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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Normalization of Deviance (If It Can Happen to NASA, It Can Happen to You)

The space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.
Many of you remember where you were when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off in January of 1986. I remember where I was, and that I felt sick to my stomach. The cause of the catastrophe was determined to be the failure of the O-ring gaskets on one of the solid rocket boosters. In her book, The Challenger Launch Decision, sociologist Dr. Diane Vaughan examines why NASA allowed the launch to occur when they had overwhelming information that this was exactly what was going to happen. It is called the normalization of deviance, and it is deadly.

The normalization of deviance is defined as: “The gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behavior is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the organization.” Seven years after Dr. Vaughan’s book was published, it struck again. The shuttle Columbia came apart due to damage in its heat shield as it was re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, and seven more astronauts died. NASA had fallen prey to the normalization of deviance for a second time. Shuttles returning with damaged heat shields had become the norm.

Columbia is another example of the "normalization of deviance."

It’s not just NASA. It is the BP oil spill, the Upper Big Branch Coal mine, and it is in the health care system. It is in public safety too. It is when our first responders go for speed and efficiency, and they give up safety and accuracy. And the deviation slowly begins. It is when the shortcut gradually becomes the norm. We have all seen this in our organizations, and frequently we are lucky. But then luck runs out (or there are one or two complicating factors), people get hurt, and we wonder how “they” got that far off track. If it happened to NASA, it can happen to you.

The normalization of deviance will be a component of the all-day police track for the 2013 Loss Control Workshops. These workshops will be offered on the following dates and locations: March 26 in Mahnomen, March 27 in Alexandria, April 3 in Marshall, April 4 in Mankato, April 10 in Duluth, April 16 in Rochester, April 18 in Brooklyn Park, April 23 in St. Cloud, and April 25 in St. Paul. For registration and workshop information, visit


                                            Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next time: “A Report From the Minnesota Fire Chief’s Association Fire Officers School”

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's No Accident

The Centennial Fire District completed 2012 with no reported injuries and no vehicle accidents or damage. The department handled 1,031 calls for service and racked up 2,828.5 hours of training during the year.

The department, which was formed in 1985, provides fire and rescue coverage for the cities of Lino Lakes, Circle Pines, and Centerville. It is a paid-on-call department with three full-time staff that operates out of three stations—one in each of the three cities.

The department has made safety a priority. Fire Chief Jerry Streich said, “We expose our paid-on-call firefighters to more risk and danger as firefighters than they ever face in their normal lives and need to make it as safe as possible.” The department was also a test site for the Training Safety Officer (TSO) program. Finally, the department has created a color-coded system to indicate the level of risk in their training sessions and is experimenting with rolling it over to their responses.

A TSO and firefighter work together at training.
Congratulations to the Centennial District on an injury-free and accident-free year! The emphasis on safety has truly produced results.


Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next time: “The Normalization of Deviance—If It Happened to NASA, It Can Happen to You”

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Monday, January 7, 2013

PTSD—Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The tragic events that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut have our responders thinking about the families, the city, and about the responders who handled the call.

A recent Associated Press story reported that the police officers in Newtown are “generally holding up well,” but some of the responders have been traumatized, are unable to return to work, and are using up their sick time. The article states that the city’s work comp insurance does not cover treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and some of the officers will be running out of sick time soon.

PTSD has sometimes been referred to as a natural response to an unnatural event.  It does not take long for most new firefighters, medics, and police officers to realize that they are working in a world that will send them to unnatural events—and sometimes they need help.

The 35W Bridge Memorial reads, in part:
Selfless actions and compassion create enduring
community out of tragic events.
The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) provides coverage for public safety responders with PTSD as a benefit to their city’s overall workers’ compensation coverage. The coverage is for any city emergency response employee who is diagnosed by a psychiatrist or licensed psychologist as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of witnessing or participating in a traumatic incident of death or great bodily harm.

The benefit covers:
  • Unreimbursed costs for up to one year for medical treatment, including psychiatric or psychological counseling, to cure and relieve the effects of the PTSD.
  • Unreimbursed wage or income loss during the time period the employee is unable to perform essential functions of her or her normal employment, for as long as one year.
If you or one of your public safety team needs help, contact your city’s human resources staff member to get help.

Just because someone looks good on the outside does not mean they are doing okay on the inside.


                                                  Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next time: “Dealing with Pressure—Make That Tire Pressure”

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.