Rapid Response

Simulator technology enhances law enforcement training in both the classroom and the firing range.

by / June 27, 2003
To appeal to the learning styles of all students, successful law enforcement trainers will incorporate many different instructional methods in a range of settings -- in the classroom, on the firing range, on the driving track or in the gym. Many successful aides and instructional techniques have been developed out of necessity over the years, but today law enforcement instructors have a wide range of options thanks to technological advancements.

For more than 20 years, law enforcement and military training have used firearms simulators. But more law enforcement agencies, such as the San Marcos Police Department in Texas, are deploying a new simulator that is barely recognizable as such: the Range 3000 XP4 digital training simulator.

Training Transformation
Many U.S. and foreign law enforcement agencies engage active-shooter or rapid-response training. Impelled by the Columbine High School tragedy in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999, contemporary tactics used by first responders to active-shooter situations were re-evaluated, which led to a variety of active-shooter/rapid-response training programs across the United States over the past four years, said Sergeant Terry Nichols, project director for the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center.

The most successful and comprehensive programs include a similar curriculum: contact team responsibilities, a history of active shooting events, room-clearing techniques, active shooter versus hostage or barricade situations, small team movement, and rescue team tactics and responsibilities, Nichols said, who is also a 14-year veteran of the San Marcos Police Department.

Some programs include first-responder/active-shooter training simply in a classroom, but more comprehensive courses combine the classroom setting with scenario-based exercises.

Police Video Games?
In recent years, firearms simulator acceptance has been increasing in the law enforcement community. Technology once thought of as police video games is now considered state-of-the-art training.

In the past, only large agencies and federal agencies had training budgets to afford the firearms simulator technology, which made it difficult for officers from small and medium-sized agencies to train with it, said Nichols. But with decreases in price over the last five years and technology grants through the government, acquisition by the smaller agencies is much easier, he added.

"Additionally the technology used in simulators available today is much more sophisticated and advanced than in the first-generation simulators," Nichols said. "Weapons do not have to be tethered to air tanks, real flashlights can be used instead of laser-based lights, and the scenario branching is much faster and smoother. These advancements have led to greater acceptance of simulator technology by line officers and trainers across the United States."

Simulators today feature return fire situations, low lighting options, picture-in-picture, nontethered recoil weapons, heads-up displays and the traditional "shoot/don't shoot" scenarios, Nichols said.

Previous simulators offered judgment and decision-making exercises, which the newest technology also does, in addition to allowing trainers to test and teach tactics, create custom-built scenarios, provide force-on-force options, audio/video record students, and change from daylight to a night sky with the push of a button. The updated firearms simulators deliver high-quality, scenario-based, force-on-force exercises for active-shooter and rapid-response training, Nichols said.

In force-on-force training, trainees enact scenarios in which instructors or other participants pretend to be "the bad guys," similar to a scrimmage between two football teams.

Simulation Training
The ALERRT Center -- created in 2002 by members of the San Marcos Police Department; the Hays County Sheriff's Office in Texas; Southwest Texas State University; and the Texas Tactical Police Officer's Association -- offers high-quality, low-cost, tactical training to both Texas and U.S. police officers. The courses are designed for small and rural agencies that could not afford tactical or first-response training.

Included in ALERRT Rapid Response training is IES Interactive Training's Range 3000 XP4 computerized firearms simulator. During development of the Rapid Response curriculum, ALERRT trainers recognized the potential of active-shooter simulation, Nichols said, adding that after careful examination of the latest firearms simulator technology, ALERRT instructors determined IES' technology would be valuable in their training.

With the Range 3000 XP4 training simulator, instructors can easily film and edit custom scenarios through the built-in video editor, which helps identify and address specific training objectives unique to jurisdictions.

"In the ALERRT program, numerous scenarios were filmed, edited and produced specifically addressing active-shooter situations," Nichols said. "Because each scenario was filmed and developed by the instructors who ultimately provide the active-shooter training, the intent and learning objectives of each filmed scenario is clear."

Demonstrating best practices during the scenarios is another benefit of simulator technology. Because ALERRT instructors and local police officers assist with filming of active-shooter scenarios, the tactics performed are consistent with training provided during classroom and practical portions of the active-shooter course -- students are repeatedly exposed to consistent, correct tactics and skills, Nichols said. "This video reinforcement is unobtrusive and subtle; however, students benefit by repeatedly hearing, seeing and performing the skills they are there to learn."

A block of instruction in low-light tactics and techniques is also part of the ALERRT Rapid Response class -- the Range 3000 XP4 technology allows transformation of any video scenario to a low-light format. "Students use a flashlight fitted with an infrared lens to work the scenario displayed on the screen," Nichols said. "Students can use the low-light tactics and techniques they were exposed to earlier in the course for increased repetitions with the new skills."

The training environment also allows instructors to observe a student's weapons-handling skills. "Laser rule" violations, finger on the trigger and other unsafe habits can be identified and corrected before a student is sent into the field. "For rapid-response training and other force-on-force training, identifying these issues before engaging in role-playing exercises is critical," Nichols said.

Enhancement and Potential
Firearms simulators enhance existing training programs and offers potential solutions to many identified limitations of scenario-based training, Nichols said. For example, although safety is a primary concern in a simulator environment, the mandatory protocols during force-on-force training are not necessarily mandatory in the simulator environment -- trainees often secure their weapons in lockers before entering a simulator room, preventing live weapons in the training environment.

Students and safety inspections are also more closely observed because of the low student-to-instructor ratio. Only one instructor is needed for firearms simulator operation, whereas numerous role players, safety officers and instructors are involved in scenario-based training exercises.

Additionally, a dark environment is the one requirement for the best simulator training, and the simulators can be set up just about anywhere -- a training academy, the police department, or a school in conjunction with a comprehensive rapid-response training program.

"Although there is no substitute for actual scenario-based, force-on-force training, today's digital simulation technology provides instructors with an invaluable tool in training students to become first responders who can effectively deal with active-shooter environments," Nichols said. "The use of digital training simulators offers both an enhancement to existing training programs and potential solutions to many of the identified limitations of scenario-based training."

Greg Otte, president of IES Interactive Training, said the Range 3000 XP4 builds decision-making skills by completely immersing the trainee in the interactive training scenario. Incorporating this technology into active-shooter training also provides fundamental benefits: Instructors can easily evaluate a student's judgment and decision-making skills, and students can be exposed to numerous situations requiring split-second decisions that test their judgment and thought processes.

"The lights are dimmed, the video is life-size, the sound is up, the sweat is flowing," he said. "The trainee is given an experience that his mind is telling him is real. The scenarios unfold in a matter of seconds, forcing decisions and testing judgment. Once the trainee leaves the session, a similar real-life situation will no longer seem foreign. The trainee will act calmly and with proper judgment. The decision-making skills are built through the interactive experience."

Pros and Cons
Scenario-based exercises in active-shooter training create a sense of realism difficult to create in any other training format, Nichols said, adding that force-on-force training -- when conducted safely and properly -- provides for some of the most realistic and valuable training for law enforcement.

"This type of training provides instructors with the opportunity to place students under high levels of stress in a controlled environment, where the instructors can observe and evaluate the student's performance under stress," Nichols said. "By repeatedly exposing students to the stress and stimulus during these scenarios, instructors attempt to create 'stress inoculation' in each student with the goal of conditioning the proper response to an identified stimulus."

The Range 3000 XP4's base price is $44,000, Otte said, and the system is custom built based on the purchasing agency's individual training needs. A fully optioned system can run up to $100,000.

The return on investment is allowing the trainee to make his or her mistakes in the training room, not out on the street in a real life situation.

"This is where you can learn from these mistakes and make adjustments to policy, procedure and skills application, and no one gets hurt," Otte said. "Mistakes on the street cost lives, ruin careers and cost government agencies millions of dollars a year in lawsuits. To a law enforcement administrator, a trainer, a risk management officer, the return on investment is obvious. Simulation training saves lives."
Jessica Jones Managing Editor