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Reporting Aboard CNAL
Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic
The Science of Human Behavior in the Navy
by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Aimee Ford
05 December 2022
NORFOLK, Va. --
Meet the new Aviation Human Factors Engineer, Dr. Kellie Kennedy! She recently joined Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (CNAL) N45 Safety Department.
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Kennedy spent the last decade at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA conducting research with commercial aviation pilots to detect psychophysiological signatures of hazardous states of awareness. She earned her doctoral degree in Human Factors Psychology from Old Dominion University with a focus in attentional failures in operational environments. She has expertise in applied experimental design, human subject data collection, research methodology, and advanced statistics.
What is Human Factors?
Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE) is a scientific discipline focused on the understanding of interactions among the human and the systems that surround them; the task, tools, procedures, and the system interactions in the physical and operational environment including the organizational structure. Human Factors (HF) focuses on the cognitive and perceptual factors, leveraging numerous areas of research such as human performance, cognition, human-computer interaction, technology, and design. Areas of effort for HF practitioners include areas such as workload, fatigue, situational awareness, usability, user interface, learnability, attention, vigilance, human performance, control/display design, stress, visualization of data, individual differences, aging, accessibility, shift work, work in extreme environments, and human error.
What does Dr. Kennedy do?
Kennedy is the first to hold this position at CNAL. She is currently embedded with the Safety Department (N45) and part of the Safety Training Team (STT). Kennedy attends site visits at the squadrons to gather a high-level view of safety culture and promote Rear Adm. John F. Meier’s, CNAL, critical values of ‘think about safety differently’. During site visits, Kennedy lends a systems-level Human Factors perspective to identify opportunities to improve the risk margin with higher-order solutions. Kennedy is also lending her expertise to other areas already underway such as new training protocols.
How will your background help at AIRLANT?
“Having training in Human Factors Psychology, Ergonomics, and Industrial Organizational Psychology gives me a wide range of human behavior tools in my toolbox,” said Kennedy. “This is important in an applied practitioner setting [as compared to an academic setting]. I am frequently the only person on a team with advanced training of the human cognitive state and performance limitations and that enables me to best represent the human operator as a critical part of a system. That takes real time to learn after leaving university. I’ve been refining that skill set for the last decade and I think it's going to pay dividends for the work here.”
Why did you want to work here?
In 2017, Kennedy was asked to join the NASA Engineering Safety Center (NESC) on an effort to work closely with the Navy on the Physiological Episodes in the F/A-18.
“The work with the NESC gave me a rare opportunity to see the incredible feat that is aviation in the U.S. Navy,” said Kennedy. “Seeing the operational environments from coast-to-coast and spending a few days underway during flight ops was enough to get into my blood. The people, the problems, the systems, the huge amount of hard work ahead… I knew I wanted a piece of this. I knew I could help… I knew I would regret not taking this chance to do good for people who offer everything they have to do this job.”
“I wanted to do this for folks who sign on the dotted line,” said Kennedy. “I believe that civilians are the other half of that dotted line and we have a responsibility to uphold our end as well. For me, that includes doing my civic duty and lending my skills and expertise to make sure that the risk our service members undertake is only that which is absolutely required.”
How does risk play into your work at AIRLANT?
“Risk is a complicated concept,” said Kennedy. “This isn’t about pretending we can bubble wrap our service members for zero risk. This is a dangerous occupation and has inherent risk. But understanding and implementing the right science, equipment, tools, skills, training, procedures, and support within the known constraints can go a long way to avoid unnecessarily degrading our risk margin.”
Why is this particular position important to you?
Service to the country is also personal to Kennedy. “My father was a Marine. My grandfather was 1
Calvary. My cousin is a corpsman. I have numerous family and dear friends who did their part and sacrificed so much. At a certain point, we all have to decide what we want to do with the limited amount of time we have in this life. I have a skillset that I believe can help the success of the mission and the people who serve. I plan to work hard and remember that what happens to people while they’re in will impact the lives they hope to have when they get out.”
How does it make you feel to work at CNAL?
Kennedy says she is in the perfect place to learn. “The opportunity to conduct HF at CNAL and to help establish what that role means at this level is both daunting and exciting,” said Kennedy. “When a new specialization is added to a team it takes time to figure out how to use that new skillset for the betterment of the team. Right now, I am learning everything I can about this complex operational environment to identify how I can best serve…Having immediate access to such highly qualified individuals and seeing the operational environment first hand is invaluable for me to learn how the pieces of this enormous puzzle fit together.”
What role does HF psychology play in the DoD?
HF type of research is sought after to aid in a multitude of DoD-wide issues. Overall, HF psychology can help improve the role of the human in the system which can pay enormous dividends that ensure a capable and agile force, such as increased performance under stress and job satisfaction and retention.
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