ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Are you ready to be a safety hero?

by Carl and Deb Potter, Potter and Associates International Inc.

Heroes abound in the safe water landing of US Airways flight 1549 on January 16, 2009 in the Hudson River: the flight crew, the New York Waterways ferry operators and other watercraft operators, police and fire rescue teams, the Red Cross and other first responders as well as the 155 passengers. The whole event has been dubbed “the miracle on the Hudson”. This is a great event — one in which many things went well. Even without having the benefit of a full investigation and report, there are many lessons that we can learn from the event. Here are just a few things to consider:

1. Training and experience are the best defense when things start to go wrong. Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III and first officer Jeffrey B. Skiles safely “landed” the Airbus A320 in the Hudson River on Thursday. Their training and experience kicked in. They each had decades of experience and tens of thousands of flight hours. The next time you grumble about attending training of any kind, think again. It may be what saves your life or the lives of others.

2. Be aware of changing conditions. When you think about what happened in just a matter of minutes — a safe “crash” landing with quick thinking on the part of the pilot and first officer, the safe evacuation of passengers by the flight crew, and the initiation of a well-executed water rescue — there is no better example of situational awareness. Media interviews with the water taxi operators demonstrated that they were aware of the situation and responded swiftly and appropriately. The Red Cross also was aware of the crisis within minutes and had supplies ready and people available to help. Conditions can change quickly in the day-to-day work. Be aware and be ready to respond if the unexpected happens.

3. Follow the leader. Almost every interview with passengers has been marked with comments about how calm everyone was during this situation. Much of this no doubt was due to the expertise and leadership of the flight crew first and foremost. People got over their initial shock quickly and responded rapidly to the crews’ instructions. Recognize that you may be in a situation where a leader is assigned, or you may be the leader in charge. Be ready to follow as well as to lead as the situation demands.

4. Follow the rules. The airline industry is rife with mandatory rules. One of the tenets of commercial flight safety is that all checklists will be followed. Passengers are required to follow the directions of the flight crew, including reviewing passenger information in the seatbacks prior to take-off. How many of us really do that? Think about the rules and regulations associated with your industry and the safe work practices for your job. If you have questions about how to apply the rules or practices, let your supervisor know. Above all, take time to review checklists and to conduct pre-job briefings.

5. Continually learn everything you can about safety. It’s essential that you continue to take opportunities to learn everything you can about doing your job. Many sources exist for information. For instance contains information about accidents and incidents. This is a source that many pilots refer to as part of their ongoing development. Likewise, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has information at that can help you learn more about how to do your work safe. Specific information may be available in other industry sources. Take the time to learn from incidents in your workplace and your industry. When you see a written near-miss or accident investigation report, take time to study it and learn what you can apply to your own job. And, help others learn by turning in meaningful reports of incidents you are involved in.

We will all learn more about how this miracle on the Hudson occurred in the days and weeks to come. Take time to consider what you can apply to your own work from the lessons learned. The words of National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Kitty Higgins sum it all up: “These people knew what they were supposed to do and they did it and as a result, nobody lost their life.” That’s the best lesson. Follow the five tips presented here and you’ll be ready to be a safety hero when the time comes.

Carl Potter, CSP, CMC, works with organizations that want to create an environment where nobody gets hurt. He is the author of the newly released book “I Am Safe — Closing the Gap Between Knowing and Doing,” and is known as an advocate for zero-injury workplaces, a safety speaker, author, and advisor to industry. Deb Potter, PhD, CMC is a researcher, author, and speaker in the area of safety management. She is the author of “Simply Seamless Safety”. For information about their programs and products, see or contact them at Potter and Associates International Inc. 800-259-6209 or

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