“In military-speak, situational awareness is defined as the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regard to a mission. More simply, it's being aware of what is going on around you.” – “SEAL Survival Guide: A Navy SEAL’s Secrets to Surviving Any Disaster,” Cade Courtley
It’s tough not to be impressed and a little fascinated by SEALs, especially the more you get to know about the brutal training that is designed to weed out all but the superhumanly toughest of any BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) class. My cousin made it through BUD/S (he was part of the class chronicled in Dick Couch’s “The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228”), earned his Trident, and was a member of Team 7 for several years, and some of his stories from training are truly legendary. (One night, they were forced to run along the beach, boots in the surf, for miles. While they were running, the instructor followed along in the back of a pick-up all the while saying, “NOBODY LOVES YOU…NOBODY LOVES YOU…” in monotone over and over into a megaphone.)
When the instructors weren’t trying to freeze, drown, or beat the recruits down, they were training and hardening them for things that would help them–and their future team—survive when it all goes sideways in the bush.
At any moment, leaders of the class can be called on to count off the muster. When asked, you needed to know the whereabouts and status of each man in the class—how many are present, how many are in medical, how many are off doing something else. Get the muster wrong, and you get wet-and-sandy. Importance: No matter what is going on, always know where every man is so you never leave anyone behind.
When they would “drop and push ‘em out,” they had to face a specific direction. And there is no pulling out a compass and doing a quick check; drop and face the wrong way, and expect to get the instructor’s attention which is never a good thing. (Expect to hear a calmly disappointed, “Get wet and sandy.”) Lesson: Always know where you are and where you are headed so you don’t get lost.
At standing rest, they would position a canteen on the ground pointing toward the nearest body of water. To SEALs water is safety, and always knowing where the nearest water is for concealment, exfil (extraction), or escape could save your life.
While we probably/hopefully don’t have to worry about being ambushed or IED’d on a jobsite, there is something to be learned from heightening our situational awareness of you and your team on a job. Beyond just the normal things like not walking off a rafter or drilling into a water line, paying attention to the little things can save big problems later.
On larger projects, like the Mega Job we’ve been working on, the job is spread out over week, months, or maybe even years. On these kinds of jobs, paying attention to the status—or situation report—and remaining in constant communication with the builder and other trades will keep you from having those, “You need to have your team up here tomorrow morning or you’ll be too late!” crisis phone calls. There are obvious things like insulation and drywall but other things like when door frames will be installed for security contacts or when concrete will be poured to make sure you have any sleeves in place or when a porch ceiling will be closed in or when they are planning on going for the CO.
The SEALs are huge on the concept of team over individual. In fact, not being a team player and focusing on yourself will get you booted. A construction site is a hive of activity, with all of these different trades busily working on their own pieces of the puzzle. There is HVAC, electricians, carpenters, cabinet makers, painters, flooring, plumbers, and more. And all of these different trades—or teams—are working toward the same goal: finishing the house. At some point, you will likely need some work done from one (or many) of these trades, and learning to work with them—and get information from them—will be incredibly helpful. We established a very friendly relationship with the electrician on Mega Job early on by sharing tools and giving him the big picture of what our system was going to do and what we would need from him. (Especially critical since it was a Lutron HomeWorks project.) This reaped rich rewards as he would proactively reach out to us and tell us of addition (they decided to add about 20 outdoor fans that had not been part of the original design) and changes (they decided to reframe a ceiling with either of our speaker frames in it) that would affect us, or when our special power requirements popped up needing his help.
I can’t tell you how valuable it has been to just spend a few minutes at the end of the day to walk through a job and just look—really look—around. Doing this we’ve found damaged wiring, missed wiring, wallboxes knocked askew, missing power outlets, or any other number of things that require attention. Sometimes it is things another trade might not have noticed that you can bring to their attention. Think that won’t buy you some good jobsite karma and goodwill? And we all know that it is easier to fix a problem sooner than later.
Being aware means noticing and fixing potential problems before they become actual problems. How many times have you noticed some small thing like an emitter coming loose that you’ve just pushed it back into place without taping it down or replacing it? Or looked at a remote or touchscreen at the end of the day and noticed that it could really use a specific button but it was just too much a hassle to pull the laptop back out? Or noticed that a wire in the rack wasn’t labeled? Or felt a component that you knew was way too hot? Or saw a battery that didn’t seem to be charging correctly? We all encounter little things like this that can be addressed with relatively little effort when noticed early on, or they can be ignored and become a crisis service call later on.
The SEALs have another motto: It pays to be a winner. At BUD/S that means getting to rest or get warm while non-winners suffer some more. In our world, “winner” employees get promotions. Winners get raises. Winners get sent to advanced training. Winning companies land the bigger and better jobs. Winners stay in business. And to that we can all say a solid, “Hooyah!”
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.