Combating Normalcy Bias through Training and Technology

The beauty of being human is that most of us live our lives believing the best in others and that life will be normal and predictive. We expect that things are always orderly and too often, that events that suddenly break the mold of normalcy, aren’t as bad as we might want to consider. Our brain is predisposed to assume that things will carry on in a predictable way. What happens when a plane hits your building, or shots ring out in the hall outside of your classroom, or a family member of a client lashes out during a scheduled in-home visit? When any sort of emergency situation strikes, the natural response for most people is not to do anything. It’s a situation called “normalcy bias”.

Normalcy bias is real and refers to a mental state people enter when facing a life threatening event. The sound of gunshots ring across a mall, something we have all NEVER encountered before. Normalcy bias causes many of us to interpret sensory warnings in the most optimistic way possible, and has us cognitively searching for ambiguities to allow us to consider a less serious situation. The results? We inadequately prepare and react which too often results in unnecessary injury and even death.

Corporations regularly embark on “scenario planning” exercises where they brainstorm scenarios they worry about, market signatures that indicate threat, and then reaction plans that allow them to react to the event. Mobile workers should most assuredly think through scenarios that could impact their personal security. What are the indicators that signal danger, and what are the options and actions to mitigate and escape? What would your plan be if you were in the office and heard shots coming from the floor beneath you? For mobile workers, what is the plan should a visit to a customer site go awry?

It is TRULY critical that mobile service workers be trained to recognize potential threats and their possible reactions to them. Normalcy bias may be caused in part by the way the brain processes new data: published research makes it clear that it takes 8–10 seconds to process new information. An event that is extreme in nature produces stress which slows the cognitive process, and when the brain cannot find an acceptable response to a situation, it fixates on a single and sometimes default solution that may or may not be correct. When a norm is broken, it takes a long time for the brain to process this aberration, which is why people who witness a traumatic event describe it as “surreal”.

Always be Orienting: Negating Normalcy Bias by Considering Scenarios and Plans of Action

When we started Blueforce in 2005, the “OODA” loop was something we wanted to enable in our product design process. The OODA loop was developed by military strategist and USAF Colonel John Boyd and refers to the decision cycle of observe (collect current information from as many sources as possible), orient (analyze this information and use it to update the current reality), decide (determine your course of action), and act (follow through on your decision). Boyd, a Vietnam era Air Force pilot, applied the concept to combat operations and the approach evolved to everyday use at the strategic level in military operations. Boyd emphasized that “the loop” is actually a set of interacting loops that are in continuous operation during various threat scenarios. Mobile workers who travel into non-predictable and potentially dangerous situations and environments can gain the upper hand by leveraging the OODA loop way before an actual encounter starts.

The same cycle can be leveraged by mobile lone workers as they go about their workday, and the same logic applies. When a lone worker deploys to a location where they sense threat, workers should be trained to gather information (observe), form hypotheses about the environment and actors (orient), make decisions, and act on them. The cycle is repeated continuously throughout any given day.Too often though, when a hostile situation presents itself, normalcy bias causes us to get stuck at the “D” (decide) and no action is taken allowing a potentially life threatening event to unfold. The aggressive and conscious application of the process creates a higher level of awareness over time and ultimately delivers faster decision tempo than the adversary.

Get Off The X and Signal for Help

Technology, in addition to training, can change the game when one is in a life threatening situation. When it comes to security, risk is everywhere and ignoring it isn’t the answer. “Getting off the X” means doing something right now and not waiting to clear a decision with another person. It’s about using whatever means deemed necessary to escape a threatening situation. Ask any security expert and they will tell you, movement is life. Getting off the X and signaling for help can change the outcome during life threatening situations. Blueforce BlueBeacon was designed to enable covert or explicit panic signaling and includes multiple sensor feeds to help responders find you and understand what is going on around you in real time, even while moving.

Whether you are a visiting nurse, social worker, realtor, or K-12 teacher, training, fused with best-in-class personal security technology, can increase survivability during life threatening events.