National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2019 WOR Day 3: Change Blindness

June 30-July 6, 2019

This Week of Remembrance is dedicated to all those who have fallen in the line of duty and is intended to serve as an opportunity to renew our commitment to the health, wellness, and safety of wildland firefighters.

Remember yesterday’s discussion of TJ’s rappel gear? When you looked at the harnesses side by side did you think to yourself “how could they miss that?” Well you wouldn’t be alone if you did but let’s put you in the hot seat and see how you do.


  • Watch the video: Test Your Awareness: Whodunnit?
  • While watching, be on the lookout for changes.
  • Consider every change you see as a hazard, and make them known to the rest of the group.

Time: 1:54

So, how did you do? Did the rest of your crew see the same hazards? Did you make them known to everyone? Collectively how many of the changes (hazards) did you see?

Any one of those changes represents one of the many changes (hazards) that you are exposed to when you enter into a complex and dynamic environment, whether it’s a wildland fire or driving on an interstate or walking in the woods. Every second the human brain is bombarded with information. Most are so trivial the brain automatically filters them out and you aren’t even aware of them. It has to be this way because every second the brain takes in about 10 million bits of information through the eyes and another one million through the other senses.

Guess how many bits of information the brain can process?  You’re good but you’re not that good. Actually only about 40 bits of information. Most of the time the brain is pretty good at recognizing what is a threat, but sometimes, especially when the change (hazard) is as subtle as one of the changes in the video or perhaps a misconfigured O ring…the brain sees what it expects to see, not always what is actually there.

This is called Change Blindness and while there is a lot you can do to reduce its effects, you can never eliminate it completely. You are human.  You are susceptible to it.

So…..applying what we learned in the video to our day-to-day operations…The hazards that you and your crew saw meant that you were able to avoid them. Good job.

What about the changes (hazards) that you missed? Maybe they were consequential or maybe not. What role does luck play in our operations?  Have you ever had a “near miss” like that snag that doesn’t tip over like we thought it would?  What did you learn from it?  Did you share the experience with others? Why do we tend not to share stories like that? 

But what if one of those changes (hazards) that wasn’t noticed DOES get you?  You are TJ.  Look around you.  Those sitting with you doing this exercise just watched you fall.  Very soon your mother or father, your husband or wife, is going to get a call.  The worst call of their lives.


Take a moment to think about this. What are you going to do differently?
Purple ribbon symbol

How can YOU Honor through Learning?

The topics, review, and resources for the NWCG “Wildland Firefighter Week of Remembrance” have been contributed by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, the NWCG Leadership Committee, and many other field subject matter experts.


Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

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