Margin of Manoeuvre: A Safe Space for Emergency and Disaster Responders

Carl Anthony Gibson


Emergency and disaster responders face a range of operational challenges that can impair their operational performance and safety.   Serious injury and fatalities are not uncommon consequences.  However, there is considerable evidence that a significant proportion of such harm and loss of life occurs in situations where the responders believe themselves to be in safe conditions.  Recent advances in neuroscience indicate a variety of ways in which the brain can mislead perception and assessment of risk, resulting in inappropriate decision making and behaviours.  A recent innovation: ‘Margin of Manoeuvre’ (MoM) provides a means of better managing cognitive and emotional dissonance experienced by responders engaged in operational tasks.  It provides a means of better managing limitations in working memory, provides a simple and intuitive approach for detecting, assessing and communicating about dynamic change occurring in volatile conditions and promotes improved group sensemaking.   MoM provides a visualisation of the amount of ‘space’ individuals and teams have to understand their changing environment, make decisions and act upon them.  It allows the ‘room for error’ and ‘space for adaptation’ to be easily conceived during high stress operations.  In addition to its early adoption by some US and Australian wildland firefighters, it is being introduced to other emergency services.  It has also been recently adopted by the Australia’s Victorian State Government as a means of assessing changes in resilience capability of the State’s critical infrastructure.


Key words: Margin of Manoeuvre, sensemaking, risk, resilience, neuroscience, emergency responder, operational performance, safety.

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