Reality-Based Training: Training Tips

There's a section in my book Training at the Speed of Life that discusses a study that demonstrates the deficiencies of early advanced training techniques that were used to improve flight safety with airline pilots. One of my instructors, Tygh Thompson from Oregon, told me about this study. Here's how he explained it:

"The aircraft simulators these days are extremely sophisticated. They have actual instrumentation, movement, sound and amazingly realistic graphics. Pilots who have been in these simulators really believe they were "there" during these simulations.

"Because of the cost of running these simulators, trainers used to stop the scenarios after the pilots successfully overcame whatever crisis they were exposed to. It seemed logical the pilot had performed well during the critical phase of the emergency and the emergency was over, so what was the point of continuing beyond that?

"In subsequent actual in-flight emergencies, pilots who had been through this type of training reported something strange happening. They would do well throughout the actual emergency, and then have problems with what should be the easy part landing the plane.

"This really baffled the people who designed the scenarios, but it makes sense. We know that after making it through a life-threatening encounter where the sympathetic nervous system has been activated, there is going to be some parasympathetic backlash. In the minds of the pilots, the emergency was over, but in reality, it was not. They still had to get all those passengers safely on the ground. Suffering from the effects of the parasympathetic nervous system, they were now less able to perform routine tasks or effectively engage in rational problem solving.

"As a result, critical incident simulations have now been extended so the pilot does not successfully complete the training scenario until he actually lands the plane. Changing the natural conclusion of the scenario to include the landing seems to have solved the problem, and excellent reports are now coming back from the field.

"It's amazing how one or two small changes to a realistic training program, such as determining what a safe, natural conclusion should be, makes an exponential difference to the quality of a response during a critical incident. Who knew?"

Change the Scenario
Whether using conventional targets, video simulators or live scenarios, training tends to end too soon. Trainers mistakenly believe that after the critical phase of an incident has passed, officers will know what to do next. Unfortunately, actions that follow a critical incident are often inconsistent with what an officer knows is tactically unsoundthey simply respond.

I believe that as trainers, it's our job to shape their response. Experiential training goes a long way to shaping those responses. Much of this can be accomplished using unconventional training methods during reality based training (well, at least unconventional for the majority of trainers).

I also believe in active interaction between a student and their trainer during a scenario. This type of interaction shouldn't be intrusive, but in many instances, it will break the conventional flow of the scenario. I call this technique "pressing the pause button" or a "tactical time-out." These interventions should occur when the student is either not effectively acting in a logical or tactical fashion, if the scenario seems to get stuck or if the scenario is headed in entirely the wrong direction.

During one of these occurrences, I'll actually squeeze the shoulder of the student to press the pause button, if you will and begin a sidebar discussion with them to help them to start processing the experience more effectively.

This discussion method can also be used prior to the conclusion of a scenario. I'll never end a scenario until it has reached a natural conclusion, such as:

Resolving the problem without further police action;

A custodial seizure; or

A physical encounter in which the suspect is dead, dying or damaged, and the student is in a position of advantage awaiting assistance.

The pilots Thompson spoke of (i.e., pilots who had difficulty landing aircraft safely after a near catastrophe) learned the simulation needed to continue until it reached the natural conclusion of a safe landing. Participants in law enforcement scenarios must also continue until they bring their situation safely in for a landing.

Using the intervention process is extremely effective for conditioning effective post-action behavior, especially in the midst of an emotionally charged experience like realistic simulation. As an aviator myself, I've heard my flight instructors' voices in my head in many instances despite the fact they weren't actually there with me at the time. Many pilots will report that during a crisis, their instructor is "with them."

The 3 C's
One of the techniques I've found useful for helping my law enforcement students to begin to develop all of the effective behaviors necessary to safely conclude a dangerous situation is what I call the 3 C's. These C's are memory aids that help the brain cut through the clutter of thought during a crisis. If you give the brain something to process, it keeps working. To that end, it might as well be processing tactically sound information.

The 3 C's are:

  • Cover;
  • Communication; and
  • Condition.

Are you in a position that helps to provide some cover? Are you covering the suspect? Do you have cover officers coming?

Are you communicating with your support system? Are you communicating with the suspect, with your partner, innocent bystanders and with yourself? Are you using positive self-talk to tell yourself you are going to win this encounter and you're going to be OK?

What is the situation's condition? Do the right people know? What's the suspect's condition? What's your condition? What's your weapon system's condition? Do you have the resources to effectively start the fight back up again if you have to?

By using the Three C's with constant repetition under emotionally charged conditions, the information will move from the cognitive mind to the unconsciously competent mind so actions toward the end of an encounter will be nearly automatic and tactically sound.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the "locked door," or the inner workings of the subconscious mind, which scientists still do not completely understand. By working hand-in-glove with your students and by providing them the support they need during the building process of their tactical experience, we can help ensure the things that lurk behind the locked door are helpful and not a hindrance at their decisive moment.

When bad things happen to good people, people are going to respond somehow. It's our job to ensure that the "somehow" will ensure victory.

Until next time, train hard and train safe.


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