The Risk Perception Gap

By LTC Sean M. O'Connell, Aviation Division, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, AlabamaAugust 10, 2022

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Over the last five years Army Aviation has driven down Class A mishaps to less than one in 100,000 flight hours. One might ask, where do we go from here? Despite this success, we have to remain vigilant in order to continue the positive trend.

There are numerous Class C and below mishaps that occur throughout the force that are only inches or seconds away from becoming a Class A mishap. Currently, one of the largest areas of concern for human error is controlled flight, or ground handling, of an aircraft into a stationary object. The reasons for this are many and varied, but let’s focus on two major gaps in our perception of risk.

First, the more control you feel you have, the less afraid you are. This can happen when you have accomplished a routine task many times without incident and perceive the task to be low risk. The most common manifestation of this is when things become so routine that steps are abbreviated and shortcuts are taken. Which leads us to another risk perception gap related to this concept.

Second, the greater the benefit, the more we play down the risk. The inverse of this is, the smaller the benefit, the greater the risk is likely to seem. This can often be seen at the end of the day or training event when someone wants to wrap things up in a hurry. Combine this with a sense of a routine task or mission that you perceive to be low risk, along with a perceived benefit for taking the risk, and the situation becomes ripe for optimism bias. Or, put another way, we do not think it can happen to us. With less awareness of major threats, people are more optimistic.

Both of these risk perception gaps are familiar to people that have been in the Army for a while, but there is room for improvement. This is where the ready recall effect comes into play. The greater our awareness and the more readily information about risk can be recalled, the greater our concern and perception of the risk.

Greater awareness fuels greater concern and a key component of reducing risk is having more information on the hazard. ASMIS 2.0 ( is one powerful tool in this fight. Accessible to unit safety officers, it is a comprehensive and current databank of accidents and can display tailored information inquiries with relevant examples of past accidents to help improve a unit’s hazard awareness. With ASMIS 2.0 leaders can help prevent Soldiers in their formation from being part of the next Class C and below mishap or, better yet, prevent that mishap from becoming a Class B or A.

But remember, risk communication is not only about what we say, but also what we do to educate our junior leaders who are at the forefront of where risk and people meet. Soldiers awareness can help close their risk perception gap.