Gongol.com Archives: June 2023

Brian Gongol

June 15, 2023

News "High workload, stress, and task saturation"

One of the most hair-raising videos a reasonable person could ever watch is completely free of special effects. In fact, it's almost completely devoid of motion altogether. And yet, the four-and-a-half-minute NTSB animation of the flight path of US Airways Flight 1549 (the "Miracle on the Hudson") is bound to snap the smart viewer to attention. ■ From bird strike to splashdown is a matter of just 212 seconds. Harrowing seconds, for certain. But from the communication with Air Traffic Control and within the cockpit, the observer would never guess. A life-or-death situation was handled with the most exceptional level-headedness, focus, and calm that a human could bring to such a task. ■ Two aspects of the NTSB's conclusions are specifically noteworthy: First, "Although the Engine Dual Failure checklist did not fully apply to the accident event, it was the most applicable checklist contained in the quick reference handbook to address the event". Second, "The professionalism of the flight crewmembers and their excellent crew resource management during the accident sequence contributed to their ability to maintain control of the airplane". ■ The NTSB's first comment documents that there was literally no playbook for what to do -- the crew had to solve an extraordinary and life-threatening challenge with their own wits. The second comment expressly acknowledges that the crew's capacity to remain calm was at the very top of the list of reasons why everyone on board survived -- despite "high workload, stress, and task saturation" (extreme understatement, indeed). ■ Most people will never pilot an airplane, much less face a near-disaster like Flight 1549. But everyone faces challenges, including some extraordinary ones for which there may be no playbook. We can't anticipate every possible crisis that might unfold, but we can practice how to respond to "high workload, stress, and task saturation". ■ The problem all too often in evidence today is that it's easy to find examples of people flying off the handle at minor provocations, crumbling upon the encounter of the slightest stress, catastrophizing everything, or generally dealing with events with the self-control of a drug-addled gorilla. And these examples are all too often celebrated and amplified by audiences who think it's a virtue to react with extreme passions. ■ Feelings are natural and real -- and often quite domineering. That's exactly why we humans have to practice managing how and when to let them out, and how and when to contain them. Many of the forces shaping our reality right now tend to amplify the most animalistic and emotional responses (that's how to get clicks, after all). But the real virtue is found in learning how to deal with life's inevitable "task saturation" incidents using the kind of self-control that sees things through to a salutary end. You're not going to land an airliner in the Hudson, but every one of us can certainly strive to emulate the calm of the people who did.

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