The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is a “multi-mission force” charged with multiple national defense and law enforcement responsibilities, including search and rescue, narcotics interdiction at the border, and national airspace protection.
Many USCG missions require incredible physical and mental stamina. The work is dangerous and unpredictable. Moreover, there is no off-season. USCG aviators and flight crews must be mentally and physically ready whenever and wherever their missions take them. They must sustain a high level of consistent readiness and performance, knowing a call could come at any time.
The USCG operates in a ‘firehouse model’ where crews are on call for 24-hour shifts. “When the alarm goes off, regardless of where they’re at in the 24-hour period, they launch and go,” says Commander Scott Austin.
With this type of schedule, crew exhaustion and its impact on readiness and safety are critical concerns for USCG leaders. But, Commander Austin notes safety is an important focus for USCG aviation. For example, they have multiple redundant sensors on every portion of the aircraft that they fly. Up until recently, however, they had safety sensors on everything but the people—that was left to subjective self-assessment.
“In Coast Guard aviation—in our doctrine—it says every person that gets on the aircraft has a moral responsibility to make sure that they show up rested,” Austin adds. “But science has shown that you don’t necessarily know when you’re fatigued.” Given this, Coast Guard leadership recognized the need to get beyond subjective (and faulty) measures of fatigue and find a scientific way for it to be measured to ensure the safety of all.
To that end, Commander Austin and his team set out to study “core endurance.” Specifically, they wanted to know if personalized data and insights on sleep and recovery from wearable technology like WHOOP is more reliable than subjective self-reporting of fatigue levels. Their ultimate goal was putting aviators and aviation crews in the best possible position to undertake missions.
A group of 20 volunteers, consisting of pilots, rescue swimmers, and flight mechanics, wore WHOOP 24/7 for 30 days. The volunteers took pre and post-study surveys, and their aggregate data was monitored by USCG leadership.
The researchers wanted to understand how the volunteers’ physiological data changed over the course of the month. Additionally, they wanted to know if volunteers would begin trusting the data over how rested they felt.
The WHOOP Difference: Trust, Education & Community
Trusting the wearable was three-fold: Do they trust the civilian company that’s created the device? Do they trust the data itself? And finally, do they trust how internal leaders will use the data generated?
Austin notes that compared to other wearables on the market, WHOOP is notable for what it doesn’t do. For instance, WHOOP doesn’t monitor location.
“I don’t need GPS associated with what you’re doing,” he says. “I just need the information that’s coming through on those physiological parameters [of sleep performance and recovery].” Notably, WHOOP data is validated and highly regarded for its scientific accuracy.
The WHOOP privacy standard—where the USCG was able to anonymize individual users—enabled the research team to build trust with the Coast Guard volunteers who knew their personal privacy was protected.
Over the course of the trial, study participants began to see WHOOP as an empowerment tool, not a monitoring device. The longer they wore WHOOP, the more they wanted to learn about their fatigue data and how they could use it to make better decisions for themselves.
According to Commander Austin, “People really want to know more of what there is to know. They want to turn known unknowns into numbers.”
Beyond educating the individual study participants, the data helped educate USCG leadership to make better decisions for the group. For example, the study revealed suboptimal sleep among the participants.
Commander Austin said, “We got a snapshot of the fact that even though we have a [rest requirement] policy in place, even though we say this is a priority…we weren’t sleeping as much as we should. … We could really stand to do this on a much larger scale and [determine] how well the policy is working.”
Finally, Commander Austin saw real potential for creating a more resilient force by building a community around WHOOP.
“Take any group. You can force feed them information or you can have them seeking it. Which one would you rather have?” he asked. “People are going to become better at what they do, and ‘better’ isn’t just about learning the aircraft, but you can improve the weakest link for very little financial investment compared to upgrading an aircraft.”
At the beginning of the study, the volunteers stated that they were slightly more prone to trust their intuition about how fatigued they felt versus a wearable. By the end, they had shifted to the point where they were more trusting of WHOOP data than their own self-reported assessment of their fatigue levels.
Based on the success of this trial, the USCG is looking to do another study with WHOOP over a longer period of time. “Not just 30 days, but something longer with a much larger sample across the service,” Austin says.
It’s this emphasis on building trust, education, and community that makes WHOOP the ideal solution for government, defense, and broader public service scientific research.
To learn more, listen to the WHOOP podcast episode with Commander Austin, and check out another study we did with the U.S. Army. You can also contact us directly to find out more about WHOOP for Public Service.