When I was 12 years old or so, my dad and his friends took me to the local gun range to shoot my new .22 rifle for the first time. I had waited on this moment for years, and, during all that waiting, all I wanted to do was target shoot.
After putting on my eye and ear protection, I remember walking into the gun range located in the basement of an auto shop, of all places! I remember vividly the smell of gunpowder burning and the heavy, grey smoke hanging in the air. What stays with me most was the constant crack and boom of the different firearms.
This was a moment I had yearned for with incredible excitement. I had literally begged my dad, who had so many more important things to do, to take me to the range for years and, all of a sudden, here I was. The day was here. I felt like Ralphie on Christmas morning when he opened up his custom cowboy action Red Ryder BB gun. Everything was absolutely perfect. Except for one thing…..Oh yea, I was scared to death!
I remember trying to load the magazine for my shiny new Marlin brand .22 rifle and my hands were visibly shaking. My dad, my late great Uncle John, and his brother Mike were my trusted guides on this journey and they taught me well, always making sure I knew how to be safe when handling a firearm long before I ever got on a real range. They stood at my side, gently telling me to calm down and that everything was ok. They walked me through it and we enjoyed target shooting together for years into adulthood. Had I not had great mentors and learned firearm safety, without stress, I may have never picked up a gun again.
That was 23 years ago and I remember it as if it were yesterday.
Now, before I move forward in this blog on why I think we are training wrong, I need to share some things. As a veteran Police Officer who attended two separate police academy sessions at the county and state levels, in one of the toughest State Police Academies in the nation, I have been placed under extreme stress - both in training and the real world. For all of my colleagues out there, let's just get it out of the way and agree that my, "insert training here (academy, session, basic, etc.), "was tougher than yours. We have all said it, "back in my day" or "you guys had it easy."
Now, I am not actually saying my training was the toughest, or that I have seen it all. I also haven't single-handedly fought 15 people in a back alley using only a shoelace. We can all agree, we have all been through some tough training and we have all been in some bad situations, some worse than others on both fronts—end of disclaimer.
The bottom line is that I have trained under stress……I trained, I didn't learn. I repeated a learned task, under stressful conditions, and/or learned how to make decisions while under stress.
IMAGINE THIS SCENARIO
Now, with that in mind, it's Tuesday at the office in Anywhere, USA. Today is the day your company is hosting an active shooter training. Joe even brought bagels for this special event! Everyone is aware of the training and some welcome it. Some are skeptical. Some don't want their time wasted, and some absolutely do not care. "Why is management making us take this," can be overheard. Some people are just plain scared, whether they admit it or not, and they are in your workplace.
In attendance today is almost the entire office. Even Bob is here and boy is he ready! He is tightly clenching his Swingline stapler - ready to strike the first person who makes a sudden movement! No one, and I repeat, no one, is getting the jump on Bob!
Karen sits eagerly in the front row. Karen is excited about the training because, as we all know, Karen has her concealed carry license and has told the office manager several times that she should be able to keep her gun in her desk. Why? Because Karen 'don't play' and she will "empty her clip" into the shooter before anyone else knows what has happened.
Kevin is in the back of the room, scrolling through social media posts and is lucky to remember he is actually at work.
Scott is in the third row and is uneasy about this training as his Sister was killed in an actual active shooter incident ten years ago. This was four states away, but still causing Scott and his family an insurmountable amount of pain and suffering.
Holly is sitting front left of the room and is absolutely terrified, sick to her stomach even, and wants nothing to do with this training. The company is making her take it. She hates guns and violence and does not want to hear anything about them in any way, shape, or form.
And then in the back of the room is Jennifer. Jennifer is HR. She has the clipboard and she is in charge. She has made sure that everyone in the office has signed in and is present for this important training. Jennifer is interested in the training but neutral in her feelings toward the subject matter.
Everyone is seated and the instructor can be heard in the back of the classroom as he walks in. This instructor, likely dressed in some type of black tactical clothing, with boots bloused like John Rambo in 1987, wearing a military-style haircut, a vest of some kind, potentially a helmet, sunglasses, and maybe even gloves. "Tacticool" as we say!
Ok, I am as pro-police/military as they come and even though I am not 'on the job' any longer, you will not find a bigger supporter than me. I have worn every bit of the aforementioned gear in my past and also, probably, at some inopportune times. I understand that, at times, all of that equipment is needed. I also understand that, at times, it absolutely is not. I have had some great mentors who have shown me both.
Instructors, please take note: Showing up to train the copy center staff wearing a plate carrier and your boots bloused does absolutely nothing but increase anxiety around this subject matter and make the HR rep begin to think, "Oh my. Maybe this was a bad idea".
These wonderful people don't care that you just picked up some sweet new armor or you just got the new super tacticool Oakley wrap arounds. While cool to us, they don't care.
You must know your audience and when you arrived wearing all of that tactical gear, even plain BDU dress, you just set the tone. Period. With a subject matter like this, your audience is going to be as divided as they come. You might as well get up there and say you will be talking about politics for the next 3 hours. As instructors, we must adapt to our environments, dress appropriately for the situation, and try to understand that the guy in the front row may have lost a college roommate to a campus shooting.
And to those who say, "well, the sensitive ones just need to deal with it. This is life-saving training and these people need to know what it may be like if a shooter comes into their office," please stop training people. Honestly. If you think the guy who lost a family member to an act of gun violence is going to learn anything after someone barges through the door with a fake gun and acts like he is shooting people while the rest of the room scatters screaming you are fooling yourself and have no business in this industry.
While it can be tempting to show the civilian populous what your academy training may have been like, that was the academy preparing you for a career of uncertainty and potential danger…. this is the Copy Center on Smith Avenue.
According to an article published in Psychology Today by Nick Hobson, Ph. D, "The scientists found increased activation of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) while the participants engaged in memory-related learning. Also, in line with their hypotheses, the hippocampus lit up while participants worked through novel information processing. Most important, though, they also found an impairment in mPFC activity during learning when participants were placed under stress." Essentially saying, people have a much more difficult time learning new information under stress.
If you have overseen accounting for the copy center for 25 years, I promise there is nothing that is as "new" or foreign to you as an active shooter survival course.
Additionally, the FBI has stated that more than half of individuals who observed a pre-cursor / warning sign to an active shooter event said nothing about it. Let that sink in, more than half. That tells me that we don't need to be focusing on simulations. We need to focus on improving awareness and communication in the workplace. That, my friends, is simple and will save lives.
OUR GOAL AS INSTRUCTORS
So as instructors, it should be your goal to make sure your program is as effective as it can be. If this means adapting our law enforcement/military training style to best fit our client, then that is what we must do. And I will tell you, after being fortunate enough to train thousands of people, that is what you must do. You are wasting your time and your client's money by going in like its day three of SRT/ERT/SWAT training. Just don't do it.
When we teach, we must make the information simple and we must deliver it effectively. There are the naysayers that will continue to do intense practical exercises, risking both injury of themselves and the "Bobs" of the group. The ones who think that the course is "fun" until they blow out their knee trying to put a table in front of the door under "simulated stress" all the while, everyone in the room chuckles at Bob, who is trying to move fast. Is that honestly conducive to anything productive? We must really ask ourselves as instructors, "what are we really trying to accomplish here?"
As administrators, executives, safety professionals and decision-makers in your workplace, it should be your goal to do proper due diligence and vet your training provider to make sure that they are truly experienced in the material. Verify that they won't, in fact, be conducting violent simulations involving a masked person storming into the room, shooting people with simulated weapons. If they do, I will tell you, go buy new door locks for the office - because they will work better than the training you just paid for.
Active Threat Solutions is now offering the same type of high-caliber training our team has cumulatively presented to over 40,000 individuals around the country in a 45-minute active shooter, online training class. Take advantage of this opportunity to keep your team safe at work or home while saving thousands of dollars for your company today.