Introducing a New PoliceOne Column: Training at the speed of life: Advancing reality based training

In Florida yesterday, two officers were wounded during a training exercise when one of the officers inadvertently discharged a loaded firearm. The bullet passed through the hand of the first, hitting the second in the leg. Last Friday, an officer in Pennsylvania was tragically killed either during, or just following, a training session. Details are as yet unreleased.

These incidents are the latest in a continuing string of injuries and deaths that have occurred during law enforcement training that was, ostensibly, designed to improve the safety and survivability of the officers who were participating.

Realistic training is fraught with danger. The newest Police One column, Training at the Speed of Life - Advancing Reality Based Training, is being launched to address safety issues associated with realistic training. Given the fact that most of the injuries and deaths that have occurred over the years have happened with highly experienced officers and trainers, it should become increasingly clear that realisitic training is a complex undertaking requiring highly trained instructor staff.

Training at the Speed of Life seeks to address many of the issues that most trainers overlook or take for granted, and that ultimately have led to close calls, serious injuries and, tragically, loss of life.

Join Ken Murray, noted expert on Reality Based Training and author of the new book "Training at the Speed of Life - the Definitive Textbook for Police and Military Reality Based Training" in Police One's newest, life saving column.

How Training at the Speed of Life Came to Be

In 1986, David Luxton and I thought it would be an interesting idea to try to get real weapons to shoot paintballs for tactical training. David had spent a number of years franchising paintball fields around Canada, and we began to notice an interesting trend of recreational paintball enthusiasts developing a high degree of tactical proficiency during these simulated skirmishes. Wouldn’t it be a great thing, we mused, if the military and law enforcement communities could use the same core technologies but rather than using the crude paintball weapons that were available at the time, they could use their own weapons.

We had no clue as to the magnitude of the project we were undertaking, nor would we know the depth and breadth of change it would have on the military and law enforcement communities. A scant twenty years later, the training technologies we pioneered under the brand name of SIMUNITION® have been adopted by all major law enforcement agencies worldwide as well as by the military of many of those nations. Projectile-based force on force training has become one of the cornerstones of developing tactical doctrine and testing individual and unit tactics.

Learning Through Progressive Successes

As popularity of our technologies grew, I began to notice agencies beginning to apply many of the rules of paintball to their training programs. Training took on a competitive nature where staff was pitted against students, and staff often thought it was their role to prevail over the students during these simulations.

To further hedge the advantage of the training staff, scenarios would often be stopped if staff began to lose, and students would usually be ruled “dead” if they were hit with a projectile. This “bang, bang, you’re dead” training methodology also spilled over to many of the video based simulators. Students were often chastised for shooting a subject holding a knife, or castigated after shooting a subject who jumped out at them brandishing a telephone.

In many instances, training was set up to cause the student to experience failure with the underlying premise that students could learn from their mistakes. This concept might initially appear sound, but it is fundamentally flawed. People will certainly internalize such experiences. Whether or not they will improve as a result is the real question. The most effective way to learn and to condition effective behaviors is not through negative experiences, but rather through progressive successes.

Understanding the Complexities of RBT

It is important to recognize that the intent of the instructors was not flawed, since one must believe that it was the core desire of those who were developing this type of training to improve the ultimate survivability of their students. It is necessary to separate character from competence in such situations. Although the training staff was not suffering from character flaws, they were not competent in the complexities of Reality Based Training (RBT).

Essentially, most of those involved in Reality Based Training were just winging it. After all, the concept was brand new, and many were stumbling along and using our technologies in ways that they believed contributed to the greater good. I, too, fell into this trap and found myself looking to prove how much better I was to students who would come through one of my scenarios. After a while, it almost got to be boring. I could easily set up a scenario to show students just how bad the world could be, and I was guilty of shooting students and then immediately stopping the scenario.

Fortunately, in a moment of clarity, I realized that the training I was providing might have some entertainment value but it was not conditioning the ultimate behaviors that I would want my students to demonstrate during a fight for their lives. Rather than giving them the gift of life, I was providing them with the experience of failure.

The Need for a Safer and More Effective RBT Program

Somewhere around 1991, I wrote the first Instructor Development program for Reality Based Training. Prior to this, I poured myself into the study of human performance and the psychology of encounter. I began to develop a program that would teach instructors to bring out the best in their students through advanced teaching methodologies.

Rather than attempt to beat a student, role players were taught to demonstrate threat behaviors in an attempt to engage a student in a realistic situation so that his abilities to respond to that situation could be tested against the training he had received. Using this model, students were quickly able to integrate their trained skills under conditions that would effectively approximate real world situations. Students began to experience the power of graduated success and their proficiency grew exponentially.

Unfortunately, many trainers utilizing RBT were either unaware of these instructor techniques or preferred the old model of “beating” the students, which to my mind is nothing more than a form of hazing. In addition to the negative psychological consequences of this form of training, many officers were being seriously injured and occasionally killed during these realistic training exercises.

In retrospect, each and every one of the deaths (and the majority of injuries) attributed to RBT were 100% avoidable, and each time I would read a report of an officer being killed during training, my heart sank.

Speed of Life Ten Years in the Making

In 1995, I thought it would be helpful to write a book on the effective methods of RBT based on the experiences I had compiled over the previous ten years. Unfortunately, the process of writing a book is not a smooth one, and it would be nearly ten more years before the book would be finished. Within that time frame, there would be approximately ten more officers killed during realistic training exercises and many more seriously injured. Late in 2004, Training at the Speed of Life – The Definitive Textbook for Police and Military Reality Based Training rolled off the presses.

This book is both ahead of its time and behind the times. It is ahead of its time because despite its twenty-year history of popularity growth, RBT is still in its infancy. I am always astonished when I teach an instructor school as to how many in the class find the simple concepts that I teach to be “revolutionary.” I am constantly getting comments from students who tell me they are amazed they haven’t seriously injured or killed someone doing the things during their scenario training that they have.

The book is behind the times for almost the same reason … the popularity of Reality Based Training coupled with the fact that many trainers operating in this field “don’t know what they don’t know.” I have heard sidelong comments by many who have passed by the book and told a colleague “We don’t need that … we’re already doing Reality Based Training.”

Who Should Read this Book?

My book was written for both the novice as well as the expert. In fact, it was written primarily for those who believe they know all there is to know about Reality Based Training. There are three types of people who get seriously injured or injure others in any high-risk endeavor. Those three types are the Inexperienced, the Highly Experienced, and the Unlucky. There isn’t much you can do with the Unlucky except to limit the hazards in your training setting and hope that you can soften the blow. The Inexperienced can be shepherded through the darkness by the Highly Experienced. Yet it is the Highly Experienced who have been responsible for most, if not all, of the serious injuries and deaths experienced in an RBT setting. So, for those who believe they know everything there is to know, I ask you to empty your cup and take in a little fresh brewed information.

There Can Never Be a One-Minute Trainer

Some readers have asked me for a condensed version of the book. At nearly 400 pages, 8.5 X 11, it’s a hefty textbook. It has to be. Gary Ward, author of the book High Risk Training said, “Although there may be something called a One-Minute Manager, there can never be a One-Minute Trainer. Anyone who thinks there is a shortcut to high-risk training is going to be going to some funerals.” I agree. As a result, I refuse to write the Abbreviated Guide to Reality Based Training, and would be highly suspect of the content in the event somebody does.

There are countless details in this science, and I have done my best to cover most of the basics in my book. It is the first in a seven book series. Reality Based Training is a journey, not a destination. However, I think it is important to get people to begin their journey somewhere and perhaps this column will get trainers and students alike to begin to recognize the complexities, and whet their appetites for more information.

Because many trainers will not take the time to read a book or attend a formal course on the complexities of RBT, Police One and I have decided to embark upon the pathway of providing small doses of Reality Based Training wisdom.

Training at the Speed of Life Police1 Column

This column is not designed to take the place of a thorough reading of my book or attendance at a comprehensive instructor school. It is designed to raise the level of awareness within the police community about the complexities and dangers that are possible in poorly designed Reality Based Training programs, as well as explore many of the issues associated with this growing style of training.

The Training at the Speed of Life Column will provide you with a glimpse into many of the complexities of improving safety and realism in training. It will take the following form:

  • Training Tips
    Once a month, the column will drop a few pearls of wisdom regarding RBT through a Tip of the Month.

  • Close Call Corner
    Following the Tip of the Month will be a segment called “Close Call Corner” designed to briefly examine a situation where something went terribly wrong during a training exercise, yet through divine providence, sheer luck, inches, or seconds, it did not result in a tragedy. I will then examine how it occurred, and what can be done to avoid similar situations in the future. I invite readers to send me their own Close Call in order to shed light on the sheer volume of incidents in hope that some readers can learn from the mistakes of others rather than suffer the consequences of sloppy training practices.

    When I have students in my classes share their close calls and how they occurred, I invariably have someone in the class turn a bit pale and say something like “That’s EXACTLY what we STILL do!!!”

    For anyone who brings their story forward, the identifying characteristics will be removed so that the agency or officers cannot be readily recognized, but will include details germane to the situation. If your Close Call is printed, you will receive a free copy of my book.

  • RBT Q&A
    The last part of the column will answer questions from readers regarding the complexities of RBT. I again ask that readers contact me with their questions. I will personally respond to every question received, although not all questions will make it into the column. Again, there will be no identifying information printed regarding the identity of those asking the questions.

I look forward to helping you improve the quality and safety of your Reality Based Training program. Whether you are using video simulators, blank guns, inert weapons, paintball guns, Airsoft pistols, marking cartridges, or conventional ammunition during live fire training exercises, this column seeks to address all of the issues of Reality Based Training.

1st Edition: Training at the Speed of Life: Advancing Reality Based Training - April 2005

Training at the Speed of Life: Volume 1. The new book by Ken Murray

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