A chess game usually features a number of phases with many mistakes appearing when the 'crisis' has passed. So it was interesting to find the following paper discussing what appears to be the same effect in air traffic controllers. I've also heard that for drivers most accidents happen a mile from home.

Simply being aware of this effect should help because you can 'force yourself' to be more vigilant. But this may also introduce issues such as health and energy levels - the more tired someone is the harder it will be.

"The analysis of the incidents suggested that they were happening via what may be called ‘layered situation awareness’. Layered situation awareness relates to the need to handle significant traffic and their demands, against a background of other traffic. The controller, in order to deliver high capacity and a quality service, focuses on traffic that has short term demands, e.g. a need to climb or descend, or to be at a certain lower sector exit flight level, yet wanting to remain at a cruising altitude as long as possible. The controller therefore (mentally) suppresses or (in the extreme case) ‘filters out’ not only unassumed aircraft (traffic no longer under his or her command), but also certain assumed aircraft that are relatively ‘invariant’ in their passage across the sector (e.g. they are staying at cruise level). These aircraft are akin to ‘blind spots’ – they are not seen. This approach to controlling traffic is borne from a proactive approach which is continually looking ahead, using a more complex strategy perhaps, than in lower workload air traffic control centres. This more complex approach which is partly proactive and partly opportunistic, and is focused on giving a good service to aircraft, means the controller is thinking ahead much of the time, rather than focusing exactly on what is on the radar screen at the time. This theory could explain the incidents at busy and medium times. However, in order to explain the incidents that occurred at non-busy times, it needed to be expanded. The first additional aspect was that this way of working would carry over into low and/or medium workload times after a busy period, when the vigilance ‘resources’ of the controller are lower or even depleted. Therefore, it is suggested that this filtering or suppression process becomes ‘second nature’, and so is more likely to continue to operate when the controller is tired or the normal required vigilance level drops (and the controller is ‘under-stimulated’). It could also operate when the controller is less experienced, and has not yet had what may be called a ‘correctional’ incident that stops controllers from going too far when being ‘proactive’."


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