Sunday, May 20, 2012

How The Wheels Come Off

I joined CASARA Ottawa in the late 1990s. I worked my way up from spotter, to navigator, to pilot. I spent many years as the unit safety officer and introduced Safety Management Systems. Using Safety Management Systems principles I was able to rehabilitate a pilot who continued flying Visual Flight Rules (VFR) into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) rather than see him ejected from the unit, which seems to have been the procedure followed previously. I never sought a position on the executive, though when asked to step in as Unit Director (Zone Commander) when the incumbent stepped down early in his mandate I agreed. I also agreed to step in as Unit Training Officer under the same circumstances. So it was as I was the Unit Training Officer, that this story begins.

Ann Barr, the Unit Director (Zone Commander), asked me to prepare a training video. This video would form part of the local training program, but the main reason she asked me to do this was the difficulty she was facing when trying to describe a particular search technique to other units. The plan was to present the video at the annual Provincial Training Conference. A training flight was conducted during which some video was recorded. The debrief notes for the flight and the video were provided to me. It was at this time that I began to realize that the technique she and others had in mind was completely different from the one I was preparing training material for. I have previously written about the technical problems with their technique, the lack of mathematical and scientific rigour in their work and the fact that the data recorded on the video refutes their claims. I tried to educate the three people involved in these matters, but faced their stubborn refusal to accept or even investigate scientific or technical arguments. In stead, I was directed to include their technique in my training materials.

So there I was, the Unit Training Officer, recently Unit Safety Officer, directed to include techniques that were demonstrably unsound, based on false reporting of results, and that posed a clear and present danger to persons who may be awaiting rescue. I was then to present the technique at a Provincial Training conference. If the technique was widely adopted anyone needing air search and rescue services in the province of Ontario could be placed in jeopardy. I was perturbed, though no one could apparently see why since they felt their techniques were a new and better way to search for lost aircraft. I won't get into all the details of what happened over the following months but here are a few important elements.

At one point the Unit Director asked me to step back, think about my position, and come back with a different perspective. This kind of cookie cutter management technique may be appropriate for a dispute over whether the unit should by an equipment trailer or not. Was I supposed to come back with the frame of mind that it was OK to falsely report results of training flights, and use the false reports to contrive search techniques? In other words it is OK for a civilian search and rescue unit to make up ineffective search techniques that put innocent lives in danger as long as we all get along?

The Unit Director sent an Email about me to the Unit Executive (but not to me) in which she said my "...attacks on fellow CASARA members contravene the harassment policy found in the CASARA National Policy manual in that he has used abusive, profane language, sarcastic and belittling tones to discredit the efforts of CASARA Ottawa members.  As Unit Director, I am required to act in these cases. While I did not quote the policy to him, I did tell him that I would not accept that kind of behaviour from anyone, let alone the Training Officer." While I am not proud of my use of profane language, I did not attack anyone, nor was there was any belittling tone in my communications. Since reasoned scientific and technical argument had failed to persuade the people involved, I tried profanity and sarcasm as literary techniques to focus their attention on my arguments. Her statements are a clear accusation of harassment against me according to the CASARA National Policy manual. When I heard about the accuzation for one of the executive I hoped that the procedures for resolving accusations of harassment and formed the action the Director was required to take in accordance with national policy, would allow me to bring the safety issues to light. Unfortunately I was never officially provided a copy of this accusatory Email, even though I asked for it several times, nor was I given a chance to defend myself against these accusations as is required in the CASARA National Policy manual. In fact during a phone call with Mike Casey (who is also the one to told me how he got two ducks) he said that the Email was "...not an accusation. It was carefully worded not to be an accusation. It was worded that way to protect some one ... you". You can make of that what you will, but my grandmother would call that a bare faced lie. This exchange happened while Mr Casey was acting as mediator in the dispute.

Finally a meeting was arrange between the Unit Director and myself to try to sort things out. Unfortunately the Unit Director saw this as an opportunity to try to muzzle me. During that meeting she made in clear that I was not to communicate to members of the unit about anything. The only exception was that I could bring information to the "appropriate" member of the executive, though she never specified which member would be appropriate for what topics. So I tried one final time to make the Unit Safety Officer aware of the danger posed to potential accident survivors, and for that I was kicked out of the unit, even though as Unit Safety Officer I had ensured that any member could report any safety concern to anyone and have their concerns fully investigated. Apparently one can only report as safety concerns those things already known to be bad. Reporting something as a safety concern that the Unit Director thinks is good is a career limiting move.

Still concerned about this matter I contacted RCAF Headquarters at 1st Canadian Air Division and was told by Mr David Elias (the 1CAD Public Affairs Officer):
As you are aware, authority over SAR procedures and techniques rests with staff at the Air Force operational headquarters at 1 Canadian Air Division.

The Department of National Defence’s current Contribution Agreement requires that all new "projects" CASARA may wish to initiate must be vetted through the Air Force for their approval

To the best of our knowledge, it does not appear any CASARA units are operationally using the "Cardinal Pass" search technique or any other ad hoc technique for that matter. The Cardinal Pass has not been approved, nor is it accepted as a search procedure for CASARA.

We understand some CASARA members have spent their own time evaluating this procedure to verify its effectiveness. All of this testing was done on their own initiative without the use of any CASARA Training Funds provided through the Contribution Agreement. More importantly, based on data obtained by their trials and tests, it appears there is no advantage to this search procedure.
CASARA is expected to adhere to approved search procedures as agreed upon. The Air Force monitors this situation through our CASARA Liaison Officers (CLOs) who conduct periodic standards visits and flights on CASARA units.

Noting trials of the Cardinal Pass have concluded this technique to have limited merit, we have been given explicit assurance by CASARA that they have not, nor will they, employ the Cardinal Pass in real life search and rescue operations.

As an organization of volunteers, CASARA is hugely important to the national SAR system and Canada’s Air Force looks forward to working in partnership with them to save lives in the future.
So CASARA should have requested and received prior authorization to conduct investigations, or use the techniques on search and rescue flights. That factor was never considered in my dispute with CASARA. I informed Mr Elias that not only were the "trials and tests" performed during scheduled and unscheduled training activities, during evaluations conducted by the RCAF, all funded by tax dollars through the funding agreement between DND and CASARA, but also during search and rescue missions when the unit was tasked by the Joint Rescue Control Centre in Trenton and that I have documentation of that.

I have also had meetings and Email discussions with staff officers at NDHQ who have assured me that CASARA has been told "in no uncertain terms" not to use unauthorized techniques. So you can imagine my surprise when I was recently informed by Email from a current member of CASARA Ottawa that:
Neither the military nor other agencies have concluded that our unit should stop using the techniques and procedures we presently use. This is in spite of the wide distribution of your various papers on the subject. This would suggest that from a practical point of view, what we are doing is okay, or we would have been told to stop. In the meantime we continue to be successful in locating ELTs using these techniques and procedures.
And that they "... continue to conduct Aural Null searches that include radio off-tuning techniques". Even though NDHQ staff and other agencies were clear that this activity was not authorized, and is not documented in the CASARA Training Manual. I guess a few dozen training missions is enough for CASARA to ignore all the radio technology knowledge accumulated since Marconi's day; even though on their website they caution "Note that these are training flights and are subject to the vagaries of weather, crew selection, and daily operational issues and so are not expected to be perfect examples of search patterns." But good enough, apparently, that they don't even need to consider a technical or scientific evaluation of the technique. I've never been able to figure out why the lack of authority to perform the technique, or that higher CASARA management had already told the RCAF they would not use the techniques is not enough for them. Not only has the military but also scientific angencies have indeed concluded that their unit should stop using those unauthorized techniqes.

Clearly there is a lack of communications somewhere along the line, and this communications failure has encouraged a local unit to continue practising and using unauthorized and potentially dangerous techniques. Do we have to wait for this situation to come to its inevitable and tragic conclusion before some one will take the bull by the horns and fix it?

No comments:

Post a Comment