Intuitive Behavior on the Front Line

Public Safety insights from volunteer rural Queensland firefighter, Rob Hockings.

Rob Hockings

Rob Hockings, volunteer rural firefighter
and Tait Public Safety Specialist

“The other week I couldn’t get my radio to work until I realized I’d accidentally turned it off! It’s not uncommon, but it’s part of that intuitive behavior we display when we’re under duress. If our radios don’t match that intuitive behavior, then they won’t work because we’re not thinking about them, we’re thinking about the thing that is causing the duress. It’s about seeing the forest for the trees. That’s why I am passionate about human behavior under duress.”

Rob Hockings is a volunteer rural firefighter in Queensland, with 15 years’ public safety experience with Queensland Police Service and the Queensland Department of Emergency Service. Since 2010 he’s been working as a Public Safety Specialist at Tait Communications in Brisbane.

“When I joined Tait I didn’t want to lose my connection with the public safety sector that I’d become so familiar with, so I decided to become a volunteer firefighter. Within this role I can be a truck driver, first aid officer, a pump operator etc. Previously, none of my experience had been frontline, so this was completely new for me and a great ‘real world’ ingredient to add to my role with Tait.

“I see this first hand in my voluntary role when firefighters are trained; they’re taught how to turn the radio on, where the volume and PTT is, what channel they’re on – and how to get it back on that channel. That’s about all they probably need to know in the initial stages. For people who don’t use this stuff normally, it can be overwhelming. They need something logical that matches their intuitive behavior. It’s been a great experience looking at it from a manufacturers’ perspective for my professional role with Tait, and getting this insight.

Rob Hockings

Rob at his day job in Brisbane, Australia.

“In Queensland rural crews look after the land and urban crews look after people and buildings. In events where we need to communicate between these crews we obviously rely on our radios. It sounds basic, when you pick up a red microphone, you’ll talk to the red trucks – the urban crew – and when you pick up a yellow microphone you’ll talk to the yellow trucks, and that’s the rural firefighters. Having the microphones colored to match the trucks is logical. That’s intuitive behavior, has nothing to do with technology, and is hugely important, but it’s the kind of thing you only ‘get’ when you spend time in the firefighter’s world.

“As well as these fundamental issues, our biggest challenges are around resources, fatigue management, falling trees and the wind. When we’re on the fire ground, we’re constantly monitoring water supply levels, food supplies, listening to our surrounding (cracking trees and branches), checking on our colleagues (tired firefighters are a risk to everybody) and monitoring the wind patterns – fires behave erratically and can change direction with frightening speed. In these situations when every sense is heightened, it’s our intuitive behavior that overtakes, and that’s why the equipment we use must ‘just work’.

Combining my professional and voluntary roles has given me an invaluable view of firefighting; it’s so different to what I’ve experienced before with the Police – the only thing they really have in common are the red and blue lights!

But seriously, you’ll only ever get this kind of insight when you go out there, walk in their shoes and work with them, right at the fire ground frontline.”

Want to learn more about how duress affects communications? Check out our NSW State Emergency Services case study about the Tait Advanced Voice Communication Assessment

Looking for more information about Public Safety interoperability?  Read our Genuine P25 Interoperability for Public Safety Agencies white paper.

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