The CRM of Declaring an Emergency

Near the end of Episode 27, Matt and Rob’s conversation turned to the subject of declaring an emergency.

Over my time in this industry, I’ve found that the substance of any conversation regarding the Declaration of an Emergency is never about the mechanics or benefits of doing so; but rather the focus on the individual’s perception regarding the “implications” of uttering those magic words. I guess, by association, the question also becomes when to declare and what might happen if we do. Overall, most pilots are so concerned with the perceived consequences of declaring an emergency that they delay the declaration until catastrophe is inevitable. That is simply not true and it honestly permeates the entire spectrum of aviation.

Aviators, Controllers, Supervisors, Schedulers, Line Personnel, Maintenance technicians – we all struggle with the question of declaring an emergency and spend more time considering what will come of it administratively, rather than operationally.

As Rob correctly points out, the truth is, if you polled your company leadership, airspace controllers, training staff, and even the regulatory authorities, my gut tells me it would be unlikely there would be any negative consequences, so long as it’s used appropriately and with good cause.

Determining appropriate use and with good cause is a subjective lens and depends on the experiences and skill level of the pilot, the type of aircraft, and even the type of airspace and terrain at the time. The totality of the circumstances is unique to each emergency ultimately is the judgment of the pilot of command.

Rather than deep dive into this subjective rabbit hole, it’s sometimes helpful to step back and look at this question through a different lens. How about the spectacle of Crew Resource Management?

Why work a problem solely within the confines of the aircraft cockpit? Why wait to engage a host of resources that is purposefully put in place to ensure your flight operates safely from start to finish? Aviators, Crew members, Cabin Staff, ATC Controllers, Operational Supervisors, Schedulers & Logistics, Line Personnel, Maintenance technicians, Airport Officials, Emergency Response Personnel, and even your passengers are resources. We are all in it together and determined to bring any event to safe and positive conclusion.

Crew Resource Management, also known as CRM, is at its core is about communicating effectively, working efficiently, and making good use of the resources at hand. When the need arises and you need to get the attention of those resources, think of the declaration of an emergency as simply turning up the volume of the receiving radio whenever you transmit. I agree that the Declaration of Emergency is at the top of the resource pyramid. I’m not encouraging anyone to abuse that privilege to go to the front of the line without just cause. Instead, as the situation evolves begin to loop in these resources by making them aware of the current status and potential for such as time and workload permits.

I can cite many occasions where a pilot advised the other crew members or ATC controllers of issues that could result in the declaration of an emergency and at times have. We could likely find a few also where little was said or revealed until it had devolved into something much more serious.

It helps to think of “Emergency” Situations as the ultimate Crew Resource Management exercise.

Perhaps from that perspective, it’s a little less daunting to consider your options and measure the correct response.