What is Crew Resource Management?

Emergence from the Cockpit


Originally called Cockpit Resource Management, CRM training emerged from aviation following the recognition that the technical skills of piloting an aircraft were insufficient to ensure safety and best performance.

Accidents were occurring for reasons other than inadequate piloting skills - Civil Aviation Authority (2016), CAP 737: Flight-crew Human Factors Handbook.

It was apparent that pilots needed to learn more about managing the resources available to them in the cockpit including the aircraft and their systems, checklists and procedures, and other crew as well as themselves. This also requires the fundamental acceptance that pilots themselves are vulnerable, but positive behaviours are also pivotal to a successful flight.

The management of "resources" formed the original backbone of CRM training for pilots, hence the use of the term above. This quickly evolved into the term 'Crew Resource Management' to adequately describe the growing involvement of the whole crew e.g. cabin crew, technical crew, paramedics and rescue specialists who were also involved in the safe conduct of flights regardless of their purpose.

The scope of CRM training has widened considerably in recent years and CRM training courses can be found in many high-risk domains. In aviation, air traffic controllers, engineers, pilots, cabin crew etc. all undergo foundation CRM training. CRM courses are also currently under development in lone worker situations (e.g. farming), where positive non-technical skill behaviours are closely linked to safe task accomplishment.


Emergence from the Cockpit - CRM


The obvious question is how does this relate to avalanche terrain?

A generic definition of CRM might be the training of the cognitive and social skills needed to support technical training in order to optimise safe and efficient operations.

Work (or recreation) in avalanche terrain requires exactly that. The use of cognitive and social skills to better cope with uncertainty. We are not pre-hospital doctors or pilots but our observations and decisions are made in dynamic mountain environments with the potential for signifiant consequences.

Although we are arguably working in a low tech environment, in contrast to a modern flight deck, CRM has a place in any environment which relies on humans in the system.

We are not doctors or pilots – but we face similar responsibilities – and in a season with a complicated snowpack and commercial pressure it’s easy to get bogged by the details. Operators are familiar with procedure – using checklists to break the range of information into bite-size chunks and for rescue. But for those of us working independently (and ultimately you are working alone in the field at some point) or attempting to impart avalanche management strategies to the recreational ski tourer, a simple to-do list plus a forced procedural conversation can be effective tactics to cover your bases. Keeling, A. (2020) CRM - Nerdy but Necessary.


One of the challenges to working in avalanche terrain is the delayed or even absent feedback to our decisions, as a poor decision may not necessarily result in a negative outcome. Labelled "wicked learning environments" by Robin Hogarth, domains with delayed or infrequent feedback have turned to CRM for the answers.