Human Factors and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

February 25, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: human factors, security 

Since its formation in 2002, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has understood the importance of human factors in achieving enhanced national security.  So much so, that they have a division devoted to the area.

The Human Factors Behavioral Sciences Division, which is part of the Science and Technology Directorate, has the following mission:

We will advance national security by developing and applying the social, behavioral, and physical sciences to improve identification and analysis of threats, to enhance societal resilience, and to integrate human capabilities into the development of technology.

In this effort, the division has several projects currently underway to meet their stated mission and objectives.  Some of the more interesting ones include:

  • Counter-IED Actionable Indicators Project;
  • Enhanced Screener-Technology Interface Project;
  • Hostile Intent Detection; and
  • Insider Threat Detection Program.

The interested reader can gain a better understanding of their work from this presentation (5.30 MB) by Dr. Sharla Rausch – Director of the Human Factors and Behavioral Science Division.

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Information Visualization Can Facilitate Comprehension of Complex Issues

February 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: human factors, visualization 

In a previous post, I discussed the human factors of the current financial crisis.  One of the many challenges, albeit less severe than most, that arises is the inability of the average person to have a satisfactory understanding of the factors that contributed to the financial crisis.

Although the Frontline documentary, Inside the Meltdown, which originally aired on PBS last week, was a good starting point for understanding the financial crisis, a more all encompassing and concise explanation is needed.  Luckily, a recently created animation by Jonathan Jarvis fills the void – The Crisis of Credit Visualized (originally brought to my attention by Stephen M. Nipper @ The Invent Blog).

This is a great example of information visualization being used to facilitate comprehension of a complex issue.

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Technological Forecasting and Human Factors

February 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: forecasting, robots 

The March-April 2009 issue of The Futurist includes an interesting article entitled, “Timeline for the Future: Potential Developments and Likely Impact.”

The timeline is divided into six periods (2010-2014; 2015-2019; 2020-2024; 2025-2029; 2030-2039; and 2040 and Beyond) and twelve categories:

  • Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life;
  • Biotechnology, Health, and Medicine;
  • Business and Education;
  • Computing;
  • Environment and Resources;
  • Home and Leisure;
  • Machine / Human Interface;
  • Robotics;
  • Security, Law, and War;
  • Space;
  • Travel and Transportation; and
  • Wearable and Personal Technology.

While all of the potential future developments, if realized, will impact people’s lives to varying degrees, some of the more intriguing ones, at least from a human factors and ergonomics perspective, include:

  • Behavior alarms based on human mistake recognition – 2010;
  • Computers linked to biological sensory organs – 2012;
  • Spectacles that translate signs, labels – 2015;
  • All technology imitates thinking processes of human brain – 2018;
  • Computer-enhanced dreaming – 2020;
  • Robot population surpasses human population in the developed world – 2025;
  • Artificial brain implants – 2030;
  • Robots replace humans in workforce completely – 2035; and
  • Teleportation of a human being – 2040.

Upon completing the article, I was reminded that technological forecasting has important implications for the discipline of human factors and ergonomics. Thus, our professionals should strive to remain informed of where future technological innovations are heading. Doing so will afford us the opportunity to add our voice to the discussion to ensure that emerging technologies will better meet the needs of future generations.

For my part, I read multiple pertinent print and online publications, including following futurist Glen Hiemstra’s blog.

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The Human Factors of a Financial Crisis

February 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: human factors 

On Tuesday, Frontline’s documentary “Inside the Meltdown” was aired on PBS.  The program focused on the antecedents of the current financial crisis, including subprime mortgage investments and credit default swaps.  The timeline concentrated on the cascading events of 2008 including Bear Stearns collapse, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent crises at AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

From a human factors standpoint, the documentary provides insight into how people’s perceptions, decisions, and actions contributed to the crisis, including:

  • How rumors lead to decreased confidence of traders, investors, and the general public;
  • How ubiquitous information sources influenced perceptions;
  • How decisions made by government officials (e.g., Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Congress, etc.) both helped and hindered;
  • How extreme stress effects decision making quality; and
  • How peoples understanding of risk influences behavior.

One of the more interesting statements, at least from a human factors perspective, came from Michael Petrucelli – a former senior vice-president of Lehman Brothers:

“I think in hindsight it’s easy to see there was a bubble, but, you know, when you’re at a party having a good time, sometimes it’s hard to stop and leave the party.”

Overall, this documentary is a great starting point for individuals trying to better understand the current financial crisis.

I plan on further discussing this topic in future postings, including how the discipline of human factors and ergonomics can assist with learning from our collective mistakes and how appropriate safeguards can be implemented  to prevent or mitigate future occurrences.

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Increase Blog Usability … Add A Print Option

February 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: usability 

With more and more people choosing a blogging platform to communicate their thoughts and ideas to the world, the need for good blog usability has never been more important.

Although others have provided guidelines for increasing blog usability (e.g., Blog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes; The Blog Usability Checklist; etc.), one issue that has slipped under the radar is the need for “clean” post printing.  Failing to allow for easy printing lessens the usefulness of the post and decreases the likelihood that it will be referenced at a later point.

Fortunately, for users of WordPress, there’s an easy to install plugin that simplifies the printing process – WP-Print.  Besides allowing for easy printing, it also provides important information that is transferred to the printed page, including:

  • title and URL for the blog;
  • URL for the post; and
  • URLs for each of the websites cited within the post.

Each of these options facilitates the ability of the person who has printed the page(s) to later find and/or reference the post, thus increasing its permanence and usefulness.

Just another example of good human factors that takes into account the needs of the user.

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