10 key steps for safe, effective simulation training
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that the instructors reading this article already know the importance of simulation training (any instructor who doesn’t know simulation training should be the centerpiece of all training programs has more problems than can be solved here). Below, we will talk about developing a nuts-and-bolts template for scenario-based simulation training programs, not the importance of simulation.
Now that we’ve agreed on that foundation, let’s begin. There are 10 key steps for creating realistic, scenario-based, decision-making simulations. They are:
1. Needs Assessment
2. Levels of Simulation
3. Creating the Simulation Format
4. Designing the Simulation
5. Training & Controlling Demonstrators
6. Providing the Training
7. Equipment & Safety Procedures
8. Creating Multidimensional Scenarios
9. Creating Multiple-Use Scenarios
Step 1: Needs Assessment
Instructors must begin the development of a simulation-training program with a needs assessment. On what do their officers need to spend their simulation training time? Although shootouts with heavily armed bank robbers need to be addressed, officers must train for all use-of-force levels. In fact, in a recent series of statewide instructor updates conducted in Wisconsin, Bob Willis, a nationally recognized trainer, found the most glaring need of the 1,800 instructors was communication skills. Train for the needs of your officers — not just the high-risk fun stuff.
Step 2: Levels of Simulation
All too often instructors go too fast, too soon in their simulation training. You can’t teach officers new skills and then, with little or no practice, expect them to do well in high-level, high-stress, decision-making scenarios. After introducing the new skills, instructors should use seven levels of simulation to prepare their officers for high-level, decision-making simulations. These levels include:
1. Shadow training
2. Prop training
3. Partner training
4. Dynamic movement training
5. Relative positioning training
6. Environmental-factors training
7. High-level simulations
Step 3: Creating the Simulation Format
Next, an instructor must work from a written simulation worksheet to provide the necessary documentation of what officers were trained to do. Besides the individual officer-evaluation form, these simulation worksheets should consist of a title page listing scenario type, objectives, overview and equipment; a page for student instructions; a page for role player instructions; and a page with a diagram of the scenario. These worksheets are essential for documenting training and can help you defend against failure-to-train allegations.
Step 4: Designing the Simulation
After the needs assessment, the instructor will begin designing the simulation, which consists of:
1. Developing the simulation
2. Choreographing the simulation
3. Rehearsing the simulation
4. Implementing the simulation
5. Debriefing the simulation
6. Evaluating the simulation
Carefully design, choreograph and rehearse your simulations, or they can lead to training injuries, the adoption of poor tactics and liability exposure.
Step 5: Training & Controlling Demonstrators
The most important component of successful, meaningful simulation training remains the development of well-trained, fully controlled demonstrators. Instructors must assign these demonstrators roles that are specific, limited and carefully supervised to prevent a deviation-from-role that can lead to poor training and injuries. Tell demonstrators specifically and in writing what they can do and, equally important, what they can’t do.
Remember: If you use officers for role players (and most of us do), they love to win. With adrenalin dumping, it’s hard for an untrained, unsupervised role player to remember that the ultimate goal of the demonstrator is eventually to lose (i.e., be controlled by the officer in the simulation). Yes, demonstrators need to be challenging and realistic, but if the trainee performs effective tactics, the demonstrator should give realistic responses and allow the technique to succeed.
Step 6: Providing the Training
Once the simulation is designed and practiced with demonstrators who understand their roles, the instructor can begin the simulation training. Follow this checklist:
1. Conduct an initial wellness check
2. Explain the training safety rules
3. Conduct a physical warm-up
4. Explain the simulation drill’s format
5. Conduct the simulation drill
6. Conduct a debriefing session
7. Conduct a current wellness check
Finally, instructors should make their training a positive learning experience. Properly explain what you expect of the student, conduct a fair, winnable scenario and properly debrief the student.
Step 7: Equipment & Safety Procedures
Although simulation training helps prepare our officers to survive and win encounters on the street, it must be conducted safely — there are no acceptable casualties in corrections, especially in corrections training. Wellness checks, training safety rules and safety procedures make this happen.
Simulation safety begins with the development of appropriate safety procedures, the development and use of safety officers, and the enforcement of stringent safety procedures. Many equipment manufacturers have developed safety procedures to use in conjunction with their equipment. Instructors should always follow these guidelines to prevent unnecessary liability.
Instructors must keep their officers safe from live-fire training accidents.
Step 8: Creating Multidimensional Scenarios
One of the most critical issues facing instructors of corrections tactics training is the difficulty in finding the time to focus on multi-dimensional scenarios that allow their officers to train for the full range of corrections responses. Most simulations now focus on using one of the use-of-force options (i.e., verbal, empty hand control, intermediate weapons or firearms). This creates two challenges: 1) Training officers to respond effectively to the approach, intervention and follow-through phases of any encounter, and 2) preventing officers from getting caught in a single force option loop, unable to move up or down the available force options.
To address the first issue, instruct officers to finish their simulation training with at least one full-length scenario that takes them from initial contact to debriefing the subject at the end of the incident. Address the second issue by teaching the officers transition drills that take them from verbal to empty hand tactics, empty hand to aerosol spray, baton to firearm, etc.
These multi-dimensional scenarios will assist officers in preventing the gridlock that often occurs when facing stressful situations because no bridges have been built between the multiple techniques and tactics officers are trained to use.
Step 9: Creating Multiple-Use Scenarios
Another challenge facing trainers: Over time, their scenarios are soon burned by their officers letting other officers know the scenario prior to taking the class. To combat this, create scenarios with multiple outcomes. Of course, over time even a scenario with a couple of different outcomes can be compromised.
To limit the number of scenarios needed to keep your officers honest, develop a subject-resistance matrix that gives all role players five separate roles, including:
3. Physically resisting
4. Presenting a deadly threat
Once you define each one of the roles, you can easily change scenarios by switching the role player’s role. This effectively gives you five versions of each scenario when using one role player.
It gets even more fun when you add a second role player, which allows 25 separate scenario versions. This adds an exciting, time-saving dimension to your scenario training because now, instead of creating a whole series of scenarios on a certain topic (e.g., domestic disturbances), you can create one scenario with 25 separate responses. So what if the officers know we are working on domestic disturbances? They don’t know what version they will have to respond to.
Even more important, they will start to place the subjects that they deal with in these five separate categories and learn preplanned tactics for dealing with them more effectively. As an added bonus, officers start transferring these multiple lessons-learned in training scenarios to the real world. They begin to think about multiple endings for those routine dispatches and start to ask, “What’s different this time?”
Step 10: The Debrief
The last step consists of debriefing the officer’s responses in these decision- making, scenario-based simulations. Debriefing is a critical tool in changing and improving an officer’s future performance, but it’s often not done or done badly.
Debrief in a positive manner. The old way of reading the officer the riot act, telling them everything they did wrong and putting them back into line is both destructive and counterproductive. Instead, conduct debriefing in a team-building atmosphere that includes the following components:
• Are you OK?
• How do you think you did?
• Positive comment, if possible
• What would you do differently?
• Role player, and/or peer jury comments
• Instructor summation
In addition to this team debriefing or as a part of it, review a videotape of the incident. Because articulation (having the officer explain why they did the right thing) is an important part of the training process, include it at this point. Many training facilities add report writing and even courtroom testimony to this section.
Take officers out of the scenario and, prior to debriefing, instruct them to make an immediate verbal report to their supervisor — kind of like the real world. Finally, if the officer did not complete the scenario in a satisfactory manner, provide remedial training to bring them up to a satisfactory performance level. Document this remedial training.
Go beyond merely asking your officers what they did; ask why they did it. Make sure you listen to your officers’ perceptions and reasons for responding as they did prior to telling them what you think they should have done.
Several years ago, we designed a scenario that tested officers’ ability to use their firearm to stop a threat. Two officers responded to a domestic disturbance involving two brothers fighting. Upon the officers’ arrival, one brother was straddling the other on the floor while hitting him on the head multiple times with a steel pipe. The assaultive brother refused to stop. We interpreted this scenario as a clear shoot situation, but we were shocked that less than 20 percent of the officers fired their firearms. They used a whole range of other force options.
When we asked them why they didn’t shoot the assaultive brother, we received numerous answers, including:
• The subject wasn’t attacking them
• This was a domestic
• They weren’t sure what was going on
• They could have unintentionally shot the apparent victim
• The subject was turned away from them
• The baton was in the their hand
• Liability concerns
Some of their perceptions and tactical responses were very enlightening. Several ways they stopped the threat were especially interesting, including striking the assaultive brother on the back of the neck with a baton, which we thought was an innovative way to end the assault without potentially shooting the brother on the ground. This led us to ask officers in future classes what they saw and why they responded the way they did before giving our “right” answer to the scenario.
Document your scenarios and evaluations of the officers’ performance in the training, along with any remedial training given to each officer as a result.
Conduct safe simulation training. Ask yourself this question before an investigator puts it to you during a formal inquiry: “What would other well-trained, experienced instructors have done to keep themselves and their officers safe in this type of training simulation?”
What’s the difference between a tragedy and negligence?
Too many repetitions of needless, preventable training injuries and death have occurred. A developing standard-of-care exists and, as a trainer, you will be held accountable.
We need to conduct decision-making scenario training, but we must do it right.
Gary J. Monreal contributed to this article. Monreal has more than 18 years of law enforcement experience in corrections, patrol, SWAT and training. As a police officer with the City of New Berlin (Wis.) Police Department, his duties include SWAT team leader, specializing in explosive entry. Monreal is an instructor-trainer and currently teaches chemical munitions, defensive tactics, firearms, TASER, vehicle contacts, high-level simulations, submachine gun and SWAT. He was instrumental in the development of the RedMan Integrated Use-of-Force Simulation Instructor Development program. Contact him at email@example.com.