From OODA to AAADA ― A cycle for surviving violent police encounters | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

By Michael J. Asken, Ph.D.

Dr. Mike Asken is a State Police psychologist and author of “MindSighting: Mental Toughness Skills for Police Officers in High Stress Situations.” His Web site is

Mike has written an interesting article for the National Tactical Officers Association official publication The Tactical Edge where he brings up some great points and questions regarding the Boyd Cycle that every cop should understand. He also developed another decision making model he titled AAADA Loop (Anticipating, Alerting, Assessing, Deciding and Acting) which prompted some questions in my mind.

  1. Why change or do we need to change OODA to AAADA when the foundation on learning, situational awareness and decision making under pressure is already proven in high stress situations?
  2. Is the AAADA model easier for cops to understand?
  3. Does the new model AAADA cover anything new, not discussed in Boyd’s work?
  4. Can oversimplifying OODA cause us to neglect other key components of Boyd’s work? If so how do we ensure the street cop is getting this valuable information? More policy and procedure??? Or more bottoms up, high standards of training that allows the street cop to use insight and innovation in problem solving with initiative?
  5. Should we cops seek to learn more about the theories and concepts that could make us more effective on the street? Does understanding theory at a deeper level help us more effectively apply what we know to a given set of circumstances? If this is so and I believe it is, how do we adapt our training and leadership methodologies to ensure this type of learning takes place and is applied to the street?
  6. What is leaderships role in this evolutionary process?

I emailed Mike my questions and he graciously responded he wanted to, stimulate some thought and discussion, emphasize some of the aspects and expand the model a bit , which while making it a little bulkier, I thought was still simpler than wading through the Colonels often complicated concepts and treatise.  

Despite my questions, which only help to improve my understanding, I feel the article is outstanding and the message Mike is conveying is one that will enhance the learning that needs to take place. Learning that could help better prepare you for violent encounters and give you the upper hand.

Stay Oriented!


From OODA to AADA_A cycle for surviving violent police encounters

Many police officers are very familiar with the OODA Loop (Figure 1), first described by Air Force Colonel John Boyd. The four phases of the Loop—observe, orient, decide and act — were said to represent a consistent similarity in how warriors respond cognitively and behaviorally in high-stress challenge situations. Boyd’s invaluable model has been widely applied from the battleground to the boardroom, and has also been influential in understanding the response of police officers in threat situations.

Many aspects of the model remain highly relevant for contemporary police incidents, including sudden violent encounters and critical incident management. However, continuing experience and expanding research suggest that it may be timely to re-evaluate the nature of the model and consider some adaptations for policing.

Of continuing relevance and importance is the concept of the “loop,” or the cyclical nature of an officer’s actions in a threat situation. Boyd’s model of the OODA Loop was actually much more complex than the four cornerstones of observe, orient, decide and act. Each phase had additional aspects that determined the speed and quality of movement through the cycle. For example, observation was comprised of factors such as outside information, unfolding circumstances and unfolding environmental interaction. Orientation was governed by factors such as cultural traditions, previous experience and new information. In Boyd’s words (1995), the entire “loop …is an ongoing many-sided implicit cross-referencing process.”

Of particular growing importance today, however, is understanding that maximal response, survival and victory in sudden violent encounters may require one or both of two circumstances. First is efficient movement through the loop on the part of the police officer. The other is slowing and/or disrupting the subject’s cycle.

As stated by Boyd (1997): “(The) idea of fast transients suggests that in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries — or, better yet, get inside adversary’s observation-orientation-decision-action time cycle or loop.” For example, surprise, speed and diversion, when demonstrated by the police officer, can be used to make the loop unstable or unpredictable for an adversary. Of course the caution is that the opposite can be true, as well.

Further, it must be recognized, as described by human factors expert Moin Rahman (2007), that uncontrolled stress (such as that created by surprise, speed or diversion) can disrupt processing through the loop by slowing or even freezing it, or speeding it up to such a velocity that observation, orientation or decision-making become sloppy or superficial, leading to faulty action.

The goal is always to achieve relative superiority over the adversary by dominating the loop. This is partially accomplished by dictating the tempo of the encounter and keeping the adversary in a reactionary mode—acquiring and maintaining the initiative. During tactical operations or even during short-term encounters, the reactionary loop goes through numerous cycles which need to be effectively managed by both the commander and the lone officer. This is a major reason that mental toughness skills and training are essential for mastering tactical stress (Asken 2005).


What needs to be reconsidered is the content and nature of the phases of the Loop as they relate to critical police encounters. . Soltys (2008) suggested that OODA should be SOODA, where S represents Situational Awareness. Even more descriptive and functional may be an AAADA Loop (Figure 2) comprised of a cycle of anticipating, alerting, assessing, deciding and acting.

It is proposed that alerting is a better term and concept than observing and orienting for several reasons. First, observation can imply a focus on solely visual responses. Alertness, however, can be triggered by any sensory input, not just vision. Certainly sound can create a state of alert, as may “the feel” of someone or something nearby. Almost every police officer will testify to the importance of intuition or the “sixth sense” in being safe and successful on the job. Intuition and especially unconscious awareness is a complex and somewhat controversial topic, but even if intuition is nothing more than non-articulated (though still critical) sensory perception and thought (which can often be described and articulated after the fact), it leads directly to alertness and is more than what is implied simply by the term observation.

Alertness also implies an important quality of intensity of readiness and involvement. Observation can be slow, lengthy or incomplete but alertness or alerting implies, at least, an enhanced degree of readiness.

Alerting also conveys a state of ongoing readiness. Police officers need to guard against the idea that “acting” is the final phase in the loop. Effective and victorious responses require at least one additional cycle through the stages to assure that a situation is secure. There is a natural tendency, one that is both physical and psychological in nature, to relax after intense action and apparent success. However, as implied by Napoleon’s statement that the “moment of greatest vulnerability is the instant immediately after victory,” the actual success and degree of security in an encounter needs to be assessed by repeating the loop after the first action cycle. The term alerting conveys the need to maintain an adequate level of attention and readiness to complete this review. Finally, alerting requires and subsumes orientation (to the event) which allows for the next step of assessing.

The use of the term decide as Boyd’s third step in the cycle is a bit deceiving and nondescript when considering the nature of certain forms of police decision-making. Officers must make split-second decisions which may be complex and have potentially dire consequences, and as per Graham v. Conner, all under tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving circumstances. Further, the term seems to skip an essential component of successful decision and action phases, which is first assessing the situation. Decisions without adequate assessment may well lead to faulty and tragic action. This is especially essential for police officers where the nature of and rules of engagement with their civilian constituents are quite different from those of combat. Assessing implies a subsequent decision that has been based on the results of effective assessment.

Assessing is then followed by a decision and the related action.

A final consideration is that the way OODA is often used suggests that the cycle commences after attention (or alertness) is stimulated by some action, event or cue leading to observation. However, an experienced and highly trained police officer or operator actually begins the cycle prior to the AADA or OODA phases by anticipating the potential for an encounter. This was recognized by Sun Tzu, who stated that “Victorious warriors win first; then go to war. Defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Thus, while we discuss anticipating last in this article for emphasis, it should actually precede and thread through any and all police actions.

The usual skill representation of anticipation has been called Reflection in Action (Schein 2004) or Tactical Performance Imagery (Asken 2005), in which the officer or commander forms a mental framework of potential or actual situations and circumstances through anticipation. This evolves from training, past experience and situational awareness—the total understanding of the circumstances that exist at that time.

With this, the officer then rapidly develops an understanding of the potential future or futures about to unfold. But the process doesn’t stop there. The best officers, while fully anticipating the situation and potential events about to unfold, begin to imagine or mentally rehearse actions for those events. As a result, the officer is prepared to alert, assess, decide and act before the event occurs, reducing reaction time and enabling efficient and maximal cycles through the Loop. With time and repeated use, the cycle becomes second nature, and may provide lifesaving advantages to our homeland warriors.


Asken, M.. MindSighting: Mental Toughness Skills for Police Officers in High Stress Situations. (2005)

Boyd, J. “A discourse on winning and losing.” Colonel Chet Richardson, USAF (Ret.), Ph.D. (1997).

Boyd, J. “The essence of winning and losing.” Colonel Chet Richardson, USAF (Ret.), Ph.D (1995)

Raham, M. “A discourse on law enforcement and psychobehaviors: Informing design displays from displays in ethology to high velocity human factors.” (2007).

Schein, E.Organizational Culture and Leadership, NY: Jossey-Bass, 2004.

Soltys (2008). Training for the Close Quarters Encounter. In B. Willis (ed.). W.I.N:

Critical Issues in Training and Leading Warriors. Calgary: Warrior Spirit Books.

About the author

Dr. Mike Asken is a State Police psychologist and author of “MindSighting: Mental Toughness Skills for Police Officers in High Stress Situations.” His Web site is 

Significant contributions were made to this article by Lt. William Young. Lt. Young is the West SERT team commander for the Pennsylvania State Police.

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