So, you ve decided reality based training (RBT) is the way to go. You ve bought some gear, read an article or two on the best practices, spent a couple of hours building training exercises and talked your command staff into letting you do this.
Or, maybe you ve taken the time to really learn how to effectively run RBT training. You ve sent some people off to train-the-trainer classes, thoroughly researched the equipment and spent several weeks writing and scripting your training, rehearsing and training your role players and staff, and testing your scenarios.
On the other hand, you might have just piled headlong into some realistic training scenarios without any training or forethought whatsoever, thinking, Hey, how hard can it be?
No matter what level of preparation you ve had, the inexperienced, the highly experienced or the unlucky can either get hurt or hurt others during any high-risk undertaking. No matter how you slice it, without proper preparation and ritualistic adherence to safe and effective, time-tested training protocols, you re barreling toward disaster.
When analyzing the preventable tragedies during RBT exercises every single one I ve analyzed over the past 23 years were 100-percent preventable the problem usually wasn t exclusively attributed to the experience level of those responsible for the unintended harm. The problem was a lack of clearly defined and relentlessly implemented safe training protocols. The problem is also the result of a cultural deficiency in the law enforcement training community, which is out of step with what s needed for effective RBT.
RBT is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, when I first started questioning the way military and law enforcement groups train for dangerous encounters, I was told in no uncertain terms to go away I was a dangerous person with lunatic training ideas. I was told We don t point guns at people because it violates the inviolable thou shalt not point a gun at anything you don t want to destroy law. But that s when you re talking about conventional ammunition, and my world revolved around unconventional training munitions specifically designed to fire at people for realistic training purposes.
Over the past 23 years, despite the volume of information on the safe conduct of RBT, many agencies still ignore the underlying precepts that would otherwise ensure the safety of those training exercises. I can t tell you how many requests I receive for a sheet of safety rules. That s like having somebody who doesn t play the violin asking for the sheet music for a violin concerto.
Another peeve of mine is the prevalence of online RBT Instructor classes. RBT is a physical and mental skill-set as well as a cultural shift. It s not an educational gambit. In my classes, I teach people that knowledge doesn t change behavior. Behavior changes behavior, or, as Tony Robbins says, You can t think your way into a new way of behaving, you have to behave yourself into a new way of thinking.
But how are you going to do this without a coach who knows what you re doing incorrectly? Online programs or lists of safety protocols aren t enough.
Follow the Rules
In every class over the past 23 years with the exception of three, I ve found dangerous items on participants in my training classes during the safety inspection process even after telling participants not to bring guns, knives, magazines, chemical agent, Taser cartridges or tactical folders with them on the scenario days. I guarantee you all over the world people are showing up at training events with dangerous items in their possession, often undiscovered. So, is it any wonder people are getting shot, sprayed, stabbed, Tasered, etc. during supposedly safe training exercises?
Historically, the military and law enforcement community has killed on average two people per year during realistic simulations. None died last year, although in the past 18 months about a dozen have been shot. Adding another safety rule when existing rules aren t being enforced won t solve the problem any more than adding another gun control law to those not being enforced will reduce violent crimes.
There must be a cultural shift, but I don t really see it coming. I run approximately 15 schools each year on how to run safe and effective RBT exercises, and it astounds me that there are often empty seats in these classes. There are trainers out there who look at a course announcement for an RBT class such as this and dismiss it, thinking, I don t need that school we re already doing RBT. Hell, I ve been doing RBT for 23 years, and I ll get into any class I possibly can to see if there s something new I can pick up.
Many of the schools I see out there are about how to use some sort of new technology. While it s useful to understand the various hardware components of RBT, such classes rarely cover the software of RBT, the how-to. My schools are technology independent, which means it matters precious little to me what technologies you want to use when you get back to your agency. Use marking cartridges, Airsoft, paintball guns, rubber guns, blank guns, video simulators, laser beams I don t care. The underlying principles remain the same.
The first principle is very simple. You re moving from an area where everything you carry is designed to control the violent actions of another human being. As such, the use of those devices can pose a hazard to somebody else. Because of this, there must be a physical search to ensure those very real, very dangerous devices are removed from all participants inside the training venue. This includes searching training staff.
The corollary: Those devices must remain inaccessible until the training has been completed and the participant has been escorted back to the non-sterile area. This principle is non-negotiable. If you violate it, somebody gets hurt and I get called as an expert witness to testify, I ll state in no uncertain terms that non-adherence to this simple principle is both negligent and out of step with national standards and best practices. Some states are now indicting violators.
The Bottom Line
I m sick and tired of getting e-mails telling me another officer has been shot because some moron thought they had an Airsoft or unloaded gun. RBT environments are serious places that should be under the control of professionals specifically trained in this area of specialization. If you re setting up an RBT program, demand the proper training, tools, funding and administrative support from your agency, or simply refuse to do it.
If you re heading off to your agency s newly established RBT training program or you re at some training conference that will offer realistic exercises, ask about the qualifications of the instructor staff and ensure all training staff, participants and gear are physically searched and that no conventional devices are present. Blindly believing your instructor staff will run a safe training environment absent thorough safety inspections is na ve. I ve walked out of classes that I ve felt were unsafe.
In his book Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales writes about climbers who were killed on Mount Hood because they trusted a flawed system they blindly relied on for years:
The climbers on Mount Hood were set up for disaster not by their inexperience, but by their experience. It was the quality of their thinking, the idea that they knew, coupled with hidden characteristics of a system that they had so often used. The system was capable of displaying one type of behavior for a long time and then suddenly changing its behavior completely. All it took was a kick from the outside. It could have come from anywhere. The only certainty was that it would come, somewhere, sometime. While such large-scale collapses are inevitable, the involvement of those particular climbers in the event was not. Any one of them could have disassembled the system at any point before the collapse by putting in protection.
These are words to live by. Until next time, train hard and train safe.