UAH – News

dr  Kristin Weger

Researchers led by Dr. Kristin Weger used text chat logs to collect communication data for analysis.

Courtesy of Kristin Weger

First responder teams better grasp an emergency situation when they continuously and clearly communicate factual information in text form in a way all members can understand, and this is key to a successful team response, according to a new study led by an assistant professor of psychology at The University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), part of the University of Alabama System.

“We can describe the rapidly evolving emergency environments as highly dynamic situations,” says Dr. Kristin Weger, the principal investigator for the research sponsored by UAH’s New Faculty Research Program.

“As soon as aspects of the emergency environment change, for example, the team has to adapt in order to be able to react effectively,” she says. “Team members need to be in constant contact to stay up to date and learn about any internal changes that may affect them. Sort of so the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.”

Investigators examined data collected by teams of four students as they texted each other while participating in a standardized, decentralized fire rescue operation called the Network Operation Fire simulation.

“We studied these teams as they conducted the fire rescue operation, which consisted of simulated fire outbreak scenarios comparable to the type of incidents that fire rescue teams would respond to in other exercises,” says Dr. way.

The researchers observed and used the chat logs to collect communication data for analysis.

They found that sharing basic factual information about individual team elements—such as B. Location of first responders with others and current skills and resources – changing the roles and responsibilities of members and creating a common operational picture.

“First responders should ask and answer questions to encourage the exchange of basic factual information about the response team’s situation,” says Dr. way.

People who receive messages go through a process of synthesizing their context, then remembering pre-existing knowledge and inferring the intent of the message to capture the meaning of the information shared, she says.

“The more accurate and easily digestible the message, the faster the meaning of the message can be synthesized and processed to make decisions and take action,” says Dr. way.

Sending comprehensive information via SMS plays a crucial role. Failure to have some of the information needed can result in loss of situational awareness or inaccurate situational awareness.

Experienced emergency responders make the most common situational awareness mistake based on their perception of the current situation, says Dr. way. These errors result from relevant factual information not being provided or being inaccurate or incomplete. The situation can prompt experienced responders to plan ahead for what is likely to happen next and what should be done next.

“This often happens because their experience causes them to see what they expect to see and share what is expected of them, which is confirmation bias, or complete the search too early, which is premature closure or not looking for conflicting information is hubris,” says Dr. way.

On the other hand, beginners make mistakes because they find it difficult to perceive cues in the situation.

“They don’t know what to look for, and their lack of mental models means they’re less adept at making interpretations and projections into the future,” she says.

“Also, when responders arrive at an emergency scene at different times, there is a risk that each person arriving will have a different understanding of what is happening. This can put responders at risk if they think they have a common understanding of what is going on when in fact they don’t because the information has changed.”

These types of mistakes can also lead to serious patient safety concerns if they are not recognized and communicated by another team member, she says.

The research found that other communication characteristics, such as verb forms and speaking behavior, such as question-and-answer SMS, can influence the success of a responder team.

“For example, the present tense was mainly used to convey messages about basic factual information to better understand the implications or to take action, while forecasting and thinking in future scenarios was exclusively conveyed through the future tense,” says Dr. way.

“Although there is no magic formula for how responders should communicate, our results show that certain communication behaviors encourage the sharing of factual information that allows responders to gain a more coherent understanding of their team in the emergency situation and encourage decision-making.” to facilitate and take action,” says Dr. way.

“I see these communication behaviors — which encourage situational awareness development — being taught in emergency responder training,” she says. “What and how responders communicate ultimately defines the creation of a shared understanding of the emergency situation and lays the foundation for collaboration.”

Undergraduate students have supported the research effort, and the investigation resulted in a first-place poster for Areeb Mohammed, a senior in computer science. Mohammed won the UAH Undergraduate Research Horizon Poster Session with his poster entitled “Understanding Team Behavior and Response in Stressful Situations”.

Based on the research findings, Dr. Weger with Dr. Vineetha Menon, assistant professor of computer science, to explore the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning-based predictive modeling to mathematically model what an ideal high-performance emergency response team might look like.

This model could then be used for more in-depth studies of situational awareness, says Dr. Weger, and the explainable AI methods of Dr. Menon can identify target areas to improve team performance and situational awareness in evolving emergency situations.