Quality room clearing and search training can take place in a structure that s simple and inexpensive in design and construction. In my October column, I discussed how to construct a shoothouse, explaining that it doesn't need to be a $200,000 facility with steel walls, a roof and catwalk to be an effective training tool. While such a facility is certainly nice to have, and I would take one if given the choice, it's not essential.
What can't be done on the cheap, however, is how the training is performed. It must be conducted both safely and effectively, and these responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of the instructor. As with force-on-force training, if the instructional staff isn't in tune with what's happening before, during and after the scenario, a good day of training can end up a life-altering experience for all involved. And I'm not talking about anything good here.
Also, please understand that every possible pitfall of conducting shoothouse training can't be reviewed in a single article; I will merely give a brief overview. It's a good idea to find and attend a shoothouse instructor course such as those offered by a number of the better-known training companies.
Because shoothouse training is normally conducted with live firearms (though SIMUNITIONS and Airsoft training can and should be conducted in a similar environment), the first issue you must review is the Flawless Four of all weapons training:
1. All guns are always loaded.
2. Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to shoot, kill or destroy.
3. Never place your finger on the trigger until you (not some involuntary muscle contraction) are prepared and fully cognizant of shooting the gun.
4. Make sure of your target, backstop and beyond.
These rules, while applied mostly during range training, were intended for both training and fighting. How you handle your gun on the street is how you handle it in the field and vice versa. When a gun is in your hand, it, and what you will use it for, must have your complete attention. This isn't the time to worry about when you might end your shift, whether the fight with your spouse is over or how you're going to pay for your kid's college. Your mind must be on the task at hand whether it's a training drill or actual building searches. While this may sound ridiculous, distractions occur all the time, and officers are hurt and killed both in the street and training because of them. This leads me to my personal addition to the Flawless Four. (Yes, I know this would make it five, but bear with me here, I'm trying to make a point.)
5. Pay total attention to what you're doing!
Before shoothouse training begins, all participants must take general safety precautions. This includes, at minimum, wearing wraparound eye protection, ear protection, a baseball-style cap and long-sleeve shirt; carrying a first-aid kit for potential injuries both big and small; and hosting a safety briefing on policies that all participants must acknowledge and understand.
Your safety briefing must include the following house rules:
1. All students will remain in an established staging area until called for by an instructor. No unnecessary movement around the training area is permitted. If a student must leave the staging area (e.g., for a restroom break, etc.), they must notify an instructor. Students not in the shoothouse must be accounted for at all times.
2. Body armor must be worn by the student and instructor(s) while in the shoothouse. No exceptions!
3. Before each scenario, the house will be checked by an instructor, ensuring it s clear. This should be done both visually and verbally. Each student and instructor will be accounted for prior to training.
4. Keep conversation volume at a minimum so any instructions or potential danger are recognized immediately. No horseplay!
5. The scenario will be thoroughly explained so no misunderstandings occur. Make sure each student understands what s expected of them. If unsure how to proceed, remember this rule: When in doubt, there is no doubt, don't. Always wait to make sure.
There are basically two types of shoothouse training possibilities. The first is a single officer going through the drill, while the second involves multiple students. Multiple-officer drills can range from a team of officers in a slow, deliberate search to a tactical team conducting a rapid entry hostage-rescue drill. SWAT exercises are complex, requiring a great deal of planning and coordination. They should not be embarked upon without a great deal of rehearsal.
In the interest of simplicity, I will discuss patrol officer and detective building-search training and leave the dynamic entry stuff for another time. Having spent 12 years in SWAT and five in narcotics, I've been on more than a few of these, and they shouldn't be attempted by the untrained. Leave dynamic-entry missions to those who really know how to do them. Yes, I know, such things look cool in the movies and everyone wants to do tactical stuff, but a wise officer resists doing things when they really don't know how.
I've always felt it's a good idea to keep one instructor with each student and supervise from ground level. By this I mean right alongside the student, within arms length, throughout the entire scenario. This is the safest way to control the student's field of fire and keep them from shooting in an unsafe direction. This is particularly important in an impromptu structure in which a safe, 360-degree field of fire is not possible.
If a catwalk is available and used, don't get forward of the student s gun. I ve seen many instructors stand just a few feet above a student s head (and gun) down range with the student moving (and pointing their gun) in the direction of the elevated instructor. When I ve questioned these morons, oh, excuse me, instructors, about this, I m usually told, I need to get a good view so I can see if they are making any mistakes. My response to this is: What if they trip, slip on to the trigger and shoot you in the head? Who will tell them about their mistake then? No, this conversation doesn't make me popular, but I have never had an instructor or student injured during one of my shoothouse training programs.
Target placement is very important. Any rounds that miss must impact a safe area. In addition, it s essential to ensure no rounds will leave the designated impact area and harm another student or instructor. This is another reason it's important for an instructor to stay in close contact with the student. If the student starts to turn in an unsafe manner, the instructor can immediately halt the action and end the scenario.
A loud safety word should be designated and agreed on by all. Something like stop now! or halt! works well. To avoid confusion, refrain from using words like don't move or freeze that could possibly come up during the scenario s normal course of events. Steel targets shouldn't be used in the shoothouse environment because the splatter hazard they offer doesn't make them conducive to a safe training environment. The one exception to this rule would be a product such as the DVC Hard Head Ted (www.dvctargets.com) fall-down target that uses a steel strike plate covered by a polymer Tac-Man torso target. Such an arrangement contains splatter while offering a realistic fall-down target experience.
Another option: Consider using a target stand that s also a self-contained bullet trap. These can be purchased at many better target companies or easily built with just a bit of ingenuity. Such targets make an already safe training area even safer, while further reducing the chance a stray round could escape.
Go slowly through the training scenario; this isn't a dynamic entry. Proper building-search techniques such as using mirrors, controlling shadows, slicing the pie at corners and muzzle control; using flashlights; issuing proper verbal commands; and performing partner tactics should be emphasized and sustained. Realism should be the goal, but never at the cost of safety. An instructor with a solid understanding of the lesson, combined with the desire to get the job done, can go a long way toward keeping officers safe on the street. Remember: Prevailing on the street is the goal. Shoothouse training is a very important part of achieving this.
Stay alert, stay sharp and stay alive for the citizens you serve and the ones you love.