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The audio communication specialists look at how time can be lost through miscommunication, and could be the difference between life and death

Marlow, January 19,2017 - Time is precious – an infinite commodity and yet one that we never seem to have enough of. It’s something that once gone, we can never get back. In many situations losing time can have serious consequences, and one of the ways this can happen is through miscommunication. Not being able to clearly understand someone could cost precious time, and result in anything from a missed sale to a wasted journey. In some cases, it could even be the difference between life and death.

When every second counts, messages must be delivered clearly and without delay – this is true for many professions. Consider the emergency services. An ambulance driver, who mis-hears the location of an emergency or the condition of a patient, could waste precious time trying to understand the situation to obtain the right information. A police officer could find himself in the line of fire, innocent lives could be lost, or a fire service may despatch an inadequate fleet to tackle a blaze.

Consider the financial sector. Trading in stocks and shares requires ultra-precise timeframes and up to date information delivered clearly and concisely – the very future of a business could depend on it. Consider aviation. For pilots and air traffic controllers, clear and concise communication ensures the safety of pilots and passengers alike and could save lives. Consider motor racing and Formula 1 – without clear communication between drivers and their pit crew, valuable time could be wasted planning the most efficient strategy during the race.

To respect the value of time and the impact wasted time can have on companies and professionals, you must also respect the importance of clear communication. Miscommunication can happen for any number of reasons, from background noise and a poor quality signal to cheap audio equipment and the struggle to understand multiple speakers at once. Professions that deal with time-critical scenarios cannot risk any of these factors affecting their ability to clearly communicate, and pass on vital information securely and clearly. Thankfully, advances in technology have led to modern headsets that can address a wide range of issues that could cause someone to mishear, and cost precious time.

The effectiveness of these headsets is as crucial as the nature of the communication itself.

Industry examples

Emergency services – Police
Clear communication within the Police Control Room environment is absolutely essential. We deal with calls and deployment of police assets that may face serious threat or harm and have to ensure our messages are clear and concise with accurate, pertinent and unambiguous information.

Mishearing or miscommunication could in essence cost lives in our business. Two examples, whilst not exact, would be during either a pursuit or a firearms type incident. These types of incidents are fast paced and often require split second decision making and clear communication between all those involved. Within a pursuit incident this may be around decisions to continue or abort the pursuit or around the tactics to be deployed. If these are not heard correctly the outcome is that people could be seriously hurt or killed. Again, when firearms officers are deployed then intelligence updates and movements of the subjects are key factors to how those officers will respond; the consequences of getting that wrong could easily result in fatal injury.

Within the Police service we do have agreed language and terminology for use in particular certain types of critical incidents, which helps drive to clear, fast and understandable communications to those involved in both the Control Room and the assets on the ground.
Wiltshire Police Force

Rally Driving
Everything in rallying is about timing, events are run to the split second. Whether avoiding penalties and potential elimination by being late to a time control to the vital timing of delivering pace notes from navigator to driver at one hundred miles per hour on a forest track at night. Hearing clear instructions is vital.

We’re driving fast – as fast as we can, along tricky roads in changeable conditions, so receiving accurate and timely instructions from a co-driver is vital. If these are read too late, even a second too late, I can go off the track. During a rally in Belgium I barrel-rolled my car eight times when my co-driver didn’t get the timing quite right. It was enough to put the wheel off the track, hook the car over, bounce off a tree into a frightening sequence of rolls. My co-driver ended up in hospital – so that’s the consequence of getting it wrong. If a co-driver is too far ahead in their calls, the road shape suddenly doesn’t correspond to what I’m seeing through my windscreen. If it’s foggy, for example, you need complete trust because your lights bounce back off the fog and you have to switch them off, we both then try to read looming landmarks to keep our place on the notes.

You have to trust in your co-driver to literally and figuratively keep you on track, and trust that the timing of their calls is implicit – it governs everything that you do. You need to know that if they get lost on the notes, they’ll just say “lost” and then you can switch to visual driving only until your position is found. Receiving these instructions quickly and effectively is the difference between win and lose, and possibly even the difference between life and death.

Tony Jardine, UK motorsport pundit Sky Sports News, rally driver and former F1 assistant team manager

With Train Operating Companies core communication is operated from control rooms, and audio communication is constantly fed between the central control, stations, signallers, drivers, and the front line staff looking after customers.

The control will make decisions about the safe and punctual running of the railway and it is vital that these decisions are fed through in a clear and timely fashion. If a serious incident occurs, control must lead communication between station staff, drivers, Network Rail signallers and the emergency services. Clear communication is critical to the smooth running of the service under normal operation, but getting this collaborative communication right can also be the difference between life and death.

We have procedures in place to maximise clarity of communication – staff are thoroughly trained, their communications are reviewed, and their competencies are tested to prepare them for a wide range of possible critical and standard incidents. But of course being able to rely on equipment that delivers consistently clear audio is essential to the overall process, and the amount of time taken to achieve these messages.

Jon Bailey, IT Architecture Manager, UK Rail industry

Air Traffic Control
Clear communication is vital in Air Traffic Control (ATC). Every day at Heathrow airport the air traffic controllers in the tower will talk to the pilots of 1350 flights. To allow this complex system to operate there can be no ambiguity when it comes to transmitting and receiving safety-critical instructions.

At Heathrow and all other airports across the UK, air traffic controllers use standard internationally-agreed phraseology. This transcends language barriers and at Heathrow allows the effective communication to 95 different airlines that serve 185 destinations across the globe.

All NATS Air Traffic controllers are trained extensively over a number of years and a fundamental element of this includes the delivery of instructions in a clear and concise manner. They must carefully check read-backs from flight crews to ensure that there are no errors or misunderstanding, which can lead to deviations from the planned outcome. For instance, if an aircraft reads back an incorrect runway line-up instruction which is not picked up by ATC, a runway incursion may occur. Controllers use their skill, knowledge, and robust procedures to ensure that the communication loop is clear and correct at all times.
Ady Dolan, Air Traffic Controller, Heathrow Airport


About Sennheiser

Audio specialist Sennheiser is one of the world's leading manufacturers of headphones, microphones and wireless transmission systems. Based in Wedemark near Hanover, Germany, Sennheiser operates its own production facilities in Germany, Ireland and the USA and is active in more than 50 countries. With 19 sales subsidiaries and long-established trading partners, the company supplies innovative products and cutting-edge audio solutions that are optimally tailored to its customers' needs. Sennheiser is a family owned company that was founded in 1945 and which today has 2,750 employees around the world that share a passion for audio technology. Since 2013, Sennheiser has been managed by Daniel Sennheiser and Dr. Andreas Sennheiser, the third generation of the family to run the company. As part of the Sennheiser Group, the joint venture Sennheiser Communications A/S is specialized in wireless and wired headsets and speakerphones for contact centers, offices and Unified Communications environments as well as headsets for gaming and mobile devices. In 2015, the Sennheiser Group had sales totaling €682 million.

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Michelle Cross
The PR Room
Tel: 0845 094 2902

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