Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, aviation hero, shares his experience with ARL human factors and ergonomics expert
November 03, 2010
Military experts in human research and engineering, including Petra Alfred, from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, recently participated in a military-only discussion with Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger about one of the most sensational case studies of human factors and ergonomics in modern times.
On Jan. 15, 2009, after geese flew into the engine of US Airways Flight 1549 and the aircraft rapidly began losing altitude, Sullenberger decided to land the plane on the Hudson River. Sullenberger's actions were credited with saving 155 lives that day.
According to Alfred, an industrial and organizational psychologist based at ARL's Fort Sam Houston, Texas field element, "his address, as well as the discussion afterwards, was not only fascinating, but nicely illustrated through firsthand accounts why human factors and ergonomics are so important in human performance, system design, and safety."
Sullenberger was the keynote speaker at the 54th Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, an event that promotes the discovery and exchange of knowledge concerning the characteristics of human beings that are applicable to the design of systems and devices of all kinds.
"During (Sullenberger's) address, he played the actual 'black box' recording and then verbally walked us through what happened in those few seconds in his mind," Alfred recalled. "He also pointed out inconsistencies such as the air traffic controllers suggesting he go to other airports when he clearly could not make it back to the original airport, much less something further away.
"As he dropped in altitude, and he decided to land in the Hudson, it was as if they could not grasp or believe what he was saying," Alfred added.
Particularly noteworthy, Alfred said, were Sullenberger's recollections of rote behavior that aligned with following required checklists by memory. This, she said, describes part of the human factors research as applied to the aircraft industry.
At the conference, Alfred also served as co-program chair for the Macroergonomics Technical Group and chaired numerous sessions. Among them was a discussion on sleep in military environments, which featured the foremost military sleep experts and researchers from the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Alfred noted that human factors and ergonomics research is of particular interest to the Army, and to ARL, as the lab designs and evaluates products, systems, or processes in terms of enhanced performance and increased safety of operators or users.
"Planners and resourcing officials should know that a military system that is designed using human factors and ergonomics principles early on will not only save money over the life cycle, but may also improve user satisfaction and effectiveness," said Alfred. Among the benefits are improved Soldier readiness and performance, fewer errors, and enhanced productivity.
Alfred added that human factors and ergonomics may also reduce manpower and training requirements through an intuitive and transparent design. Through usability testing with representatives from the target user population, the system should be designed for ease-of-use in the variety of conditions under which the user is expected to operate.
Alfred joined ARL's Human Research and Engineering Directorate as a psychologist in 2002. Prior to her time at ARL, she worked at the Army Research Institute in Alexandra, Va. Alfred then transferred to the Army Medical Department Field Element in Fort Sam Houston in 2003. She completed ARL's Long Term Training program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey Calif., before returning to Texas in 2007.
The Fort Sam Houston site primarily conducts human factors and ergonomics research and analysis most relevant to the Army Medical Department Center and School, and the Army Medical Department. Some of ARL's research projects have included identifying reasons why individuals fail advanced individual training, and evaluating technologies to be used for detecting mild traumatic brain injury.
In addition to her other research, Alfred is currently involved in the implementation and transition phase of a computerized self-help program called PASS, or Personal Academic Strategies for Success. PASS is an online access-based tool that is based on empirical research with 68W, or combat medic students.
The tool helps students pass by providing them with personalized feedback in the form of their top strengths and improvement areas. In addition, instructors receive feedback on the top strengths and improvement areas for their class, as well as suggested strategies. The program was conceived and planned by HRED's Dr. Valerie Rice.