the range officer, who is (loath though some of them may be to admit it) only human.
ADM is an interesting term. It is, in fact, Judgment Training, something that many old-time pilots thought was beneath them, so research psychologist Allen Diehl renamed it Aeronautical Decision Making. Nobody’s going to be enthusiastic about attending training that questions his judgment, but who would reject the chance to get some new decision-making techniques?
One key ADM technique is to develop the skills to recognize risk-increasing hazardous attitudes, and to use an “antidote,” a sort of countervailing mantra, to back oneself down from the attitude.
Aviation hazardous attitudes include such things as:
Resignation — “Whats the use? Forget it, I give up!”
Anti-Authority — “The law is stupid. Regulations and procedures are for the little people!”
Impulsivity — “Do whatever, but do it NOW!”
Invulnerability — “It has never happened to me before, so it can never happen to me!”
Macho — “The average person can’t do this, but I’m so far above average it doesn’t apply to me!”
For each hazardous attitude, there is an ADM countermeasure.
Against Resignation — “I can make a difference!”
Anti-Authority — “The regulations are written in blood. They are usually right.”
Impulsivity — “Wait! Think first. In an emergency, wind your watch.”
Invulnerability — “It can happen to me if I don’t take care. The laws of physics apply to everyone.”
Macho — “Taking chances is for fools; I play it safe and solid.”
The adaptability of these to the shooting (recreational, competitive, and combat) world should be all but self-evident.
The last two concepts, Accountability and LO/TO are important because many accidents happen because of failures in firearms control and storage. The military, which has relatively few accidents (for this reason) despite a wider range of ability and maturity levels than you are likely to have in your home or business, has managed to reduce weapons loss and accountability failure to a rounds-to-zero level. Other Federal agencies that do not practice similar control culture have much greater accountability problems.
Some of these concepts have already been implemented to some extent in gun safety. We’ve seen a reduction in hunting accidents since the 1950s, and a great deal of safety training .
Sometimes, though, the training and improvement that has gone before is nothing but the foundation for a better level of safety to come. This is one of those times.
Where we can improve, In General
- Reject the idea that the current level of accidents is normal. “Is gun, is not safe,” fine, but accidents need not happen. “Is Plane, is not safe either,” but they have made planes pretty damned safe.
- Study every accident and scour the record for learnable and teachable lessons.
- Develop a formal Firearms Decision Making system of judgment training, and infuse it into the training culture.
- Develop a Resource Management program with tiers for professional and amateur firearms users, and for individuals and teams.
- Provide Accountability and LO/TO tools to the general gun-owning public.
Some of these things are already happening, but only on a sporadic, ad hoc basis. We need to get the big organizations (NRA and NSSF) behind FDM and FRM in a big way.
Adapting CRM, ADM, TA, and LO/TO to Firearms Training
Firearms Resource Management — identifies the entire ranges of resources that are available to the sport shooter, defensive gun user, police officer, soldier, and other armed professional, and works to familiarize those gun users with how to identify and use these resources. Best done with case studies.
Firearms Decision Making — teaches using case studies of decision errors with tragic consequences. Highlights hazardous attitudes and the risks contained within, and provides tips for recognizing those attitudes in self and others, and countermeasures for each.
TA & LO/TO — provides safety-oriented training and equipment to insure that firearms are maintained under positive control.