Safety is often expressed in generalities, and—while terms like “safety culture” are used to describe ideals for a flying club—there is not a lot of time spent elaborating on how to achieve this rather nebulous concept. For this month’s event spotlight, we are going to take an event that we often recommend for flying clubs—a safety stand-down—and provide concrete tips on how to make yours a success. A safety stand-down is, quite simply, an opportunity for a flying club to stop operations and get together to discuss common safety issues, giving particular attention to those that club members feel might lead to a serious incident or accident. It is a way to share best practices, and to discuss and potentially revise club operating rules.
If the idea of a safety stand-down doesn’t necessarily sound fun or exciting, that just means you might want to consider tweaking your approach. Don’t approach the event as an obligatory exercise, but as a chance to showcase safety and what it means for your club. Here are 10 tips for making your stand-down stand out:
- Make it a stand-alone event – Often times safety discussions are allotted time within regular club meetings, where they are almost invariably saved for the end. While we do recommend talking about safety at each meeting, make your stand-down seem like something bigger—something that deserves an event of its own.
- Keep it casual – Having a stand-down outside of a regular club meeting allows you to throw aside the formality of Parliamentary Procedure for a while and keep things light—even when discussing what are unarguably serious topics. Members are more likely to engage in open and honest discussions about their experiences if they feel comfortable in their surroundings. Set the stage in the beginning by emphasizing that openness is the word of the day—and that the purpose of the stand-down is to learn from each other, not stand in judgement of other pilots’ decisions.
- Go somewhere different – Does your club always get together in the same meeting space month after month? In the spirit of shaking things up, consider a different venue. Maybe reserve a space outside of the norm—somewhere fun to hang out for a while and talk. Maybe it's a new space at the airport, or maybe there's a room available at a local aviation museum. If the weather's nice, you could have it in the park. Your creativity is really the only limit.
- Solicit advice from members beforehand – There will always be more interest in safety discussions if the topics being discussed are those that members feel are the most relevant. Why not send out a survey prior to the stand-down to ask members for their opinions on current safety issues within the club? This can make for a great starting point, and can serve to steer the day's conversation.
- Have fun (and food) – Many times we hear the word “safety” and think of it as describing something serious, staid, and sober—in other words, the anti-fun. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. Introduce some competition by dividing your club into teams and taking some of the Air Safety Institute’s Safety Quizzes. Or perhaps plan a cross-country flight as a club to a fun destination, highlighting different safety issues at play as you go. And, perhaps most importantly, have food on hand. Burgers, pizza, or even light snacks have all been known to make any meeting exponentially better.
- Make it practical – Sometimes safety can seem less than engaging simply because we present it in broad, theoretical terms. The takeaways, such as don’t collide with, well, anything, can seem obvious. Safety is a topic that can be made more interesting by approaching from a practical angle. Maybe put some scenarios together and walk through them as a club, stopping at critical junctures to discuss how different decisions might affect the safety of the flight. Also, be sure to focus on any specific incidents or near-incidents that club members might have experienced over the past few months.
- Invite guests – This is another way to shake up normal for your club. Invite guest speakers to your stand-down, such as tower controllers, NTSB representatives, or flight instructors from a local flight school. Hearing from new people is a great way to broaden the scope of discussion and step outside the club’s day-to-day safety routine.
- Use a simulator – Does your club have access to a flight simulator? If not, it might be worth trying to get one for the meeting, whether it is a desktop simulator with X-Plane installed or a more advanced device. Introducing a simulator at a stand-down can be a great way to engage attendees—you can follow a discussion topic by letting members try their hands at flying a simulated version of the scenario right after.
- Showcase the good – All too often, we have a way of focusing on safety only when something has gone wrong. Some clubs even have “bone awards” that they give to members who have done something particularly ill thought out. Why not turn this on its head? The flip side of the negative aspects of safety is good decision making, so why not work to recognize this within your club? A safety stand-down is a great venue to recognize club members who have done things right. You could even ask members to nominate others who have exemplified sound decision making for a club safety award.
- Don’t feel like you need to call it a stand-down – One of the reasons we might envision a safety stand-down as being dull probably stems from the name itself: is there a less inspiring sounding name out there than “stand-down?” The title of the event literally sounds like the lack of an event—like something not happening. Even if what you're hosting is for all intents and purposes a stand-down, feel free to play with the term. Your club could rent a cabin and go on a “safety retreat,” or maybe host a “safety picnic.” In other words, don’t get hung up on terminology. If content is there that allows your club to discuss safety topics openly and brainstorm ways to improve, then it will be beneficial—regardless of what you call it.