Responding to Emergencies by Memory: Immediate Action Items

Last week, I stressed the importance of taking your time when faced with emergencies. Although pilots should never rush through any task, there are some emergencies that require an immediate response. These memory-based checklists are known as immediate action items and can make the difference in a time-critical situation.


What Immediate Action Items Are

Immediate action items are trained responses to specific emergencies. These responses are airplane specific and usually take the form of a mental checklist. Most professional pilots are trained to recite immediate action items verbatim and must do so on recurrent checkrides.

Immediate action items are not full checklists. Although they are systematic, a memory item rarely covers more than the first few items of the appropriate emergency checklist. Pilots perform immediate action items from memory, then follow it up with the full checklist.

An Example Immediate Action Item

Suppose you were flying along in a regional jet at 32,000 feet when smoke suddenly fills the cockpit. This is a serious time-critical emergency, and it would be beneficial to have an immediate response ready.

Crew Masks / Smoke Goggles … Don
Crew Communication … Establish

This response would be instant and automatic. Now the actual emergency checklist will be a good deal longer, but the immediate action items will get pilots started with the most critical bits.

Immediate action items are common in the world of professional aviation, but pilots of small G.A. aircraft can develop their own immediate responses. This can be as simple as thinking about a few worst-case scenarios and planning your first response. You’ve probably already got one down: suppose you lose power in a Cessna 152. If you thought “Airspeed: best glide,” then you’ve already got that one down.

Why Practice Immediate Action Items

As a pilot it is beneficial to rehearse immediate action items on a regular basis. This strengthens muscle-memory and helps to make rare emergency procedures habitual. As an added benefit, memory items will boost confidence and help the pilot to remain calm while reacting to stressful situations.

Your own personal immediate action items can be as formal or informal as you like (unless you are a professional pilot and your company says otherwise). The goal is to have a specific plan of action for a few time-critical situations.

By developing your own immediate action items, you can increase your effectiveness in time-critical emergencies. Immediate responses should not be construed as rushing through the checklist. Take your time through the memory items, then back it up with the appropriate emergency checklist. If you forget your immediate action items, don’t make it up or muddle through it. Pull the appropriate paper-checklist and follow it step-by step.


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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

6 Replies to Responding to Emergencies by Memory: Immediate Action Items

  1. Hey Pat! Another great post I operate a little Cessna 150 that I teach out of. For emergencies I teach the ABC’s of an emergency. You can read a little bit more about it in this post.

    http://www.m0a.com/?p=560

    Jason

  2. Good post. Whenever I am flying I make it a habit and in a weird way a game to ask myself every couple of minutes what I would do if the engine died at this moment. It helps me memorize my emergency checklist and keeps me brain cells alive.

    • Mike Bennett says:

      Jeffery, I also do the same thing.. Always checking for the landing spot etc. It is a bad feeling when you realize that there is nothing but trees and rocks below. I guess that is the point. That’s when I opt to climb to a higher altitude.

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