Meta Awareness

Meta Awareness

Developing and maintaining situational awareness at an emergency scene can be a very challenging task. Scenes are often stressful, complex, time-compressed, and complicated with rapidly-changing conditions. Police officers have lots of information to process and many tasks to perform. And, sadly, situational awareness isn’t always front-of-mind. Under such conditions, meta awareness may help.

Awareness About Awareness

Meta awareness is a term we derived from the work of developmental psychologist, John Flavell, who coined the term “metacognition” to describe a phenomenon where a person has cognition about cognition or, stated another way, they are thinking about what they are thinking about. Applied to situational awareness, the term “meta awareness” would mean you are actually (in a conscious state) thinking about your situational awareness.

As noted previously, it may not be intuitive (or automatic) for police officers to be consciously thinking about their situational awareness while fulfilling all their duties and responsibilities during an emergency response. If an officer is able to elevate awareness to the conscious level, then it (awareness) becomes as important in the mind of the officer as anything else they may be doing or thinking about.

How to Use Meta Awareness

Before we go down the path of how to develop meta awareness, it may be appropriate to offer a working definition of situational awareness.

Situational awareness is:

An individual’s ability to perceive information (clues and cues) about what is happening in his or her environment and to understand the meaning of those clues and cues (in the context of how time is passing). And then, be able to make accurate predictions
about future events (in time to avoid bad outcomes).

Meta awareness is a purposeful focus (at a conscious level) of how you are developing and maintaining your situational awareness. One way you can accomplish this is by employing “self-speak”.

 

Intrapersonal Communications

Do you ever talk to yourself?  Of course you do. We all do. This internal, personal dialog is known as intrapersonal communications or “self-speak”. Self-help gurus teach their clients to use positive self-speak to maintain a conscious awareness of what is important or what to focus on in order to accomplish goals. The same concept can be applied in the formation and maintenance of situational awareness.

An Example

Here’s an example of how meta awareness can help in forming and maintaining situational awareness. The scenario I will use is a police officer in a high speed pursuit. I will play the role of the police officer and share how I would deploy self-speak:

Ok, Drew. Remember your acronym B-R-E-A-T-H-E take a breath to keep calm (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, out for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds).

My situational awareness starts with perception. I must conduct a size-up to gather factual information about what is happening. In my 360-degree size-up I am going to use my eyes and ears to gather clues and cues. The most important pieces of information I need to gather include:

  1. What crime was just committed?– Was this a crime of violence? Or just a simple property crime in which a vehicle was stolen?
    2. Environment – Is it nighttime or daytime? What’s my backdrop look like if I have to shoot? What are traffic conditions?
    3. Can I use a PIT maneuver – Does the crime warrant a PIT maneuver? What does my policy state? Can I ram the vehicle?
    4. Speed – How fast are we traveling? Are other agencies putting out spike strips? How fast are conditions changing?
    5. Policy – Is there a supervisor on that can shut this pursuit down? Am I the senior officer on and have to make the call? What does my policy state?
    6. Resources – What is the quality and quantity of resources I have available to me at this moment in time? Are there other agencies that can assist or am I solo?

I need to use this information to form my understanding of what is happening to help me make an action plan. (pause and think).

 

Now it’s time to make some decisions:

Critical Decision #1: Should I PIT the vehicle? If I have another agency with me this might be the best situation as quickly as possible.

Critical Decision #2: Should I follow for a while to look for the best place to stop this vehicle?

Critical Decision #3: Do I disengage?  If so, I need to completely stay out of the pursuit and listen to my supervisor and announce on the radio I have terminated.

Now it’s time to predict future outcomes:

Benchmark: What do I expect to be the outcome of my action plan?

Deadline: What is a reasonable deadline to accomplish this benchmark? (With consideration to #1-6 above.)

How much time should it take for the benchmark to be achieved? (The answer to this takes into consideration the critical factors mentioned above: Crime, Environment, Speed, PIT, Policy, Resources).

Only after I have completed this process will I take an action. While it seems like it would take a long time to work through this process, it really doesn’t. This can be accomplished in 1-2 minutes, depending on how long it takes to complete the size-up. Of course, the more you practice this process, the better (and faster) you’ll be at completing it.

 

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

There are many barriers that will try to impact your ability to form and maintain situational awareness – pre-arrival lens, task fixation, mission myopia, stress, urgency, culture, and peer-pressure (to name a few). There are multiple stimuli competing for your attention as well – your partner/other officers looking for orders, radio traffic to be answered, civilian issues to be addressed, etc.

 

On top of all of this, there is a high speed pursuit happening – saving lives and property and ensuring officer and citizen safety. With consideration for the complexity of an emergency scene, it can be easy to lose track of critical information and it can be easy to forget just how important developing and maintaining your situational awareness is.

Talk to yourself and use meta awareness to help you develop and maintain your situational awareness. Of course, it’s also a great idea to talk with fellow officers about the same criteria. This helps ensure the team is on the same page.

Action Items

  1. Discuss how police officers can use intrapersonal communications to help form and maintain situational awareness.

 

  1. Practice using self-talk (out loud) during training sessions.
  2. Make a habit of asking fellow officers: “What’s on your mind?” as a way to encourage them to share their self-speak.

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

B-R-E-A-T-H-E

B-R-E-A-T-H-E

We know from previous articles that situational awareness is the ability to perceive and understand what is happening around you while being mindful of time passing, and then being able to accurately predict future events in time to avoid bad outcomes.

This is very important when it comes to conflict management and de-escalation as well.  As a young-police officer I didn’t know the proper ways to de-escalate situations and I had very poor situational awareness.  I wasn’t able to read people’s body language and perceive what it was telling me.  I often used attack words such as “calm down!” or “come here!” while using my fingers to motion them to walk towards.  Unbeknownst to me, this was actually having the reverse effect.  I wasn’t de-escalating the situation. I was actually escalating the situation.

It took me several years on the job as a patrol officer to recognize people’s body language and then to deploy empathy to de-escalate the situation. I learned how to understand what makes people upset during a crisis situation. Often, I was the first face they saw.  I don’t think they were intentionally displaying anger toward me. They were simply upset and not thinking rationally. Deploying good de-escalation techniques and conflict management skills can save your life.

To help, I developed a process (and an acronym) police officers can use to help gain compliance and maintain good situational awareness.  I call it the B-R-E-A-T-H-E technique.

Breathe: Take a couple of slow, deep breaths to relax yourself while using your perception skills. Breathing can help calm you down and allow you to think rationally and rational thinking is critical to good decision making.  What is the person you’re dealing with telling you, both verbally and non-verbally?  Controlled breathing can help reduce the undesirable effects of stress (e.g., tunnel vision) and relax your mind to think logically.

 

Recognize: Be vigilant of what’s happening around you while being mindful of how time is passing.  What’s being discussed?  Have you seen this situation before?  For example, does the suspect you’re dealing with have his/her hands in their pockets and won’t take them out?  Is your red flag warning sign going off?  By recognizing a situation like this, you can keep yourself safe and rely on training.  By recognizing the danger signs (clues and cues) you’re displaying good situational awareness.

 

Examine: Is this an emotional situation or logical situation?  Is this person you’re trying to de-escalate in a logical state of mind or are they highly emotional and possibly in a crisis situation?  I can remember some people coming into our lobby of the police department very agitated because they just received a parking ticket.  I examined them and determined they were in an emotional charged state and not thinking logically.  It’s a good idea to empathize with people in this situation and repeat back to them what they’re saying by using good active listening skills. Empathy can calm the emotions.

Abstain: Restrain yourself from engaging in conflict or from making a quick, irrational decision. Again, take your time and don’t rush the situation. Like most problems to be solved, slowing the pace and allowing some time for emotions to settle down usually leads to better decisions and better outcomes.

Think: Think of your course of action. Restrain yourself from engaging in conflict or a quick irrational decision.  This is very tough to do. Like many officers, I have struggled to restrain myself many of times. And when I failed to properly restrain myself, it usually led to a physical confrontation, which could have resulted in me getting hurt or becoming the subject of legal action.

 

Stressed brains revert to basic human instinct, of which the foundation is survival.  This can trigger an automatic fight or flight response.  When an officer is under severe stress and the fight or flight kicks in, the officer no longer has conscious control over their response. And this is where things can go wrong quickly.  Take a second to breathe and try your best to not let the person you’re dealing with trigger your emotions.  They are behaving emotionally and having an emotional response. You’re the one that needs to have a calming presence and be the voice of reason. Think ahead of the situation and predict where it could go and how you can prevent a bad outcome.

 

Handle: Take care of the situation in a calm and professional manner.  As police officers, we are trusted by the public to display a calming presence.  We must show we can handle the situation professionally. If we don’t, the situation can spin out of control quickly and use of force may escalate.  Under extreme stress, we can experience multiple barriers that can impact situational awareness and performance, including tunnel vision (narrowing of our visual field), auditory exclusion (going deaf) and loss of fine motor skills.  We will perform best when we remain calm. We can practice controlling our stress by practicing de-escalation techniques during realistic scenario-based training.

 

Examine: After an encounter, ask yourself what went well? How can you perform better in the future? Debriefing is so important in everything we do.  We will be well-served to identify opportunities where we can improve our conflict management and de-escalation skills.  As police officers we know that every call is different. With experience we become better at reading people and improve our situational awareness skills over time. Building scenario-based verbal de-escalation training into your annual use of force training can be very beneficial.

 

 

Everyday life:

De-escalation is very important in everyday life.  Whether we’re talking with our co-workers, a significant other, or our kids, good de-escalation techniques are extremely valuable.  Learn how to recognize when someone is in a highly emotional state and not thinking rationally.  Good de-escalation techniques can help save relationships and prevent destroying friendships and marriages.

The next time you see someone in a highly emotional state and not thinking rationally don’t tell them to CALM DOWN!  This never works.  Instead use good active listening skills and say something like: “I just want to make sure I’m hearing you correctly. Is this what you’re telling me (fill in the blank).” This shows you’re using good active listening skills and you’re repeating back what the person has said.

Discussions

  1. Share some examples where you have used de-escalation and conflict management skills.
  2. Discuss training your department has in place to incorporate de-escalation and conflict management strategies.
  3. Discuss how you can assist your partners if you notice they are struggling with these techniques.

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Complacency Kills Police Officers

Complacency Kills Police Officers

Curiosity killed the cat, but it’s not curiosity that is killing police officers, it’s complacency contributing to flawed situational awareness. What does it mean to be complacent? I could offer you the Webster’s dictionary definition, instead, I’d like to offer you a definition based on my observations of those who suffer from the affliction.

Complacent

To believe that bad things only happen to other people; To fall into a comfortable rut of apathy – laziness; To have enjoyed success for so long as to believe all actions will result in successful outcomes; To rely on knowledge and skills that have grown stale for lack of practice and renewal; To develop a sense of indifference – to lack concern for – one’s safety and well-being. Let’s break this down now by expounding on each component of the definition.

In Law Enforcement, we are very prone to becoming complacent on the job.  As a matter of fact, most police officers die in the middle of their career.  According to Kevin Gilmartin, author of Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, most police officers die feloniously on duty between year 10-15 of their career.  Complacency is a big contributing factor to this.

Some of the ways I have shown my complacency on the job have to deal with traffic stops and alarm calls.  I remember making traffic stop after traffic stop and using good tactics and nothing ever bad happened.  Until one time when I let my guard down and used poor tactics.  I stopped an individual and causally walked up to the car thinking to myself this is just another routine traffic stop, when he opened his driver’s door, hopped out and started screaming “just kill me.”  Thankfully, he did not have a weapon on him and I was able to deescalate the situation, but he definitely caught me by surprise and had the tactical advantage on me from my being complacent.

I can also remember going to a lot of alarm calls in my career.  99% of the time the alarm calls were false alarms, were set off by the cleaners, or animals inside of a home tripped the alarm.  However, one time I was called to an audible burglar alarm covering glass break.  I arrived thinking this would be just another false alarm.  To my surprise it wasn’t, it was the real deal.  Someone had done a smash and grab at one of our local gas stations and took the cash register.  Here again I did a poor approach to the building and was being very complacent which could have got me killed.

Believing Bad Things Only Happen to Other People

This is often rooted in a mindset of judgment. While watching a video or reading about a casualty incident, the complacent police officer becomes a judge. The mindset is not one of trying to understand the root cause of what happened and to extract the lessons behind the lessons.  Instead, the complacent police officer wants to ridicule and offer judgment upon the misfortunes of others. One who is judging, cannot learn. This causes the lessons to be missed and perpetuates the belief that bad things only happen to other people.

Falling into a Comfortable Rut of Apathy – Laziness

The energy required to develop and maintain competency is immense. It requires both a cognitive and physical effort to develop the knowledge and skills essential for top performance. Any deviation from being exceptionally prepared will result in a consequence, right? Hardly, in fact, the vast majority of cases with large deviations from top performance have no consequence.

That is both a blessing and a curse. If such deviations always resulted in casualties, the results would be catastrophic. For that, we are blessed. Yet it is the same lack of consequence that promotes apathy. The proof that one needs not work as hard, rests in the successful outcomes achieved despite a reduction in knowledge and skill development/maintenance.

Relying on Knowledge and Skills That Have Grown Stale for Lack of Practice and Renewal

For skill and knowledge to be retained and useful, they must be practiced over and over again… and then over and over AGAIN… rinse and repeat. The process of learning and relearning skills is never ending. The pathways that access knowledge in our brains are strengthened through repetition. Just because something was learned in school 10 years ago does not mean the skillset is still flawless. Every expert in every field practices incessantly to keep their skills sharp. So must police officers!

The complacency within an organization is often a byproduct of the organization’s culture, undisciplined leadership and individual member mindsets. This can change. The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step. Do something today… take a step toward reducing complacency.

Everyday life

Complacency happens in everyday life all the time.  This can be dangerous when working with power tools or using knives in your kitchen.  Think of the last time you were operating a chain saw.  Did you get complacent as time went on?  How about the last time you were slicing up some food.  Did you cut yourself because you became complacent?  We need to stay focused so we don’t become a victim to complacency.

Discussions

  1. Discuss what ways you combat complacency.
  2. Discuss what training you implement in your department to avoid becoming complacent.
  3. Discuss how you can assist your partners if you notice they’re becoming complacent.

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

The Silent Killer of Police Officers

The Silent Killer of Police Officers

My days at the police academy were a lot of fun. I can remember the first day like it was yesterday.  We all showed up eager to learn, got our room assignments, did our physical tests and greeted each other in the gymnasium.  Most of the cadets knew each other and were from the same school.  I was the only one from my school, but it didn’t take long to make friends with everyone else.

Our day consisted of learning all the important skills police officers need to know on the job.  We spent hours at the gun range, participated in defensive tactics, drove the squad cars like we stole them, pepper sprayed each other, and went through numerous different scenario-type trainings.  After the day was done, we made sure to head to the local establishments to have a few adult beverages and share our dreams of where this great law enforcement career would (hopefully) take us.

Looking back, I noticed the instructors did a great job preparing us for the on-duty portion of job and how to maintain officer safety.  However, they didn’t speak much about how to handle the job, mentally, off-duty and the toll it could take on us. Law enforcement, in particular, is a very high stress job that will expose you to a lot of things most people should never experience. For the longest time, this career had a “tough guy” stigma attached to it. Sharing your thoughts and feelings about calls that you have been on was considered weird and taboo.

The Officer Down Memorial website (https://www.odmp.org/), reveals 62 police officers were killed by felonious assault, gunfire, vehicle pursuit and vehicle assault in 2019.   According to B.L.U.E. Help (https://bluehelp.org/) a website that provides statistics on suicides by police officers, 197 police officers took their own life in 2019.  That means for every officer feloniously killed in the line of duty approximately three more take their own life by suicide.  This is inexcusable. We need to do a better job of taking care of ourselves and our fellow brothers and sisters in blue.

During my tenure, I was lucky enough to participate in a peer support group for first responders.  This was a great way to debrief after a call that exposed responders to trauma.  I believe these types of programs were setup for the right reasons and encouraged responders to share their feelings and how they were impacted.

According to Mary Wolf, a licensed counselor, with decades of experience: “It is time to normalize asking for help.  Let’s make it ok to reach out at the first sign of distress instead of suffering in silence for years.  Let’s make learning about common reactions and stressors of police work part of training from day one. Let’s make emotional health a real priority in an industry that has put it last.”

 A Call to Action

Let’s teach the skills needed to holistically be a police officer:  Coping with chronic and acute stress, utilizing exercise as the natural anti-depressant that it is, supporting your colleagues, and asking what you need to effectively do this important work.

Let’s talk about the difficulty of domestic violence calls, tragic accidents, and threats to your safety.

Let’s make it alright to bring your whole self to the job.

Let’s talk openly about what brings out our fears, anger, frustrations and overwhelming sadness in how some people treat their children.

Let’s make resources easy to access so everyone knows what to do when a challenge arises whether it’s personal or professional.

Let’s make it ok to talk about critical incidents and the affects it is having on us.

Let’s make it the norm to talk with supervisors, peers, and professionals about how we are feeling and how we are Really doing.

Let’s show some vulnerability and humanity in our work.

Trust and connection are key needs in order to sustain a meaningful career.  Everyone needs an objective and confidential person that they can confide in, where they can be themselves, and not have to pretend to be happy.

If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or suicidal thoughts, a licensed mental health professional is your best avenue.  You need a mental health provider who understands the unique aspects of police culture.  Search for a list of mental health professionals who are covered by your health insurance.  Many plans provide mental health counsellors for a small or no co-pay. You might have to make a few calls to find someone who understands the first responder world.

Key Takeaways

Suicide, depression, and other mental health issues are a silent killer among public safety personnel. We need to take better care of ourselves not just physically, but mentally as well.  We need to make sure we seek additional support if we are having a hard time in our career fields.  If you find you’re having disturbing thoughts that won’t leave after a high stress call, understand you’re having a normal reaction to an abnormal circumstance.  We need to make sure we’re having a check-up from the neck up.

 Everyday Life

Our mental health is extremely important.  We need to make sure we have a clear mind and are getting things off our chest.  Gone are the days of bottling everything up until they spill over.  Find a healthy way to cope with the stresses of the job.

Remember, the consequences of not getting help impacts you as well as others around you.

Discussions

  1. Discuss healthy strategies for coping with the stresses of the job.
  2. Discuss what plan your agency has to assist public safety personnel having a difficult time dealing with the stresses of the job.
  3. Discuss ways your agency could implement a peer support group for your public safety partners, including what training should be provided.

 

About the authors

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Contributor

Mary Wolf, MS, LPC-MH, BCC. President of Veritee Partners LLC. Contact her via email at [email protected] or connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mary-wolf-veritee/.

Active Shooter Part 3: Citizen Response

Active Shooter Part 3: Citizen Response

ACTIVE SHOOTER TRAINING FOR CITIZENS

If you find yourself at work, school, church, etc., when an active shooter event unfolds there are a few things you should know and practice.  First, if you can safely do so, RUN!  Get out of the situation as fast as possible.  You will improve your chances of knowing where to run if, in advance, you are thinking about your way out far before you have to flee (think preplan). Once an event turns hostile, you will have little time to think about your escape route.

If running is not a safe option because the shooter is too close, then hide.  I’m not talking about hiding under a desk. That, in fact, may be your worst option.  Hiding under a desk makes you a sitting duck. Hiding under desks may work in the movies, but it’s a bad plan in real life.  Hiding means actively barricading yourself behind cover. If you cannot find cover, then find a way to conceal yourself.

Think of cover as a barrier that can stop bullets (e.g., the engine block of a car or a brick wall).  Concealment, on the other hand, is something that will conceal (i.e., hide) your body, but bullets can still penetrate through (e.g., drywall or a wood door).  When you hide, barricade and lock the door if possible. Put large heavy objects such as tables, computers, or desks in front of the door so it cannot easily be opened.  Remain quiet and wait there as long as you need to until law enforcement arrives.

Lastly, and only if the first two options won’t work, fight! If you are by yourself, your best option is to hurl any object available to you at the shooter and try to get away to cover or run out of the building. Use any means you can imagine to slow the shooter down. Active shooters are cowards and they won’t be expecting a fight.

OODA LOOP DISRUPTION

One of the things we teach civilians on how to survive an active shooter encounter is to disrupt the shooters OODA loop.  Let me explain. The OODA loop – developed by Air Force Colonel John Boyd – is a four-step decision making/action taking process. Colonel Boyd described it as:

  • Observing;
  • Orienting;
  • Deciding; and,
  • Acting

By disrupting an Active Shooters decision making process (i.e., their OODA loop) we can momentarily cause the shooter to pause their decision making process and this may be all the advantage we need to increase our chance for survival.

For example, during a hockey game if the Forward is on a breakaway and has no Defender or Goalie in their path, they can OBSERVE there is no one to block their shot.  The Forward can then ORIENT their stick in a way to ensure the shot can be made.  The Forward can then DECIDE to shoot the puck into the empty net and ACT on that decision by slapping the puck toward the goal and score!

However, the entire process can be interrupted if there is a Defender facing the attacking Forward.  If after Observing and Orienting, the Forward decides to shoot, the Defender may attempt to slap the puck away from the Forward.  This maneuver may be enough to disrupt the Forward’s decision making process (i.e., their OODA loop) and the Forward would likely avert the shot and start the OODA loop process over again. This can buy you a few precious seconds.

Think of the Flight 93 scenario, trained terrorists hijacked a plane. The passengers bonded together and took out the terrorists. And while all the passengers perished when the plane crashed, their heroic actions likely saved countless lives at the destination the terrorists where intending to strike with the plane.  They accomplished their mission by being brave, having a plan, and disrupting the terrorist’s OODA Loop.  They did a great job improvising weapons (e.g., a beverage cart, hot coffee).

KEY TAKEAWAY

Situational awareness is essential to your survival and may help save your life if you encounter an Active Shooter.  Consider conducting mental rehearsals of Active Shooter scenarios. During a mental rehearsal, you imagine yourself in an Active Shooter situation and think through (in advance) what it would be like.  Imagine using all of your senses. What would you be seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling? Vividly imagine the situation and how it would play out in as much detail as you can.

Practice “what if” decision making scenarios. For example, you might think: If I were in my office and I heard a gunshot in another part of the building, then I would ________ (fill in the blank).  Rehearse as many “what if” scenarios as you can imagine, building complexity into the scenarios as you gain confidence.

The benefits of mental rehearsals can be two-fold.  First, mental rehearsals can reduce surprises.  Your critical thinking skills can be impacted by the element of surprise.  (Coincidentally, disrupting critical thinking skills is what you’re trying to accomplish when you interrupt the Active Shooter’s OODA loop). When you find yourself in a real-world situation that you’ve mentally rehearsed, you’re far less likely to be surprised.  Rather, you’ll be expecting it to happen and you will have already thought through one (or more) decision options.

The second benefit of mental rehearsals is they can help improve prediction skills.  In active shooter situations, it is important that we are thinking ahead of the current situation – being mindful of not only what is happening right now, but also thinking about what is going to happen next (e.g., what/who might be waiting for me around the next corner?).

When practicing “if-then” scenarios and performing mental rehearsals, think beyond yourself.  Imagine the actions of others who will be present.  To take down an Active Shooter you may need to lead (direct) others on what to do.  For workplace Active Shooter preparation, talk with coworkers about what should be done if an event occurs. The actions of your coworkers could help save lives.  Or, their actions could cost lives.  Don’t assume everyone will know what to do.  That would be a mistake. Have a plan!  Remember, it’s much easier for the body to get through a tough time when the mind has already experienced and planned for it.

EVERYDAY LIFE

When we work with companies, we recommend annual training for all employees and the training cover all forms of potential violent acts at work.  Professional training ensures workers know what to do, but also how to do it.  Be prepared for an act of violence, this involves mental AND physical preparation.

Think about the phenomenal job firefighters have done teaching citizens how to Stop, Drop, and Roll if their clothing catches on fire.  What to do is quite intuitive now, but it took years of repetitive training and having a plan for it to happen.  Repetition improves physical and mental performance under stress. That’s why schools conduct multiple fire drills every year.  As a result of their diligent efforts, it is extremely rare for a student to die from a fire in a school.

We live in a world where, sadly, Active Shooter events are becoming more common. It’s time for companies to develop plans and to take the lead training workers on how to be prepared.

Discussions

  1. Discuss ways a person could disrupt an Active Shooter’s OODA loop.
  2. Discuss what objects in your home or at work could be used as a last-resort weapon to defend yourself against an active shoot.
  3. Review and discuss your family’s plan for an Active Shooter event.
  4. Review and discuss your company’s plan for an Active Shooter event.
  5. Discuss with your coworkers what each of you should (and should not) do during an Active Shooter event.

 

About the Authors

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.

Active Shooter Part 2: Collaborating with Fire and EMS

Active Shooter Part 2: Collaborating with Fire and EMS

When I was in the police academy and went through Active Shooter training it was designed solely for police officers. There was never a mention of EMS or fire department response and how they could assist in these situations.  It took approximately 8 years into my career until I went to a training that involved the assistance of EMS and firefighters.  It really opened my eyes as to how much value EMS and firefighters can add to these catastrophic events.

In the most recent trainings I have participated in, we have incorporated using EMS and firefighters to assist with rapidly evacuating people that have been injured and it significantly improved our efficiency.   We set up a rescue team where police officers provide protection and guided a group of EMS and fire personnel through a building to get the injured victims out.  Training as a single unit in these rescue teams and working in collaboration with each other has been very beneficial will save more lives.

One of the things I noticed that firefighters do well is they are very good at setting up incident command and being able to communicate well with each other on the radio.  Ever since I have been a police officer I have always been really impressed with how fast firefighters mobilize incident command and run their incidents so efficiently.  As police officers this is something we can definitely learn from our partners in the fire service.  This works well when an Active Shooter event is unfolding, and teams need to be organized before heading to the hot zone.  Firefighters have a lot of experience in incident command and it definitely shows during these collaborative training events.

WORDS OF ADVICE TO SURVIVE AN ACTIVE SHOOTER

Active Shooter events are becoming more and more common throughout the United States.  It’s a good thing to reach out to your fellow agencies to conduct joint training so that everyone is on the same page if one of these events were to ever unfold in your jurisdiction.  It requires coordinating a lot of moving parts and when we train together in a stressful environment we will be better prepared for when real event occurs.

If you’re a firefighter or EMS worker and you find yourself on a routine call that rapidly becomes an active shooter event there are a few things you should know and practice.  First, if you can safely do so, RUN!  Get out of the situation as fast as possible.  You’ll improve your chances of knowing where to run if, in advance, you are thinking about your way out far before you have to flee (think pre-plan). Once the event turns hostile, you will have little time to think about your escape route.

If running is not a safe option because the shooter too close then you should hide.  I’m not talking about hiding under a desk. That, in fact, may be your worst option.  Hiding under a desk makes you a sitting duck. Hiding under desks may work in the movies, but it’s a bad plan in real life.  When I say hide I mean actively barricading behind cover. If you cannot find cover, then find a way to conceal yourself.

Think of cover as a barrier that can stop bullets (e.g., the engine block of a car or a brick wall).  Concealment, on the other hand, is something that will conceal (i.e., hide) your body, but bullets can still penetrate through (e.g., drywall or a wood door).  When you hide, barricade and lock the door if possible. Put large heavy objects such as tables, computers, or desks in front of the door so it cannot easily be opened.  Wait there as long as you need until law enforcement arrives and the officers retrieve you.

Lastly (and only if the first two options don’t work) you will need to fight.  As a firefighter or EMS worker you can improvise weapons (e.g., SCBA, oxygen tanks, fire extinguishers, scissors).  If you are by yourself, your best option is to hurl any object available to you at the shooter and try to get away to cover or run out of the building. Use any means you can imagine to slow down the shooter.

If you are with a group, your best chance of survival is to improvise weapons and throw them all at the shooter all at the same time.  Once you are able to distract or confuse the shooter, try to incapacitate the shooter until law enforcement arrives.  Think of Flight 93, the group of passengers on that plane used improvised weapons (e.g., hot coffee, carts) and subdued a group of armed terrorists.  A group effort is the way to go, it requires training and leadership but will give you the best chances of survival. Keep in mind that acting aggressively toward the shooter is your last resort option.

DOS AND DON’TS OF RESPONDING TO AN ACTIVE SHOOTER

I always knew when I arrived on a house fire or accident scene that this is the fire department’s jurisdiction.  I also knew that when I arrived on a medical scene it belonged to EMS and I was there to provide support.  For my fellow brothers and sisters in fire and EMS I have a question for you:  Does it frustrate you when a police officer parks in front of a working house fire?  How about when a police car blocks your access where someone was having a heart attack and you can’t back your ambulance into the driveway?

I would be lying if said I’ve never done this. It took a few reminders from fire and EMS to help me remember not to do that.  Well the same applies for police officers when it comes to a dynamic shooting scene.  Make sure on an Active Shooter scene you’re parking far enough away to allow law enforcement personnel to be able to access the scene.  Our job is to take out the shooter and establish a safe perimeter as quick as possible.  Blocking our routes with fire trucks and ambulances makes are job more difficult – and dangerous.

Also, do you have a member that loves talking on the radio?  (We have those people in law enforcement too.)  During a rapidly evolving active shooter event, we would all serve each other better if we keep radio traffic to a minimum (i.e., only transmit the most essential information).  Early on, the scene is going to be chaotic and confusing. It is very important for law enforcement to keep lines of communication open and accessible. Non-essential chatter is distracting and can draw an officer’s attention off-task and increase their risk.

KEY TAKEAWAY

Situational awareness is key for survival and saving as many lives as possible in an active shooter situation.  Consider mentally rehearsing active shooter events thinking through, in advance, what your actions would be if you found yourself in that situation. Conducting simulated active shooter training (under stress) and practicing rapid response techniques, can improve a firefighter’s and EMS crew member’s ability to predict what may happen in these events and help you prevent bad outcomes.

Not all law enforcement officers have advanced training on how to handle an active shooter situation. Do not depend, entirely, on the officers to keep you safe. Use situational awareness best practices to improve the safety of your crew. (Here’s a hint: There’s more to situational awareness that paying attention and keeping your head on a swivel.)  Be prepared to take quick action, if necessary.

One final note: According to the FBI, from the years 2000-2018, 98% of active shooter incidents had only one shooter.  Statistically speaking, chances are your event will only be one shoote.  However, there’s always that chance there could be more than one. History also shows that when there are more than one shooter they are, most often, together.  But, as you can imagine, there are no rules for active shooters to follow.  Put yourself in the mindset that anything is possible and anything can happen.

Discussions

  1. Discuss what you would do if an active shooter situation were to evolve unexpectedly during a fire or medical call.
  2. Discuss how you could work more collaboratively with your local police departments to prepare, train and coordinate during active shooter events.
  3. Discuss ways you could build stress into active shooter training to improve realism and to ensure you are prepared for the stress you will experience during an actual event.

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.

Active Shooter

Active Shooter

My students often ask me, “Mr. Moldenhauer, what’s the worst call cops could ever go on?”  My response is always the same, an active shooter call.  I have had my share of terrible calls in my career that will stay with me forever (i.e.  suicides, child deaths, and fatal car accidents just to name a few). However, I don’t feel any of these could ever be as bad as responding to an active shooter call.  

I couldn’t imagine the horror of showing up to a call that someone is actively killing innocent people.  We in law enforcement all took an oath to protect and serve. The trainings I have been to with my fellow brothers and sisters in blue makes me confident that we will do whatever we can to stop these horrible incidents as fast as humanely possible.

We have come a long way in training for these incidents.  I can remember when I first started as a police officer attending active shooter training, we had one goal in mind.  That goal was to take out the shooter as fast as possible.  While at training we would work on tactical and rapid response techniques on how to stop these violent suspects from killing innocent people. 

Taking out the shooter is still our number one priority. However, what do we do with the people that have been shot and are possibly dying?  We didn’t train on how to save these people when I first started. But now we have improved our training and adopted a new philosophy: STOP THE KILLING, STOP PEOPLE FROM DYING, GET THE INJURED TO A MEDICAL FACILITY.  We do this collaboratively with firefighters and EMS.

As police officers we must STOP THE KILLING.  After all, we are the ones with the guns and body armor.  We need to respond quickly. This was tough for us at first because we were taught that we may need to sacrifice our own safety to stop the killing.  When we would attempt to seek cover or use slower, more controlled tactics, our instructors would reprimand us and tell us to keep moving.  

They reminded us that every time we heard a gunshot, we were to presume someone was just killed.  Our instructors told us the priority of life goes as follows: lives of hostages, lives of innocent civilians, our own life, and lastly the killer’s life.  This was tough for us to get used to. Throughout the entire police academy and our careers, we were told officer safety is first priority.  However, in an active shooter incident, all bets are off and we may need to sacrifice our safety to persevere life.  

After the killer has been taken out or contained, we must STOP PEOPLE FROM DYING.  We do this by applying tourniquets on people and triaging severe injuries as quick as possible.  Several trainings I have been in lately have included assistance from firefighters and EMS personnel.  We form teams of firefighters and EMS personnel, protected by police officers, to assist in getting the most severely injured victims out as quick as possible.  

I am happy we have incorporated firefighters and EMS personnel into our training. I commend them for their bravery to enter these violent scenes with us.  Working together has produced some impressive results.  Our final priority is to GET THE INJURED TO A MEDICAL FACILITY.  Once the victims are outside the hazard zone, fire and EMS have the primary responsibility for triaging, treating and transporting. 

Something to keep in mind with training for active shooter incidents with your department is to keep the training as real as possible.  When we train in controlled environments, where we can slowly go through our tactical evolutions, results are near perfect.  However, the minute we introduce stress into the scenarios, police officer behavior changes and it impacts our performance. 

For example, we may introduce stress by arming the shooter and officers with simulated ammunition (i.e., paintballs) and crank up scary music with screaming and gunshots. This changes everything!  Armed with simulated ammunition, I have witnessed police officers, put under stress, shoot other police officers when they round corners, police officers shoot other police officers in the back, officers freeze in doorways and I have witnessed a complete breakdown of communications among teams.

You may recall from my previous article titled “Do We Train to Fail”, I noted practice makes permanent.  When we respond to one of these horrific calls we must be prepared to handle the extreme stress we are going to encounter.  Training that requires officers to perform under highly stressful conditions will improve critical thinking skills and tactical performance.

KEY TAKEAWAY

Situational awareness is key to officer survival and will help us save as many lives as possible when dealing with an active shooter.  Consider conducting mental rehearsals of active shooter scenarios. During a mental rehearsal you would image yourself in an active shooter situation and think through what the environment would be like. Imagine using all of your senses (e.g., what would you be seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling). Vividly imagine the situation in as much detail as you can.  

Practice “if-then” decision scenarios. For example, you might think: If I was in a hallway and I heard a gunshot on the floor above me, then I would ________ (fill in the blank).  Rehearse as many “if-then” scenarios as you could imagine, building complexity into the scenarios as you gain confidence.  

One of the benefits of mental rehearsals is two-fold.  First, mental rehearsals can reduce surprises.  Our critical thinking skills can be impacted by the element of surprise.  When you find yourself in a real-world situation that you’ve mentally rehearsed, you won’t be surprised.  You’ll be expecting it and you will have already thought through one (or more) decision options.  

The second advantage of mental rehearsals is they will help improve our prediction skills.  In active shooter situations, we have to always be thinking ahead of our current action – being mindful of not only what is happening right now, but also thinking about what is going to happen next (e.g., What’s going happen around the next corner?).

When practicing “if-then” scenarios and performing mental rehearsals, think beyond yourself.  Imagine the actions of other members of your team (e.g., other officers, fire, and EMS personnel who may be with you).  

Discussions

  1. Discuss how active shooter training under stress changes officer behavior.
     
  2. Discuss the benefits and challenges you can anticipate from working collaboratively with your local fire departments and EMS provider.

  3. Share some examples of mental rehearsals you have performed. 

  4. Share some of the specific “if-then” scenarios you have practiced.

 

About the authors:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.

 

Fatigue Can Impact Police Officer Safety

Fatigue Can Impact Police Officer Safety

Research has shown that fatigue can impact situational awareness in disturbing ways. Some police officers think if they take a “safety nap” it will help. And in a small way, it may help. Any rest is better than no rest. However, a nap does not resolve systemic fatigue. Rest is a critical component to brain function and when there is not adequate rest or disrupted sleep cycles, the impact can be real and measurable.

Some scientists have described the behavior of research participants suffering from fatigue as displaying the same qualities as a person who is intoxicated. When you think about the critical nature of police officer decision making, fatigue can have catastrophic consequences.

The schedules of some police departments are not conducive to adequate rest. I remember working 12-hour shifts from 6 pm – 6 am and then having to be at traffic court by 9 am.  Sometimes court would run from 9 am – 12 pm and then I would have to go home, try and get some sleep, and be back for my shift at 6 pm.

This schedule significantly impacted both my mood and my job performance.  Other times, I would work 6 pm – 6 am and be informed from a supervisor that a day shifter had called in sick and they needed me to cover the shift until 10 am or noon.  This would make for some long hours awake and, thinking back, it severely impacted situational awareness, my decision making, and thus, my safety.

There is a reason truck drivers and airplane pilots are required (by law) to get a certain number of hours of sleep between shifts. Yet, police officers have no such requirement. Police Officers are expected to make high-risk, split-second decisions that could possibly take someone’s life and we aren’t required to have a certain number of hours of sleep between shifts.  I believe this is something we need to work on changing.

Police officers may believe if they feel physically rested, they are mentally rested. When the body rests, physically, the brain does not rest. In fact, the brain is surprisingly active while the body is resting, suggesting the body rests so the brain may have access to the glucose (energy) to do its heavy lifting. And what is the brain doing while you sleep? The research of neuroscientists tells us our brains are sorting through all the data from our previous waking period, cataloging the events into memory for future use. Hence, fatigue can not only impact short-term performance and memory, it can also impact long-term recall.

Got a perplexing problem? Sleeping on it really does help! 

KEY TAKEAWAY

Police officers who work long hours should be provided with opportunities to rest their brains. It’s not a matter of being lazy as some uninformed people may suggest. It’s a matter of personal safety and quality of care to the citizens they serve.  Ask yourself who you would want taking care of your community, a well-rested police officer or one that is mentally fatigued?

Everyday life:

Sleep is very important in our lives.  Think of the last time you didn’t get enough sleep.  How did this affect you?  Find some time in your busy schedule to wind down and get some rest.  Try to avoid watching TV at night and instead read a book or listen to soft music before bedtime.

Remember, the consequences of fatigue impacts you as well as others around you.

Discussions

  1. Discuss a time when your situational awareness and decision quality was impacted from being fatigued.
  2. Share some ideas about how to obtain adequate rest while working extended shifts.
  3. Share some tips for getting adequate rest when off-duty?

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Do We Train To Fail?

Do We Train To Fail?

Is it possible to erode a police officer’s situational awareness and to train a police officer to fail? Absolutely! I have seen it often. In fact, I still see it at police academies, on YouTube Videos and during police officer training sessions.

There was a time when I didn’t see it. In fact, I was one of those instructors who were training police officers to fail. I didn’t realize I was doing it. No instructor would train a police officer to fail on purpose. But, accidentally, it’s happening all the time and the consequences can be catastrophic.

I remember when I was in the academy and we would do a variety of training to get us ready for our careers as police officers.  One of the drills we would train on was felony stops.  Felony stops were intended for when we would pull someone over that had just committed a felony level crime or had a felony warrant.

We would first learn to put space between our squad car and the suspects car.  This was to give us more reaction time and create a safe distance from the suspect.  We would then exit our squad, take cover behind our driver side door and call the suspect back to us.  We would then either have the suspect lay on the ground or kneel.  Our partners would come up and handcuff the suspect, search, and secure them in the back of the squad car.  The drill would run smoothly, and officers would feel good after it was all done.  However, without even knowing it we were training to fail.

How were we training to fail?  Well, in law enforcement we learn the difference between cover and concealment. Cover is something we can hide behind that will stop bullets from hitting us (e.g., a brick wall, the engine block of a vehicle).

Concealment is something we can hide behind that bullets can penetrate (e.g., a car door, bushes, sheetrock).  In the felony stop drill we were concealing ourselves behind the car door of our squad, which bullets can penetrate.  Instead we should be angling our squad cars and hiding behind the engine block of the squad, while giving the suspect orders.  We were training to fail, we were placing ourselves behind concealment instead of cover.  This could have catastrophic effects if a suspect were to exit their vehicle and begin shooting at us.

KEY TAKEAWAY

The lesson here is that under stress, we become creatures of habit. Our brain will instruct our body to perform exactly how we were programmed to perform based mostly on memorization and repetition. This is true when recalling cognitive information (e.g., people’s names and email addresses). It is also the case with muscle memory (i.e., the physical movements tied to performing a task). Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent! This can lead to eroding a police officer’s situational awareness and in stressful environments police officers can revert right back to how they were trained.  Let’s train for success not failure!

Everyday life:

Think of when you trained a friend or your teen on how to change a flat tire on a vehicle.  This training usually takes place in nice the controlled safe environment of a clean garage (unless it’s my garage).  In reality, they will probably be changing a flat tire on the side of a busy road with a lot of traffic cars passing by, often at a high rate of speed.  Have they been trained when it is unsafe to change that tire and call a tow truck instead?  If they haven’t been trained on this alternate decision, this could lead to poor situational awareness and they could get struck by a passing vehicle operated by an inattentive driver.

Discussions

  • Look at your department’s training programs. Can you identify areas where you may be training to fail?
  • If you can identify areas where your department is training to fail, discuss solutions so that officers can avoid catastrophic mistake. Example: Have your officers ever thrown stop sticks during training from behind cover? Remember practice makes permanent.

The most important objective is for police officers to go home at the end of their shift. Training for success plays an important role in improving situational awareness and high-risk decision making.

Written By:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

 

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.

Know Your Equipment

Know Your Equipment

I’ll never forget the day I was issued the newest Electronic Control Weapon (ECW), commonly referred to as a Taser.  As a department we were all very excited, yet, nervous to see the ECW’s and we were ready to test them out on training day.  ECW’s are a critical piece of equipment that allows law enforcement to use a less lethal means of subduing a non-compliant suspect.  We were all very comfortable with our previous ECW. We knew this one was different and would take more training.  Most police officers are not the biggest fans of change, especially when it comes to learning how to use a new tool that is more complicated than what we are used to.

The old model ECW was simple, turn it on, point, and pull the trigger.  This would release the top dart exactly where the laser was pointing, and the other dart would deploy in a downward angle. The distance between the darts would be larger as the target got farther away. If the suspect was non-compliant after being hit with the darts, we could simply pull the trigger on the ECW again and the suspect would get another electric pulse.

The new model had two cartridges and when you pulled the trigger the first time it would deploy just like the old model.  However, the second dart would not deploy until you pulled the trigger again. We were not used to this and it confused a lot of officers.

To prevent a second deployment from happening, an officer would have to deploy the first round and then hit a black button on the side of the ECW to give the suspect another jolt. If the officer accidentally pulled the trigger again, a second round of darts would go flying wherever the ECW was pointed.  This made many officers very nervous because we knew under stress this would be very difficult to remember.  In a controlled environment we were able to operate the ECW just fine. But under extreme stress, we suspected officers might revert to the old way of training and would pull the trigger a second time, causing more darts to fire. If that happened, we knew it could possibly lead to a use of force issue or we could end up shooting our own partner.

KEY TAKEAWAY: 

Situational awareness requires a conscious effort to capture the clues and cues (i.e., information) in an often-chaotic environment.  When police officers have to focus so much cognitive energy on how to operate their equipment, their situational awareness will be impacted. New equipment should be used a lot in training to help develop muscle memory.  Under stress, officers often revert back to previous training. If officers are using new equipment, but haven’t trained well with it, they may end up using it incorrectly in hostile, highly stressful, situations.  There is too much risk for an officer to wait until they are in the middle of a dangerous rapidly evolving situation to learn this lesson.

Everyday life: 

Think of the time when you bought a new power tool.  Did it have new or different safety features you weren’t comfortable with?  Did you take time to practice with it and familiarize yourself with its use?  What would you do if you were in a stressful situation or if fatigue set in?  Invest the time to ensure you are comfortable with how your new equipment works, especially equipment that operates differently than equipment you are well-practiced with.

Discussion:

  • Discuss the process a department should use to ensure members are familiar with new equipment before it is placed into service.
  • Discuss a time when you made a mistake operating equipment in a high stress situation.
  • Discuss what steps should be taken if an officer observes their partner make a mistake while using equipment in a high-stress situation.

Drew Moldenhauer

 

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.