The first thing that comes to the mind of many mariners when they hear “drills” is “compliance”. From engine room fire drills to enclosed space drills, they are critical activities that help ensure one’s crew is prepared to react rapidly, efficiently and effectively in emergency situations. With the importance of safety drills to marine operations, it’s no surprise they are mandated by law to be routinely performed Ultimately, the aim is for all crew on-board to know emergency procedures instinctively, without thinking.
However, there may be a missed opportunity to treat drills as more than just exercises of preparedness and something to check-off from the list of ‘regulations to comply with’. They’re a great way for an operator to run through a scenario and identify any problems in their emergency plans or equipment. Drills help the crew become familiar with the vessel and equipment, they help the crew develop teamwork and they are an integral piece of the larger ‘training picture’.
It also means that there is an opportunity for drills to be assessed, just as one would assess a regular training activity or simulation exercise. In fact, drills can be thought of as another way to evaluate a mariner’s technical skill. Properly recorded, drills are an invaluable source of insights and another way to continuously improve an organization’s operational training and safety.
Most operators keep rudimentary records of all drills held. Typically, the person running the drill, often the master or a more senior member of the crew, will record attendance to ensure everyone is present. This person may write note down what the drill is and the scenario details. Further notes may be taken during the debriefing on what went well and what could have been done better with the exercise.
This practice of taking attendance and writing brief notes, while adequate for compliance, only records that a drill has occurred. It relies on the person running the drill to be an expert on what needs to happen during any given scenario, and for them have excellent recall to remember who did what correctly (or incorrectly). There’s no way to ensure that the right tasks are being performed and no detailed record, that the organization can trust, of what happened.
To treat a drill as an assessment, as if it were a normal training activity or skill demonstration exam, there needs to be standardization and measures put in place to ensure reliability (the same ‘score’ would be assigned to the drill activity, time after time) and validity (the right tasks and skills are being performed and correctly recorded). There are many tips and methods on how to accomplish this, however one of the key things to do is to have some tool to facilitate real-time assessment during the drill exercise. This can mean sitting down and writing a ‘framework’ on what behaviors and skills you need to observe during the drill, and having the person running the drill check-off them off on a clipboard. It can also mean using an electronic tool or app to help ease the process. In any case, the important thing is to have a standardized “form” containing all activities corresponding to the drill.
By having your “assessor” (the person running the drill) go through this list every time a particular drill is conducted, you will have a clear idea on what happened during every exercise. And the practice of recording every behavior observed allows for more detailed and accurate debriefs.
Insights to Be Gained
What is to be gained by assessing drills? Besides the ability to clearly identify whether the safety drill has been conducted successfully, a substantial amount of data points is now available for deep insights. By assessing and recording every individual’s performance in a drill, you gain a more complete picture of crew competency – namely the crew’s ability to perform in real-world operations. You can easily identify who is good at what, which behaviors or actions were missed by the team or individual, and target training to the results. It becomes easy to look at past drills and compare to see if things have improved as the recording is consistent across time. This in turn allows the operator to track development of individual skills and team attributes and see whether training (or other factors) have an impact on real performance.
Safety drills are already conducted regularly on-board vessels to reduce risk in emergency situations. By adding structure and a tool for assessment, operators gain insight into real-world skill proficiency and tap into a rich source of data to help inform a program of continuous improvement in training. So why not treat drills as something more than exercises for compliance?
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Murray Goldberg is the founder and CEO of Marine Learning Systems (www.marinels.com), the provider of software that supports the full breadth of maritime training and assessment. Murray began research in eLearning in 1995 at the University of British Columbia. He went on to create the world’s first commercially successful LMS for higher education, serving 14 million students in 80 countries. With Marine Learning Systems, Murray is playing a part in advancing the art and science of learning in the maritime industry.