Institutionalizing ORM at the Squadron Level


Having recently returned from a challenging split-site deployment, including the first deployment to 5th Fleet for the P-8A Poseidon, VP-5 has completed a campaign to institutionalize the use of operational risk management (ORM) in our pilots and naval flight officers that began early on in our home cycle. We have seen a notable improvement in the quality of our aviators’ decision-making ability, and we hope that a few observations on what worked for us may help any squadron interested in strengthening the way their operators manage risk.

At the beginning of our home cycle, many operators were confusing ORM with crew resource management (CRM), and ORM training was generally limited to meeting GMT requirements. Through a methodical campaign plan over the last 18 months, we have been able to transform ORM from a program to an ingrained element of our culture.

We started by upholding the four principles of ORM in our foundational documents – commanding officer’s (CO) philosophy, senior pilot guidance and safety policy. In order to breathe life into these words on paper, we first focused on the academic knowledge required to be able to apply the concepts and principles. We knew that in the same way we study bold face procedures in order to be able to confidently apply them in flight, we needed to ensure everyone actually knew the four principles of ORM if they were ever going to effectively apply them at 250 KIAS.

We used our weekly training days to instruct aircrew on how to functionally use ORM to make decisions in flight, putting senior operators, including the CO, on the scenario hot seat demonstrating how to apply the principles to make good decisions. After repeated examples in the classroom environment, our aircrew began to understand how it works.

Our approach centers on analyzing in-flight decisions in terms of probability as opposed to severity, and applying the four principles. We tend to shy away from the five-step process in flight due to the time critical nature of most decisions, unless time allows. We also emphasize the need to enter into the decision with objective, unemotional input because emotional input results in emotional output, even if the decision making framework is perfect.

For example, early on in the inter-deployment readiness cycle, we had a crew elect to make an emergency overweight landing after they detected fumes in the tube and some members had gone on O2. Even though the fumes were no longer present, they elected to make the emergency landing because a crew member felt mildly unwell. We debriefed the scenario corporately, not to embarrass, but to learn. As we replayed it at zero knots, we considered the probability of a reflash occurring that would prevent a safe landing was very low because the aircraft was in the terminal area, where there was sufficient visibility. It was also clear that there was low probability of serious illness of any crew members. The severity of a crew member not feeling great was also low, as was a reflash because, in part, the initial event never affected the flight station.

It became clear that the benefit of an expedited landing did not outweigh the cost of potentially damaging the aircraft and downing the plane for weeks if the sink rate at touchdown was too high. It became clear that the risks could be anticipated and managed through planning. Examples like these are numerous. Through regular, objective, non-punitive analyses of cases like these in terms of ORM principles, light bulbs began coming on all over our squadron spaces.

Our leaders also began to model ORM before flights not as a checklist or score sheet but as a discussion. Before each flight or simulator, our crews discuss the risks to both mission and safety, and what they can do to mitigate them. By making the ORM portion of the NATOPS brief a group discussion, crews have been able to increase the level of preflight and on-station decision making.

Additionally, we began holding our aircrew fully accountable for this concept during all PPC, TACCO, and MC boards and check-rides, requiring the demonstration of the ability to use ORM to work through a scenario and reach a sound decision. We have been able to see a transformation from initial confusion between ORM and CRM to seeing leaders conduct analysis in terms of the four principles.

We have observed that when upgraders know that they will be expected to demonstrate the use of ORM to make an operational decision on their training events, they prepare ahead of time, and our PPCs and TACCOs teach ORM to their upgraders from their own experience in order to help them be successful. Throughout our deployment, we witnessed a succession of sound, ORM-based decisions and I can confidently say that there was not one decision made by any PPC, TACCO, MC, or officer in charge that I ever disagreed with, and our operational commodores routinely seconded this sentiment.

Our next frontier in our campaign plan is to bring our approach into the maintenance department. Our maintainers have higher baseline knowledge of the five steps of ORM than aircrew because their knowledge is typically spot checked at MPA and AMI. Through similar training efforts such as scenario-based discussions during safe-for-flight and plane captain boards, we know that every VP-5 Mad Fox is employing ORM to keep the squadron safely on track. Like our aircrew, though, they were less familiar with the principles behind the process, so we are working on filling in these knowledge gaps using some of the same methods that were so effective with our aircrew.

We received volumes of anonymous feedback on our MCAS/CSA survey affirming that our Sailors recognize what we are doing and have bought into the benefits and effectiveness of regularly using ORM. In successfully institutionalizing ORM at all levels of our operations, we have equipped our aircrew and maintenance team to make quality decisions. This not only underpins safe operations, but makes us more effective on station.

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