When dealing with an emergency, time is a critical component. Misunderstandings and a cacophony of opinions can delay dealing with a casualty. It is crucial, then, that communications between a team assist in resolving the situation in the most rapid and effective manner.

In Svalbard our colleague, Peter Penny, played victim in our search and rescue mission, he lay on the ice waiting for us to find him.

Once found the team began their assessment from underneath an emergency shelter, I remained outside and listened in. I heard “Can somebody please check his pulse” and “has somebody checked his leg?” amongst a general hubbub of voices. All the while our stricken colleague lay freezing on the ice.

Eventually we strapped poor Peter to a pulk and dragged him to our imaginary helicopter rendezvous, before heading inside Svalbard’s Guesthouse 102 for hot tea and to review what we had learned.

Although we performed well there were issues with communications. We discussed three kinds of communications appropriate when on expedition:

  • Formal communications – commands and confirmation of understanding. Delivered from the team leader to individual members, part or all of the team. Confirmation that the request has been heard and understood is required.
  • Informal communications – The day-to-day chat and banter between the team, displaying empathy it is critical for a team’s well being.
  • Crisis Communications – minimum talk between the team, any talk is direct, addressing a specific person or people and concise. Before speaking we’d try and ask ourselves if what we’re about to say is required. After making a point we’d require confirmation or understanding. Sometime crisis communication needs to be brash.

Utilising this framework is difficult, especially for me, I like a chat and will often address questions to myself out loud which is confusing for the rest of the team, and probably a little bit nuts. I can also take the piss out of others. While I don’t mean any harm it can so easily be misconstrued and can cause offense.

Carrying out an expedition requires a reshuffle of my personal behaviour, a recoding of my personality DNA – from the way I speak to the way I make decisions (the topic of an upcoming post) – I never thought that this journey would provide me with so many challenges before even leaving these shores.

This has been an informal communication, I hope you found it interesting.