Establish the Discipline to Train and Invest in Preparedness The Full Discourse

Invest in preparedness, not prediction…I will never get to know the unknown since, by definition, it is unknown. However, I can always guess how it might affect me, and I should base my decisions around that…you always control what you do, so make this your end. ~Nassim Nicholas Taleb - The Black Swan; The Impact of the Highly Improbable

This post is for leaders and frontline folks who need a few ideas on how to keep training regular and relevant, in these tough economic times. To be more successful in performing our duties at a level of professionalism needed in handling dynamic encounters we must train and train often. The investment in training to prepare for conflict and crisis situations requires discipline and strength of character. The payoffs of training and preparation are high yield results that save lives.

Are We Truly Prepared and Ready to Lead Under Emergency Conditions?

People that work with and for you make your organization what it is. An investment in preparing them to handle the types of problems they face and hence you face, is an investment in being a more successful organization.  Training in my view is “practice” and practice makes us better at what we do, not perfect response, but much, much better. I say not perfect and I am often questioned as to why not, PERFECT? My answer is we will strive to mitigate the effects of crisis, rather than cause or add to a crisis situation. We will try to reverse or reduce the effects of a emergency situation, which will lead to more lives saved. Perfection in crises, in the unexpected, uncertain and rapidly unfolding and changing circumstances is a very unique.  The size and scope of the crisis and the sense of chaos and confusion it creates leads to information overload and makes developing an adequate response a challenge. We simply cannot prevent every bad thing from happening despite our best efforts. But we can get much better at it…

One of the main reasons for my analysis is that preparation and response to crisis situations takes practice and experience to lead, respond to, make decisions and take action in dealing with an emergency event. It takes effectiveness at all levels federal, state, local, organizational and the citizenry learning, unlearning and relearning how we work in crises individually and collectively to truly be successful. We are nowhere near ready, we are sadly still in the talking stage and must move in a proficient way to the walking the talk stage and preparing first responders law enforcement, security, fire and medical personnel , citizens, etc through realistic training that prepares them/us for what  lies ahead.

Is Preparation a Game or Something Much More Serious?

If I was to ask you about lets say coaching a high school foot ball team for your local high school and told you the only time you were needed to be there as coach, was on game day. That is right no practice during the week ,just take the team and win is all we ask. How do I prepare them if I cannot practice you ask? Well sir they have been trained and practiced in their freshman, softmore and junior years. You will be the varsity coach and the team knows the game and how the it’s played, all you need to do is set up the game plan on game day and organize your team so they win! Ludicrous! How can I be expected to put a winning team on the field, without practice, despite their prior training and the three-plus years experience. Yes it is ludicrous. Yet this is exactly what we expect of law enforcement, security personnel and other first responders tasked with responding to and winning in crises situations.

Training initially consists of developing a knowledge base to the basic aspects of the job, take for instance law enforcement. Subjects such as; law and procedures, report writing, patrol procedures, community policing, basic firearms training, some building entry techniques as well as some specialized training in domestic violence, operating under the influence of alcohol, arrest procedures and defensive tactics etc. This is a great base of knowledge to start with and build on, yet therein lies the problem. There is not very much building upon the basics. Most is left to learning via on the job training.

But what if nothing we have ever been taught or experienced is sufficient to the problem we face? Understanding the essence of winning and losing is key and rethinking our methods of training formally and informally must change. The nature of Conflict has changed, how we think must change, how we prepare must change, how we orient and reorient ourselves in an uncertain environment must change if we are to be successful. ~Ed Beakley Anti-Terrorist and Homeland Security Specialist

The world has changed and conflict is blurred. Crime and terrorism are now linked and actors utilize national, international and transnational networks to implement their strategies and tactics as we have already seen here at home and abroad. The threats and crime trends we deal with are not as clearly defined as they once were and the stakes are higher, much higher than points scored in a game. We must get serious and invest in preparing our people through training.

Training People…an Investment in Preparedness and Frontline results

I will use the law enforcement training example to compare with my coaching analogy to make my point on the importance of preparing for the unexpected and why it is worth the investment. 

The initial training for law enforcement  varies by state but is anywhere from 12-26 weeks. Then once graduated the academy the officers gets anywhere from 8-12 weeks of field training in an effort to help him/her apply what they have learned in basic training to the street of the community for which they work. Adding up the basic and field training utilizing the maximum standard,  26 weeks basic plus 12 week field training equals 38 weeks of training. From then on for most in law enforcement they get 40 hours of in-service training annually to maintain their status or certification as a law enforcement officer.

38 Weeks of training at the maximum standards with one week a year after that throughout a career. Yes there is also specialized training classes but there is only a select few who can attend because of budget and time issues etc. So for the sake of argument the majority of officers get 38 weeks of basic training.

Success on the street responding to a wide variety of situations is expected without mistakes, no fowls or penalties, no being knocked back and out of position. Winning every contact, every engagement is what's expected. In the current system of how and when we train, is this expected success a realistic expectation or is it an smokescreen of rhetoric over substance and talk to appease with little walking the talk that is needed to succeed? Talk seems to be plenty, but walking the talk is scarce!

In the real world game of life and death shouldn’t we be better prepared than a Sports Team on Game Day? Shouldn’t our training and education system be evolving at a rate higher than that of kids or professional athletes playing a game? The answer would seem an obvious yes! Yet the reality is clearly NO we do not!

High School football teams at the varsity level which is mostly made up of seniors so for the sake of argument lets say they have the 3 –plus (Pop Warner) years.For the sake of my comparison I will take into consideration only the 3 high school years of football.

Practice starts in August and the season usually ends on Thanksgiving day  so that is approximately12 weeks of practice a year which adds up to 36 weeks of practice over a three year period. This practice consists both physical and cognitive development. Players must take the knowledge and skills taught and apply them in practice on the field, in actual free-play force on force exercises preparing them for game day. My question, would you take the coaching job mentioned above in the final year with no practice time and just game day advise and expect to win? Why not? Because you know it is unrealistic to think you can have a winning season with out practice or training. Yet this is only a sport on which there are only so many game plans, responses and outcomes. Outcomes that do not involve life and death matters.

Law enforcement officers get very little time applying what they have learned in the classroom environment of a training academy. There is very little free play force on force exercises conducted. In the State of Massachusetts for example; about 40 hours of hands on force on force free play exercises is allotted in training time and this is broken up amongst an academy class of 30-60 recruits. So how much real training time is allotted per student? I think you would agree, nowhere near enough. The high school kids playing a game get more hands on training than those who protect our homeland. yet if there practice time was cut and the win/loss column was in the negative, people in that teams community would be up in arms complaining and a mass effort would be sought to re-instate the full program so the kids could prepare and and have a fair shot at winning!

Why then do we expect our first responders, responding to emergency and crisis situations to do so without even as much realistic training as a high school football team, when so much more is at stake? Have we even considered the thought , pondered the thought for even a few minutes at what's required of those responding to violence on our streets in our schools and across this country? Have we thought about the uncertainty and unexpected nature of the calls for service responders are handling. How about the violence that effects the psychological and physiological processes of the human body in  high stress situations and hence our abilities to make decisions and take appropriate actions under pressure…We call it choking in sports. “it happens under game pressure… give him time, more practice and the athlete will perform better!” We call it a screw up in the business of protection, safety and crisis response and look for heads to roll because we expect flawless responses. Yet we are given very little, “less” than a sports team effort to train and prepare. Have we as a profession, a society considered this? I do not think we have, because if we did we would be much more understanding as a society, as leaders in these professions, of what's required and what the psychological and physiological responses are to dynamic confrontations and the effects on cognitive and physical abilities handling crisis’s. We would invest more in preparing (training) our people for the realities they face.

Communicating The Truth About Preparedness

I write the above and put most of the blame squarely on our professions. Leaders tell community members what they think they want to here. We tell folks we are prepared when we know damn well we are not anywhere near fully prepared. It is often sighted we do not want to spark panic or unrest, we do not want to be alarmists. In law enforcement we just do not share information very well within the community. There are exceptions and in those departments that do make the effort to share, we see success at bridging this gap and developing more support from society. Most people react in a positive manner when they hear the truth about the situation and its time the training issue comes to the forefront .

Communication within organizations is critical as well. Open communications in regards to the strategic, operational and tactical arenas must be discussed openly within an organization. intelligence must be passed on.  Where we think we are weak and need more training has to be discussed and approached in a open dialog if we are to ever move forward and inspire initiative in those frontline personnel who respond. A leader, however skilled, must rely on the performance of his men and women for success. They are on the ground and closest to the adversary and must be able to act on their own initiative. If they fail, the leader and community fails. If they win, the leader and the community also win.

What is the Investment and How Do We Get It Done?

Am I talking about money? Yes it will cost money but that's is not the focus of this article. When I talk investment I want to discuss how do we raise the bar, and get the most out of our leaders in developing frontline personnel? What training methods do we use at accomplishing this goal, that help control costs and  yield high payoff results in performance and execution.  

Formal Training

This is the most expensive form of training and the most time consuming as it takes and officer(s) off the street and out of service as they in most cases travel outside their jurisdiction to attend. The cost of the class itself is not the major expense, the cost of overtime, multiplied by the number of officers attending is where the funds are drained. Formal training is beneficial when based on priorities and the climate (crime trends and problems) of your jurisdiction. It is also designed to build a basis of knowledge in a vast array of topics and critical skills related to the profession. It seems to be the most prevalent way we utilize to training our personnel,  yes it is necessary, but is it the only way to train personnel?

Formal training also takes place within organizations although even less frequently than stated above. The training process  usually consists of firearms training and other physical skills development in the high liability areas of our professions.

Roll call training is another area of formal training in short bursts of 20 to 30 minutes at the beginning of or sometime during the shift. This type of training does not cost money because its being done on down time during a working shift. It is however a high yield method of training as leaders can focus on specific problems in their jurisdictions and on their perspective shifts. The problem here is not many supervisors are willing to take the time and extend the effort to do so. Mindset shift is needed here because the benefits are great and easily justifiable.

Methodology to Enhance Learning, Education and Training Through Experience 

On the Job Training

By on the job training I do not mean you show up for work and fly by the seat of you pants and hope things work out as they should. No what I mean by on the job training is that you learn from every experience and focus on the lessons learned to make yourself better at the job. This can be done by encouraging supervisors and individual officers to constructively critique performance.  A simple example; I respond to back up an officer on a domestic violence call. When I arrive there is a second back-up officer arriving directly behind me. I observe the first responding officer on the front door steps and the subject is being handcuffed and shows no signs of resistance.  The secondary back-up officer got out of his car very quickly and walking at a pace that was almost a run to the front step where the subject and contact officer were. As he ran I  said relax, relax think and cover him. However he was way to over focused on getting there. The cover officer began a pat down which was great and no resistance was shown. As the cover officer searched the first responding (contact) officer stood near by and maintained control of the subject. The search conducted was quick and when contact was made with an item in the right front pocket, the officer asked was  that a set of keys? The subject responded yes it was keys. The officer continued on and they then sat the subject in the back seat of the patrol car for transport. Both the contact officer and the cover officer were young officers about two-years on the job. As soon as the subject was secure. I stated Ok guys a training lesson, what did you miss? Nothing. Ok When you searched the subject what did you miss? I cannot thin k of anything. Lets try again, when you searched you asked the subject if he had…Oh yes keys he said he had keys in his right pocket the officer explains. Did you verify they were keys? No I did not. What should we do I ask? Take him out and check they respond. Absolutely!

This incident is a simple one and it ended with keys indeed in the pocket, but the lessons learned by the two officers will stick with them and quite frankly will stick with me as well. Every time you take advantage of a opportunity to learn both student and teacher benefit from the experience. Yet we do not take advantage of the OJT opportunities that present themselves. We must change this and be willing to lead and be led when you make the mistake that pointed out. These lessons are to powerful to be ignored.

Create and Nurture Preparedness/Adaptability with Tactical Decision Games and Decision Making Critiques

Highly effective method of training that develops rapid decision making is a tool called the tactical decision game (TDG) or decision making exercise (DME). This is a critical piece of MAJ Don Vandergriff’s training methodology with the military. and which he writes about in his book “Raising the Bar creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal With the Changing Face of War.” He has achieved great results in using these games to develop decision makers who will demonstrate adaptability in combat. He has received great feedback from those serving overseas to the benefits of the TDG’s in creating decision makers performing for high stakes and under high pressure.

Tactical decision games are situational exercises on paper representing a snap shot in time. A scenario is handed out that describes a problem related to your profession (law enforcement, security, military, business, etc). The facilitator sets a short time limit for you to come up with a solution to the problem presented. The TDGs can be conducted individually or in a group setting. As soon as time is up, with the facilitator using “time hacks”, an individual or group is told to present their course of action. What you did and why? It is important that individuals or groups working together are candid and honest in their responses. You’re only fooling yourself to do otherwise. The lesson learned from the TDGs can make you more effective and safe in the performance of your job. The time to develop the strength of character and the courage to make decisions comes here, in the training environment. Mistakes can be made here that do not cost a life and valuable lessons are learned.

The key here is the facilitator/instructor whose job it is to insure responses are brought out and lessons are learned from the scenario. This can be done while working. I know because we have used them on my department and I have used them training security companies. It takes some effort, but can indeed be done.

The TDGs are effective at developing decision making in the field. In the few years we used TGDs in the Walpole police department, officers went from the initial thought of what are we doing this for? To getting involved and discussing strategy and tactics necessary to resolving the problem faced in the TDG setting. This evolved to applying what was learned, to the street under pressure. Tactical response and approaches to calls, communications, utilization of tactical basics such as; contact/cover principle and cover and concealment, approach strategies, perimeter containment and overall officer safety improved greatly utilizing these short scenarios. Knowledge of laws and policy and procedure improved by utilizing decision making exercises to fit legal and policy questions.

This simple tool works and works well. I use the term simple tool but, make no mistake, its work implementing and conducting these exercises. Developing scenarios and insuring appropriate lessons are learned takes thought and innovation to insure proper training is taking place. The instructor/facilitator needs to understand his job, is to draw out answers, not give them out. I must emphasize this point because; I have made that mistake in conducting the exercises. The goal is to make “decision makers” and “innovators”, not give answers, directions and create followers; we have enough of that in our professions already.

The TDGs are about developing individual, initiative driven frontline leaders who can make decisions that meet the mission of the agency. “TDGs are used to teach leaders how to think and to train and reinforce established ways of doing something, such as task training. The techniques can be traced back at least to the Chinese general and military theorist Sun Tzu, who was advocating their use more than 2,500 years ago.” (Vandergriff, From Swift To Swiss Tactical Decision Games and Their Place in Military Education and Performance Improvement, 2006 )

Decision Making Critiques/After Action Reviews

The decision making critique (DMC) or after action review (AAR) is another critical component to developing decision makers. The AAR is conducted after the decisions are made and actions taken. Then candid discussed amongst the group involved in the incident to bring out lessons learned. . The facilitator keys on two aspects of the incident, was the decision made in a timely manner? What was the rationale of the individual or group in making their decision?

I have utilized these methods and the powerful lessons that are learned from reviewing and critiquing a crisis situation you were actually involved in is a better than most formal training you can get. Why? because you were there and experienced the circumstances first hand and then sat down and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the response. Then from these lessons learned developed a better plan for next time. A key component to conducting both TDGS and AAR is a candid open dialog, anything less and you are only fooling yourself.


If individual, organization and interagency  effectiveness is what we are truly looking for we must take what we know about ourselves, our organizations and the problems and threats we face, including knowledge of  those criminals and extremist mindsets that threaten our society and way of life. This assessment should bring about questions; Who is more serious about  success, Us or Them? Whose doing more to prepare, Us or Them? Who is actively utilizing and developing new ideas to out think and out smart and out maneuver the adversary, Us or Them? Who is utilizing people, ideas, information, intelligence and technology and creativity at a more successful rate, Us or Them? Who has inspired individual initiative in their followers, Us or Them? Who is prepared for game day,  Us or Them? Who is committed to win. Is it us or them? Any given Sunday is game day for a kids game and they come prepared and committed to play and give their all to win. Any give DAY at any given TIME could be our game day and the stakes are much much higher. Are we truly prepared? Think about it deeply and honestly because “how you think about the future determines what you do in the future!”