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Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Sterile Cockpit

Airline crews have been employing the
"sterile cockpit" rule for years...

I first heard the phrase “sterile cockpit” years ago when I accompanied a neighboring city’s SWAT team on a high-risk warrant. The team leader warned me that the team would be very quiet as they finished the briefing and made final preparations. “We maintain a ‘sterile cockpit,’” he said.

That quiet continued as we drove into the neighborhood. I noticed some of the officers gestured with their hands as they quietly committed their planned movements to memory—it was similar to athletes memorizing and visualizing their plays.

The officers staged and made entry, adjusting to unexpected elements of children, dogs, and a floor plan that was not what their plans showed. The sergeant told me after the entry that “sterile cockpit” meant they wanted only mission-critical conversation happening. The entry and search went smoothly and without incident.

The commercial airline industry and the military have been using this concept for years. In fact, FAA regulations specifically prohibit crew members’ performance of non-essential duties or activities while the aircraft is involved in taxi, takeoff, landing, and all other flight operations conducted below 10,000 feet. That rule includes the entire crew, including pilots and flight attendants.

It is now time for emergency responders to employ a "sterile cab."
The term was used recently by an instructor at a National Fire Academy class as he encouraged a class of fire chiefs, captains, and EMS supervisors to maintain a sterile cockpit (or sterile cab) while on emergency responses. “The only conversation allowed should be directly related to that call and the response,” he asserted. All of the concentration needs to be focused on the response, the mission, and situational awareness.

It makes sense. Emergency response is dangerous—and having the entire fire or EMS crew concentrating on the task at hand should be the SOP. Similarly, for the cops working in one-officer cars, it means reducing or eliminating the distractions coming at you. Driving the car is job #1. This concept of the “sterile cockpit” should absolutely go beyond the aviation industry—because it works. Remember:

Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next time…the most professional thing we do.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.

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