This article is about today’s crucial importance of education in Skydiving and Rigging and what part of it are procedures and rules.
“You have to be ready for every situation!”- this is a popular expression lately and it makes perfect sense. But what does it mean, how do we prepare in order to be “ready”, what training is necessary, where do we get it, what knowledge do we need, is the training from our first jump course enough, etc. etc.? All good questions. Here, we are going to answer some of them. Obviously, it all comes down to EDUCATION! The right EDUCATION!
In order to survive a skydive we need- knowledge, skills and experience! There is nothing else we can rely on when it is time to resolve any situation up there than ourselves and what we know. Interestingly, in recent years, the concept of “following procedures and rules” has been pushed through Skydiving more and more and now it wrongly has been assumed as the main way of dealing with difficult situations. “Following procedures and rules” is very important, actually it is extremely important. Following procedures and rules means that certain important things are going to get done in the necessary order. This evidently ensures the safety in skydiving to a big extent. Is that enough? Both, the short and the long answers are -NO.
The definition for “Procedure” is- a series of actions are conducted in a certain order or an established or official way of doing something. It is a term coming from the mechanics, and it works well in the factories. Following procedures there ensures things are done the correct way in order a certain process to be carried out. Skydiving, Rigging, training and education are not manufacturing processes. There simply cannot be procedures that cover what will happen on a jump. Every jump is different to some extent, done by different people, from different altitudes, different airplanes, and with different equipment! Equipment checks, packing procedures, post deployment procedures etc are good examples for procedures we use today. They are just part of the education and should not be mistaken for sufficient good training in Skydiving and Rigging. Also, “Procedures” can and have to change often, when situation requires that, especially in emergencies.
So, what exactly is the difference between Procedures and education- following procedures covers only several things that need to be done in specific situations while good education is what prepares us to resolve a wide range of problems in wide range of different situations. There is a big difference between the two!
Unknown situations, Extreme weather conditions/phenomenon/, Unknown equipment and other factors/mostly human ones/ are important part of the education in Skydiving and standard “procedures” do not cover wide range of what happens in these. The insufficient training in these areas is a reason for a big part of the serious injuries and deaths.
Unknown situations- well they happen, and we must deal with them. It is important to know what can help us. Broken control line on deployment, 3000 ft height, no line twist, steerable canopy and the canopy turns. Do you have to cut away? Yes, there’s many answers, and they all depend on the particular situations. Winds, distance from landing area, main canopy, spot, etc, etc, etc.
Unusual and extreme weather conditions/phenomenon/- looks like a good idea to know how to handle strong wind gusts, turbulence, dust devils, etc. Let us say you are at 2000 ft under a good canopy and there is sudden wave of strong wind- 30-40 kts on the surface. This changes your original plan, but you still must land, nobody stayed up there. What is the approach you need now, can you fly your canopy backwards facing into the wind, what are the implications flying the canopy crosswind? Now your knowledge comes to play.
Unknown equipment. What constitutes unknown equipment? Well, obviously the equipment you do not know, and If you do not know what is in your reserve tray- that makes it new when it’s time to use it. A good example is using MAARD systems. After cutaway, RSL opens your reserve tray and initiates the reserve opening sequence regardless in what position you are, sometimes spinning, spinning on your back etc. Any other position than belly to earth, slightly head up is less favourable for the reserve opening.
What is the difference between untreated Spectra lines /PD reserves/ and treated/stiffer/ Spectra lines?
Other factors/mostly human ones/- yes, very important to know how you would react when you are first time in particular situations. If you lack the necessary time and resources/knowledge/ and you are to deal with situation that you do not know how to resolve, the “freeze, fight or fly” response takes into action, and you could forget even the things you knew.
Nowadays, these factors are sometimes left outside the scope of the things considered important in training and in operations. Again- knowledge, skills and experience is what we need, and only good education and training can provide them. Following standard operating procedures are not enough!
Well, if you create a system to do something- do not be surprised it does it!
It is not a big surprise these factors are important and ignoring them causes problems.
Turns out there is a huge amount that can be done, and education is very important.
“The ability to generate and then select the appropriate course of action is based on the decision maker’s “reading” of the situation—in other words, our ability to assess the situation and predict how it will evolve over the next few seconds. “The more knowledge you have on how things work- better chance of reading the situation. Knowing what is in the reserve container, what the closing sequence is, how and when the MARD works, why the RSL was invented and implemented, what the reserve pilot chute is, can affect the way we read and PERCIEVE emergency situations. These things are important and being familiar with them could save your life. In emergency, people have reacted in different way depending on how they see the situation. As a result, if you know how all the equipment works and what you have, often you do not need to stop, think and then act. Action becomes inbuilt into your reflexes- we jump out of the way of fast approaching car before we even think about it. The same thing happens when you are driving a car- you are not constantly thinking how much input you should apply to different muscles of your limbs in order to maintain a straight line- it is all done subconsciously. You need to think only when you the situation changes, and you need to decide which way you need to turn at an intersection.
The alternative is when you do not know how equipment works in emergency situation- you execute only what you are told- pull some handles, hopefully in the right sequence. If this does not go well- you will need a lot of luck because you do not have time! If we are not sure exactly what is the problem, we need time to realise exactly what is happening, to run different simulations and to decide what course of action to take and execute it. In skydiving- we DO NOT have time. Unfortunately, the current Skydiving “Emergency procedures” diagram-based education here simply fails in many aspects.
All these- “Unknown situations, Extreme weather conditions/phenomenon/, Unknown equipment and other factors/mostly human/ factors” are interrelated. Educating ourselves in one of them, significantly improves the overall outcome as this positively affects all other factors. Let us say we significantly improve our knowledge in “Unknown equipment” /how equipment works/, this significantly improves our ability to handle weather phenomenon/very important/, unknown situations/extremely important/, Human factors/increases the competence confidence loop and anxiety level/ and this improves following procedures as they are understood better.
Getting back to- “You have to be ready for every situation!”- it means that we must be prepared as much as possible for what is coming at us in skydiving. We must know how to prevent and handle situations that have happened before, and we need to be able to tackle even situations that have not happened to us or in general.
Unfortunately to me it looks like we were closer to the right education 30 years ago than today. The reasons for that are complex, however the education providing the necessary knowledge, needs to reflect the modern equipment we have, the already gained experience in skydiving, educational psychology etc.
Luckily, we know all this! We just need to implement what we know again!
It is every skydiver’s personal responsibility to learn how to survive after passing their student status.
Do not wait! Ask! Seek information! Learn! Request a good education, your life depends on it! Ask WHY and HOW! If whoever is teaching you, cannot explain WHY and HOW, ask someone that knows!
Where do we start?
You can start with the manuals for your parachutes and AAD!
Photo, courtesy of “Jump Dogs Display Team”
Para Gear is interested in photographic submissions that you may have for the 2021 - 2022 Para Gear Catalog #83. They have taken the time to briefly describe the format and certain criteria that they look for, in order to help you to see if you have something worth submitting. They have included examples of previous catalog covers for your reference. http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.290693934285998.71336.290673160954742&type=3 or https://www.dropzone.com/gallery/category/72-gallery_category_72/
Over the years Para Gear has used photos from all of skydiving's disciplines. They do not have a preference as far as what type of skydiving photo it is, rather they look for something that either is eye-catching or pleasing to the eye. In light of the digital age, They are also able to use photos that in one way or another may be less than perfect and enhance them, removing blemishes, flipping images, altering colors, etc.
The following are preferences. However what they prefer and what they get, or choose, are not always the same. If however, they came down to a choice between two photos of equal quality, they would opt for the one that met more of our preferences. They typically prefer that the photo be brighter. In the past, they have used sunset photos and even a night jump photo, although by and large most of the photos are daytime. They like the subject of the image to have contrast with the background. Subjects that are wearing brighter more colorful clothing usually stand out more. They prefer to have the people in the photo wearing equipment since that is what they sell. Headgear, goggles, jumpsuits, altimeters, audible altimeters, and gloves are all good. They also prefer to see skydivers wearing head and foot protection.
They do not print any BASE jumping nor any Tandem photographs. No submissions of these will be accepted. Para Gear are not interested in any photos of individual or groups of skydivers standing on the ground
Our basic criteria are as follows:
Vertical Format. The front and back covers of the catalog are both in a vertical format. They can use a horizontal (landscape) shot, as opposed to a vertical (portrait), and then crop it as long as the image lies within a vertical cropping.
Photo Quality. The front and back cover shots will be printed as 8 ½ x 11 in 300 dpi format. Any film that can hold its quality up to this size and print dpi is fine. Digital format is preferred. In the event of a final cover choice, they prefer to be sent the original digital image or slide for getting the best quality out of the image.
Back Cover Photo. The back cover photo is no different from the front except in one respect. They need to have room on the left side of the image for the thumb index. In the past, they have taken images and been able to horizontally flip them thereby creating this room.
Originality. Anything that is original, eye-catching, or makes someone take more notice of the catalog covers is something Para Gear look for. It could be a photo from a unique camera position or angle, a scenic skydive, shots under canopy, landings, etc. Para Gear look for photos that have not been previously published and most likely would not accept them if they have, as they want a photo that no one else has seen yet. They also do not want any photos that are chosen as the front or back covers to be used for other non-Para Gear advertising for a period of one year.
Para Gear offers $500.00 each for both the front and back covers they choose. Our current deadline for catalog cover submissions is March 1st 2021. Sending sample pictures by e-mail to [email protected], If you are sending sample digital pictures please note that they do not need to be in a very large format. If they like the sample picture they will then ask you to send the higher quality original. Please feel free to contact Curt directly with any questions.
This should be a relatively simple question, right? After all we learn them before we even go for our first skydive. Some people find it easy and some very difficult to deal with Emergency situations. So difficult that they couldn’t. It all depends how procedures are thought and consequently perceived. Motivations set goals and goals define perception, therefore instructors, manufacturers and riggers might give you slightly different versions on what would work best. Who decides? Education is the key, but only the right education! However, different opinions should be seriously considered as things change. This is very important as we have a strong tendency to reject ideas that fail to fit our preconceptions, labeling those ideas as unworthy of consideration— nonsense, irrelevant, weird, or mistaken
“Of the 308 fatalities that were reported between 1993-2001, 264 (86%) were categorized as Human Error, indicating that human error was deemed to be the principal causal factor in the mishaps”, this study was done in the USA. So 264 people executing emergency procedures during this period made a fatal mistake. The same study concluded that- “Within skydiving training and education programs, specific attention should be given to human error, and training should be deliberately aimed at reducing human error mishaps.” This was concluded 20 years ago. What do you think has been done with relation to this? Not much, and in regards to reducing human error things have gotten even more complicated.
In order to execute the correct emergency procedures, we need to identify the malfunction correctly and perform the correct action from all the available options.
Here’s an example of one way to teach them:
This is just an example. Looks good and it’s in color too, well presented and not that difficult to understand. There are many different types of these around. Are they the real deal?
They should be, if they are around. And are they what the education needs? This type diagrams are consequence of the typical industrial type of education. The idea with the diagrams is that you learn it and when you need to respond to a malfunction situation- just execute the actions! That’s how computers work. Fast and accurate. But that’s not what happens in our heads. We are organic creatures. Skydiving is a high pace activity and we don’t have time to freeze, bring out the diagram with situations from the library, pick the right one and execute it. According to Adler (1991) and Schramm-Nielsen (2001), the decision-making process is comprised of specific stages including the recognition of the problem, search of information, alternatives, assessment of alternatives, selection of an alternative, implementation, control and feedback. Stress can also have an impact on each stage of the decision-making process (Moschis, 2007). Janis and Mann (1977) conclude that perceived stress in the decision-making process is a major cause of bad decisions and errors. And this is understandable- if we don’t know or understand what’s going on- the brain puts us in the pray response- freeze, fight, flight.
Consequently, the following issues arise from the diagram way to learn emergency procedures- our nervous systems are not fast enough and humans are not “Stimuli response machine” when skydiving, nor while acting under any pressure or stress. This “Stimuli response machine” theory of human behavior was from the middle of the last century and it says that when you are presented with a problem, you consider it, make a decision and act. However, this mechanism is true and works ONLY when everything that happens goes to plan, we have time, we are not under pressure and have enough time to think. This rarely happens in real life, let alone when dealing with emergencies in skydiving.
More importantly, diagrams and words are not how we think in skydiving and in general. What? What am I talking about?
A new study led by Elinor Amit, an affiliate of the Psychology Department, shows that people create visual images to accompany their inner speech even when they are prompted to use verbal thinking, suggesting that visual thinking is deeply ingrained in the human brain while speech is a relatively recent evolutionary development.
“This suggests that we can’t really go beyond the here and now and think in abstract ways about other people, places, or times,” Amit said. “This is the way our brains are wired, and there may be an evolutionary reason for this [because] we haven’t always been verbalizers. For a long time, we understood our world visually, so maybe language is an add-on.
“That has important implications because if we are truly grounded in the here and now, what does that mean about how we develop public policy?” she added. “Do we need to help people overcome their bias to focusing on the here and now? This is something we may need to be aware of.”
This is relevant to skydiving as when we think about skydiving we imagine pictures, frames, short clips. Human life and behavior is organized around our vision. This is another fact that separates us from animals as they have their life organized around smell. This is very important as it gives us the ability to build images in our heads and run simulations. But this is only possible if the training goes past the diagrams and involves video or photographs. Hey, it’s not really possible to see what’s exactly happening after you throw your pilot chute so we feel and build pictures in our head of the developing opening sequence. If our brain detects any mismatch with what’s supposed to happen- we are alerted to get ready. RAS is activated.
Visualization is widely used in skydiving. So why did we stop using it for emergency procedures training? I know people that haven’t seen any emergency procedures visual aids since they finished their AFF course 10 years ago. Even worse, it’s actually hard to find updated video of emergency procedures done right in real situation.
If things do not go as planned, the emotional system- the ancient brain takes over and acts. The systems that are activated in the stress situations have been studied in depth. More details are to be in different publication but one good example is the RAS- reticulate activating system, located mainly in the hippocampus. It keeps track of everything that doesn’t go to plan so we can react. This is the system that wakes you up at night if something wrong is happening- loud noise, anomaly in the environment, etc. The same system helps you drive your car when you are brain wondering and think about something else, whatever it is. It will alert you and help make a decision when the traffic light gets red so you can stop in response. What actually happens when things go wrong is – the hippocampus modulates the process there, primes the amygdala in case things go really wrong and it primes the hypothalamus, the part of our brain responsible for exploration /we need to find a solution/. The result is you are ready! The question is how worried should you be? And that depends on how ready you are for the emergency.
The “Stimuli response machine” emergency procedures diagrams have some other inbuilt problems. One is that not all situations that happen are described, so they don’t give you a course of action for them. These should be resolved with the help of autonomous and divergent thinking. In order to do that we need have the necessary information. In skydiving, the necessary information involves equipment education and how parachute systems work. Unfortunately, there’s practically no formal education incorporated for licensed skydivers in this area. In other words, licensed skydivers unless they are riggers, luck the resources they need to deal with some situations. This can lead to developing of negative emotions in skydivers. The chronic overwhelm caused by these negative emotions can also harm the hippocampus, which is crucial for learning: this is where short-term memories, like what we've just heard or read, are converted to long- term memories, so we can recall them later. The hippocampus is extraordinarily rich in receptors for cortisol, so our capacity to learn is very vulnerable to stress. If we have constant stress in our lives, this flood of cortisol actually disconnects existing neural networks; we can have memory loss. We must learn to make our own interpretations rather than act on the purposes, beliefs, judgments, and feelings of others.
So, what should we do? Practice and science show that the more prepared we are, the faster the solution and better the outcome is. How we perceive the situations in skydiving has immense influence on the outcome and the perception depends on our knowledge and experience. The ability to generate and then select the appropriate course of action is based on the decision maker’s “reading” of the situation—in other words, their ability to assess the situation and predict how it will evolve over the next few seconds. If equipment knowledge and understanding the process is in play, then dealing with emergency situations is significantly simplified. “In general, for freefall emergencies they come down to- If your main canopy is out or there’s a reason to believe it can come out- jettison the main and deploy the reserve. If the main parachute is not coming out- deploy your reserve! All these should be done high enough.” Knowing your equipment and how it works also fits the biological reasons to perceive the emergency situations as challenge and not as threat and to get into the competence/ confidence loop which means -less stress. In other words- we perceive the emergency situation as challenge, not threat.
The right education? Well, looks like we need to work on it!
All the above is just scratching the surface on the subject. It doesn’t explain everything and nothing in our brain does one thing only. Also, there are other factors in making decisions under stress too. However, humans have the necessary response abilities to act in high stress situations. They have been developing in the evolution for more than 300 million years. These abilities are very effective and we use them daily in our lives, in sports and even in skydiving. All these should be deeply utilised in the skydive training, not ignored!
Maybe it’s time the available knowledge to be implemented for updating the skydiving education. Skydivers’ safety depends on that!