4 reasons leaders and supervisors should participate in ICS training, MCI drills and tactical response exercises

Leadership errors made in training, if corrected, can lead to better actions in real situations


By Michael Regan

This article is written in memory of Charles “Sid” Heal, former Marine and police officer, and author of “Sound Doctrine: A Tactical Primer,” which should be read by every police leader of any rank who may lead in a crisis. Leaders should also participate in ICS (Incident Command System), MCI (mass casualty incident) and tactical response training, particularly exercises focused on “conflict.”

Here are four reasons why:

Police leaders should participate in training so when the “bell rings,” they know how to get the job done.
Police leaders should participate in training so when the “bell rings,” they know how to get the job done. (Nancy Perry)

1. Lead by example

Leaders’ words and actions are observed and analyzed for meaning. Genuinely participating in a training exercise sends a message of importance to subordinates. The reverse is also true.

Years ago, I took the physical test for a city police department. A sergeant explained the test, including an obstacle course and wall climbing. He lectured us about the importance of being fit police officers. This sergeant was the widest and least fit police officer I had ever seen. I recall thinking, “Nothing he says means anything.”  This perception extended to the PD as a whole. 

Recently a governor mandated sexual harassment training for the state workforce. After numerous allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, it was revealed he had not taken the training. This undermined the importance of the training and weakened his leadership.

Conversely, if a sergeant or commander genuinely participates in a training exercise, the message is, “This is important, it means something to the boss,” and the lessons may become part of the culture.

2. We all benefit from training for rare, dynamic, high-stakes incidents

Leaders must be able to provide meaningful direction if/when an actual situation develops. Often, high-ranking people, normally involved with long-range planning and decisions, are the least versed in handling a crisis. Participation in MCI and ICS training can help them see the complexity of dynamic incidents.

Repeated iterations in practice can help leaders discern how the application of rules in “the book” may vary depending on the exact circumstances. For example, suppose someone said, “The suspect is barricaded.” The leader, not considering the wide range of possible meanings for “barricaded” consults the “rule book.” Rule: “Stop and call for SWAT.” But what is a barricade? Did the perpetrator just say, “Stay out!” Is that a barricade? Do we stay out just because a bad guy wants us to? Front line operators know the mission is to stop the threat; but if the leader looks at the book and calls, “Stop,” the operator is stuck. “Should I move to stop the threat, maybe get fired and prosecuted? Maybe the leader knows something I don’t…like another team is about to burst in through the window?”

Variations in training can give leaders and operators appreciation for flexibility in the application of the rules. Leadership errors made in training, if corrected, can lead to better actions in real situations.  

As a lieutenant, I was driving to a rural area where there was an outbreak of fires along railroad tracks. Fresh from ICS training, I got on the air and said, “This is Lieutenant Regan. I have command.” Immediately there was a reply, “This is Fire Chief So-and-so at the Command Post and I have command!” Lesson: Every day is a training day. Fire chiefs are usually in charge of fires, and leaders should assess the situation BEFORE they open their mouths. (Sparks from passing trains and dry grass turned out to be the culprits.)  

3. Leaders learn about the capabilities of their people from participation in training

Do operators have sufficient training in use of force and maneuvers to accomplish the mission? Participating in scenario training with other agencies leads to an understanding of their people, capabilities and procedures, so we don't have to learn it all while grappling with an emergency in real-time. I’d rather find problems in training rather than during the incident.

One example: 911 operators may think cops at the scene already know everything so information from callers may not be passed on. Did we even include 911 operators in the training? Problems or deficiencies discovered in realistic training exercises can be corrected before “that day.” Capabilities of other agencies can be force multipliers if learned about during training rather than during the crisis.

4. Relationships matter

Working with people you already know will enable better service to the public. If you know someone from training, you are better prepared to work with them in a crisis. If you don’t know them, not so much. Over time I’ve learned the strengths and weaknesses of many agencies, how they can help solve a crisis, and how they can’t. Leaders from those agencies also learned about my abilities, and this led to efficient collaboration in several actual crises.

Related to all these reasons; front-line workers operate better when their leaders are trained, competent and current in the operations they lead, especially if the situation is rare in “real life.” They can also see leaders admit and correct mistakes if meaningful after-action reviews are part of the training.

Over time, I became a decent leader, eventually promoted to director of training. Like most of us, I had an example of a leader I would follow in any crisis. On his rise in my old agency, I observed him train, gain tactical team and crisis command experience, and demonstrate the ability to quickly assess and lead. He also helped train future leaders. He had personal presence, physical courage and an unflappable demeanor that gave his followers, including me, confidence that under his command we would get the job done, no matter how confusing or dangerous the situation.

That’s why police leaders should participate in training – so when the “bell rings,” they know how to get the job done, and as important, their subordinates know it, and will follow them in.

WEBINAR: The first 15 minutes of disaster: Creating order from chaos


About the author

Mike Regan is continually seeking to improve how police can protect their public. He retired from the New York State Police and is now a part-time police officer. He can be reached at ICHconsulting@ymail.com.

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