I was out in the western part of Massachusetts teaching an in-service training class to a group of about 50 police officers. These cops are from small towns and often work their towns alone. No back-up immediately available! A conversation during class took place that sparked some debate on immediate versus delayed, solo versus team entry tactics and which is the best practice for dealing with ongoing threats such as, an active shooter, terrorist attack, or ambushes. Is immediate entry and a solo response always the way to go, or do 2, 3 and 4-man techniques still apply? What about cordon and wait for SWAT, will there ever be an adversary, time and place, where we ever use that technique again? I experienced my own biases arise on this topic that prompted me to do some self-reflection and write this post.
Let me start off by saying I am not against immediate and solo entry. There is indeed, a time, place and adversary where immediate entry and solo response is necessary. I just, recognize that its a dangerous option, only effective when we believe our entering alone can make a difference. I don’t believe anyone would argue that the risks are much, much higher going it alone. I wrestle with the idea of responding solo, as the only option because someone says its the only way, to be effective, as if its some school solution that must always be used.
Are those responding using their observations, orientation and decisions that lead to the course of action we take or do we just do it because IT’s THE WAY TO DO IT? Do those responding, understand WHY they are responding, the way they are? And if so do they know HOW to do it? Have we considered the difference between a spontaneous situation like and ambush and a progressively unfolding situation like a terrorist attack or active shooting? The ambush has us taking immediate action to get through or out of the kill zone and then deal with the threat. The terrorist attack or active shooting we respond into the kill zone to locate and address the threat. The ambush requires implicit action due to the surprise of the situation. The ambush or active shooting, requires more explicit decision making as we try to make sense of adversarial actions and develop a course of action to stop these types of threats.
In each of these examples I have described time is critical and life and death hinge on police stopping a threat. Being surprised by an ambush requires we act and react intuitively, without thinking. Tactics, techniques and procedures must be immediate. This is where stimulus response training comes in to play and why practice is so critical. As Mushashi said; “Either you will lead the enemy…Or he will lead you.” But we must also remember decisions without actions are pointless. Actions without decisions are reckless. So to respond effectively, there must be a an understanding of implicit and explicit decision making when responding to ongoing deadly action so we understand the why behind the tactics, techniques and procedures we decide to use.
Most crisis decision making is made implicitly, because actual combative situations are extremely fast and demands you act and react without thinking, especially when closing with and adversary. Explicit decisions (rational thinking)are needed if you don’t have an organizational climate built on mutual trust and a common outlook (mission and intent) for implicit decisions. You can’t use implicit decisions (e.g. you don’t know where the adversary is or your trying things, experimenting, probing, sensing to figure out what’s is going on). A hint to future responders and those training and developing responders, everything we do does not entail stimulus response. Some actions require thinking such as whether or not to use delayed or immediate entries or to act individually or as a team. Have we considered that officers do not have to choose only one delayed or immediate entry. Rather than can employ the techniques in various combinations to fit the needs of the unique tactical situation. An officer may initially choose to move in solo cautiously, employing delayed entry and employing deliberate clearing techniques. If the situation changes or he hears shots being fired, the officer might shift to using immediate entry and emergency clearing techniques. Or a solo responding officer may enter from one side of a building and coordinate others responding to enter from different sides in an effort to swarm and converge on an adversary.
Research shows that when dealing with a new, complex, and confusing situation, effective responses, begin with carrying out lots of small experiments (decisions and actions) at high tempo. So we must quickly try to figure out what’s going on (sense-making) via the observation and orientations, this means learning on the fly in real time and deciding on a course of action. Action requires we are able to do it. This is what the Boyd Cycle (OODA Loops) are all about. The OODA Loop is a model for manipulating time. With a time advantage you can: try more things, recover from mistakes and learn more quickly. You can make adversaries react to you and reshape the situation, improving effectiveness of the response. As the adversary(s) become fixated on you he spends less time focused on innocents. As Colonel John Boyd observed:
“In order for one to accomplish its goals, it may become necessary for them to, diminish their adversaries capacities for independent action. Deny them the opportunity to survive on their own terms, or deny them the opportunity to survive at all.”
Boyd’s words are packed full of wisdom yet, it is important we remember conflict is a two way street and that an adversary has his own Boyd Cycle and is trying to impose his own will on us. At its heart the Boyd Cycle (OODA LOOP) is extremely simple. In any form of conflict the side that can do the following three things better than its adversary will create opportunities to achieve decisive results:
- Keep its world view, or “orientation,” most closely matched to the situation in the real world.
- Harmonize this orientation in real time throughout the responders. This means that not only does the boss have the big picture, so does everybody else and its up to date and accurate.
- Possess a range of actions or responses that it can intuitively and nearly instantaneously apply to nearly any situation. Again, this means actions at all levels of the response, and it means people taking the initiative, not waiting for commands.
When talking about whether to use delayed or immediate entry, we are not talking about a coffee break delay here, nor am I talking about we need to gather all information before we make a decision. We all know the consequences of, “paralysis by analysis.” What I am speaking of is, taking just enough time to size up and make sense of the situation once arrived on scene. This delay does not mean we don’t move towards the threat, although locating the threat is not as easy as turning a page in a book as some may have us believe.
Even with shots being fired there can be confusion and uncertainty as to the threats location. Confusion can come from the sounds echoing off of concrete walls and buildings, calls into the 911 center with conflicting reports as to where the threat or multiple threats possibly are. Yes, I believe we are duty and morally bound for a quick response when on going deadly action is taking place but, we must use principles and tactics that work and police must understand the why and when they will work and then be able to apply tactics to violent acts unfolding in real time. The key to doing this is Practice…the right kind of practice in realistic conditions!
“Anybody can perform a task that he or she already knows and understands. It’s when obscurity, doubt, and stress are interjected into the equation against the backdrop of survival that the creature of the unknown exposes us for who we are, not just what we know how to do.” ~ Jeff Boss, Navigating Chaos: How to Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations
A better understanding by patrol officers of tactical science is needed. Tactical science is the body of knowledge covering the principles associated with tactical operations and emergency responses. The current disconnect that troubles me, is all too often tactics are practiced as a skill set rather than an intuitive application of tried and true principles. Skill sets are contextual, and can be a recipe for disaster if applied in circumstances they were never intended. Principles are context free and provide insight and guidance to recognize the dynamic factors in play. In short they understand why they are applying the tactics they have chosen. Officers who understand WHY are more flexible in their thinking and more adaptable in their approach. Whether we operate with team tactics or solo tactics the decision to use either must be based on this understanding if we are to develop effective course of actions. The idea is that through increasingly more realistic practice and exercises, actions begin to flow intuitively and without delay. Then the trick is to incorporate wider and wider ranges of possible situations in our training and exercise programs so that the vast majority of time, appropriate actions flow smoothly and instantaneously from orientation.
“In military units, soldiers are encouraged never to operate alone. Also, the fact that military units rarely operate independently in elements smaller than a squad or section (approximately 9 soldiers) leaves little reason for them to practice single-person tactics. Law enforcement units, like SWAT teams, that specialize in CQB also typically bring a large force to the fight and often have numerous supporting assets such as snipers, helicopters and tactical vehicles. Thus, the scenario of a single SWAT officer having to operate alone is also relatively unlikely and often receives less attention.
However, for police officers responding to an emergency call, the chances of having to operate alone are quite likely. In these types of situations, backup is frequently unavailable or will not arrive in time. The officers who are forced to operate on their own face potentially the greatest risk, yet there are almost no tactical references (books, videos or classes) or training and development within policing that provide useful information on the subject of single-person tactics.” ~Special Tactics, Single-Person Close Quarter Battle
To respond effectively individually an officer must have a highly developed tactical skill sets. So yes we must train in the skill sets and we must be very good at them! These tangible skillsets include, tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) such as; how to approach and enter a structure, exterior maneuver considering streets, alleys and windows, entering structures, maneuver down hallways and into and out of rooms, clear rooms without entering (shallow entries or limited penetration), deep entry into rooms when necessary, navigating stairwells, accurately fire weapons while under attack, cover, concealment and movement, just to name a few. These tangible TTPs, along with an understanding of the tried and true intangible principles of maneuver that include the proper mindset, the ability to size up situations (sense-making), mutual trust (work in harmony to solve problems), focus of effort (attention control that allows for adaptability), and mission-type orders (decentralized control) that set the climate for operational success.
Active shootings or what I prefer to call “ongoing deadly action” require officers be adaptive in their approach, because adversarial methods have changed and police must once again adapt their responses to knife wielding attacks, vehicle born attacks, or whatever next imaginative way an adversary decides to use as a method or tool.
Adaptive challenges require adaptive action. These types of complex problems have no definitive way the form. Adversaries come in all shapes, sizes, ages, nationalities and skill levels. The posses unique ideologies, personal and sociopolitical viewpoints and posses different grievances, where anger, revenge, depression, anxiety and their lack of coping skills or resilience have them resorting to violence as a method to send their message.
Because there are no definitive ways these types of incidents form, there are “no stopping rules” the process of developing a course of action comes from understanding the actual situation you find yourself in today. Not yesterdays, last months, last years incident, matter. Todays situation does matter. How respond should not be looked at as right or wrong. Courses of action should be viewed as making things better or worse for those involved (innocents, responders and adversary), so there is no immediate or ultimate course of action. Courses of action will generate waves of consequences over an operational period that must be adapted too. The structure or building, the number of adversaries, number of innocents, are the innocents locking down, evacuating (or Both) or are innocents in the fight. Whether you respond as a team or, go it alone all these factors and more require we understand we must have sets of possible courses of action some predetermined some, ad hoc.
Ongoing deadly action is an adaptive challenge and each situation is essentially unique. Yes aspects of adaptive challenges have aspects or factors (patterns of conflict) that are common but they also have novelties that require unique courses of action. And these courses of action can be contested and there will likely be conflicting evidence or data for and against any course of action we can come up with by those both in and out of the arena.
When responding to “ongoing deadly actions” there are no optimal, best, right, smart, correct or school solutions. There are no silver bullets we can always use that are guaranteed to always work. Blending the cognitive ability to observe, orient, decide and act with the physical skill sets and tried and true tactical principles is required if we are to make a difference.
Gary Klein in his great work on recognized primed decision making has shown that when people are properly trained in this approach, decisions in the usual sense of comparing and selecting between alternatives are infrequent. This is just as well sense formal decision methodologies would only slow things down. It can not be emphasized to often that training and exercises intended to achieve intuitive and rapid actions must start with individuals but to be effective must soon involve the entire team across all departments and agencies. You fight, as the old military maxim goes. like you train.
What are cops to do when there is no back up available or is, so far away they will not arrive in time to make a difference in carrying out our mission to stop the threat and render aid? How does a police officer go it alone using individual tactics as he moves into and through a building or school under attack?
With all my talk above about decision making and adaptability, below are some things to consider when you have no choice but to go it alone. The folks from Special Tactics offer some insight of great value:
Single-person tactics are different from tactics developed for teams and multiple teams. The reason for this is the increased risk associated with operating alone. Even if you are very experienced in team-level operations, it may still take time for you to master the specific skills and movements needed for single-person operations. Team-level tactics are generally divided into “immediate entry” and “delayed entry” tactics. Immediate entry methods call for offensive, aggressive movement and were developed by elite military special operations forces for hostage rescue situations.
Delayed entry tactics are more common in the law enforcement community and are designed to minimize your exposure and maximize the benefits of cover and concealment. For single-person operations, delayed entry is generally a safer option than immediate entry. If you have a team behind you, it is possible to aggressively rush through a door to dominate a room. However, if you are operating alone with no support, it is dangerous to rush into a fight when the odds might not be in your favor.
Much of the debate in how we handle ongoing deadly actions stems around immediate versus delayed entry tactics. My premise is there should be no debate. Both options are on the table and even blend in tactical operations! The choice depends on the adversary(s), time and place as well as the capabilities of those responding.
“All four elements— physical, mental, emotional, spiritual— contribute to one’s daily living, how he or she feels, and, ultimately, how he or she performs. Varying levels of each are called upon based on the task at hand, but the capacity of each still exists. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his bestselling book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Performance, says that to achieve optimal performance, one must merge behavior with intent.” ~Jeff Boss, Navigating Chaos: How to Find Certainty in Uncertain Situation
When I talk of capabilities, I am not focused solely on the physical but the emotional, mental and spiritual capabilities as well. While the term definitely connotes capabilities of the physical sort, it is critical not to overlook the mental, emotional, and spiritual pieces, which comprise the larger puzzle of performance, in stressful situations such as responding to acts of violence. Preparation and readiness require we continually learn and develop these so that our behavior in crisis situations matches our intentions. There has got to be some thinking going on as we work our course of action and maneuver to stop an ongoing threat and winning these types of engagements.
What tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) do we consider when we deciding to go it alone towards the threat?
Immediate entry techniques call for offensive, aggressive movement and were developed by military special operations forces for hostage rescue situations. Law enforcement officers may use immediate entry techniques when innocent lives are at stake or when it is critical to quickly overwhelm and dominate the adversary. Immediate entry calls for using surprise and speed to enter and penetrate the building or room immediately without taking the time to first evaluate the room from the outside. While sometimes necessary, immediate entry is generally more dangerous than delayed entry.
Delayed entry techniques are designed to minimize an officer’s exposure and maximize the benefits of cover and concealment. By employing delayed entry tactics you clear as much of a room or hallway as possible from the outside, before you actually make entry. Team-level tactics can also be divided into “deliberate” tactics and “emergency” tactics. The difference has less to do with speed and more to do with the level of care and attention applied to the clearing process. It is possible to execute deliberate tactics very quickly, as long as you are careful to clear each room and danger area completely. Essentially, when conducting a deliberate clear, you will not take any shortcuts. Emergency tactics are the opposite of deliberate tactics. In an emergency situation, you may need to take shortcuts and not clear every room or danger area completely. This increases the level of risk.
However, in an emergency situation where time is critical or there is imminent danger to innocent people, a tactical team might choose to assume a greater level of risk. Because of the increased danger typical of single-person operations, deliberate tactics are generally the best option.
While deliberate tactics are preferable for single-person operations. Police may end up facing an emergency situation alone and you will have no choice but to move at maximum speed and assume greater risk. This type of scenario is extremely dangerous and as an individual, there is little you can do to reduce the risk. Your best option is generally to move as quickly as possible and use speed as security, hoping that adversaries will not react fast enough to see you or shoot at you.
Obviously in ongoing deadly action situations our intent is to restore safety and order back to the location, our mission is to stop the threat and render aid. In One-person operations its crucial to understand how to approach the complex configurations houses, schools, hospitals and workplaces are made up of. Again Special Tactics offers some insight in how to maneuver effectively through complex building configurations and towards the threat:
When an officer searches for threats and clears a structure in a real-life scenario, he or she will encounter many different combinations of furniture, obstacles and complex room configurations. In many cases, the techniques for dealing with these situations is the same as for team operations. However, in other cases the procedures are different. Complex configurations are particularly dangerous for single officers since they have no backup and cannot cover more than one direction at a time.
Hallways are considered danger areas because the generally have many doors running along their length. An adversary could emerge from any one of these doors without warning. More importantly, an adversary could simply extend his or her weapon around the corner and spray indiscriminately. Because of the shape of the hallway, there is a greater chance that this type of indiscriminate fire will cause casualties. For all these reasons, hallways are danger areas and the officer should try to spend as little time in the hallway as possible. This might mean not conducting a full sweep when standing in a hallway but rather moving directly into the room and conducting a shallow or deep entry. In other cases, the officers best course of action might just be to run down the hallway quickly as possible to try to find a covered and concealed position before addressing the threat. There are no fixed solutions. The key point is to avoid being exposed in the hallway. Improvising as necessary to minimize risk.
Single-Room clearing without entry-when operating alone, officers might often choose to avoid entering a room unless its absolutely necessary to do so. This will help the officer minimize exposure and maximize personal safety. The officer will clear the room (as much as possible) from the outside and avoid getting drawn into a fight with adversaries who might possess superior numbers and weapons. By remaining outside of a room the officer also makes it easier to pull back away from danger and “call out” the adversary from a covered and concealed location if necessary. To execute the clear without entry technique, the single officer will conduct a sweep of the target room, just as in other delayed entry techniques. Once the sweep is complete, the officer may choose to conduct additional sweeps if necessary. Once the officer has cleared as much of the room as possible using the sweep technique, the officer will still need to clear the “deadspace” (or uncleared areas) in the corners of the room. To do this the officer will move forward and quickly clear both corners from the doorway. Once this process is complete, the officer should not remain standing in the doorway but instead should quickly move away from the door to the next room. In some other cases, the officer may decide to enter the room after all. If the officer decides to enter the room, he or she will use one of the other entry techniques described below.
Single Room Shallow Entry-the shallow entry techniques (sometimes called limited penetration techniques) are designed to prevent the officer from becoming over-committed or trapped deep in a target room. In single-person operations, officers will often prefer to remain closer to the doors, so they can quickly move through the door to avoid threats coming from either direction. However, officers should still observe the rule of keeping several feet away from the door to avoid getting hot by indiscriminant fire.
If there is a lot of furniture and uncleared dead space in the room, the shallow entry can make an officer vulnerable since he or she has not gone deep enough to see if anyone is hiding behind the furniture. In this situation, the officer might want to penetrate deeper into the room to clear behind furniture, using deep entry technique.
Single-Room Deep Entry-while shallow entry helps the officer avoid getting overly committed in the room and keep close to the path of escape, there are situations where the officer will want to clear the room completely. This is of particular importance in situations where officers plan to remain in the room for an extended period of time, use the room as a safe area for innocent civilians, or if there is a lot of furniture in the room. Deep entry involves penetrating fully into the room, clearing behind furniture and ensuring no adversaries are hiding behind the door.
When conducting deep entry techniques, an officer will penetrate only as far into the room as he or she needs to. The advantages of staying close to the door still apply. Therefore, unless there is furniture or dead space deep in the room, the officer should conduct the clearing movement relatively close to the door. An officer can also start by conducting a shallow entry and then move on to a deep entry after having had time to access the layout of the room and the situation.
When executing the deep entry, the officer should try to move quickly as possible, sacrificing some shooting accuracy in order to reduce vulnerability. If there are multiple threats in the room, the officer will be extremely vulnerable once passing through the door and the best option is to move quickly enough so adversaries find it difficult to shoot accurately.
The procedure for dealing with furniture as a single officer is relatively simple. Because there are no other officers present to perform coordinated movement, the single officer will simply move quickly to pass by obstacles in the room or check behind furniture for adversaries.
Confined areas with multiple openings (such as foyers, entryways or vestibules) are also very common in modern architecture and present a difficult tactical problem for the single officer. Rather than try to dominate these danger areas, the officer should quickly move past them into a room that offers better protection.
Another common configuration, found in commercial structures, are large rooms filled with cubicles. Cubicles are particularly dangerous since they must each be cleared individually and offer many hiding places for adversaries. When a single officer must clear a room full of cubicles, quick movement is critical since the officer will be exposed from many angles while moving. The officer can choose to move diagonally or laterally from cubicle to cubicle, looking for threats. Generally the officer should clear the closest cubicle first and move down the row, crossing over as needed.
Clearing and Moving Through Stairwells as an individual is very dangerous and you should avoid stairwells if at all possible. if you must enter a stairwell, the clearing process is actually quite simple because there is only so much you can do to cover all the potentially exposed angles in a stairwell. As in the hallway, your best option is to use speed to your advantage and get out of the stairwell as quickly as possible. Stairwells are danger areas so move through quickly and find a better fighting position. in commercial or industrial buildings, stairwells typically consist of sturdy metal and concrete construction with steel beams, making them particularly dangerous since bullets are more likely to ricochet off solid walls.
Whether you are moving up a stairwell or down a stairwell, the technique remains the same. Orient your weapon in the direction of travel (up or down) and keep as close as possible to the wall, away from the center banister. This will give you the best angle to see around the bend in the stairs. Turn you body towards the bend in the stairwell as you move, being careful to watch your step and not trip. This way you will be ready to engage any adversaries waiting around the bend in the stairs as soon as they emerge.
In single-officer operations it is necessary for officers to keep their “head on a swivel,” constantly looking around to identify danger areas and potential threats. An officer must also consider all these options and techniques and be able to perform them on center fed, corner fed and with open and closed doors. When moving down hallways how to maneuver in L-shaped, T-Shaped and, X-Shaped hallway intersections an officer must know how to navigate as well. How to enter a room from the hallway and from the room into a hallway must also be mastered.
This is just a brief overview of single person operations (mindset, tactics, techniques and procedures) and there is much more to consider when wading into an ongoing deadly action situation alone. This begs us to ask the critical question, what is changing tactically? Ongoing deadly action situations come in different shapes and sizes, they are not all the same. There are different types of adversaries and different types of environments. Ongoing deadly action situations have evolved into much more than shooting people as method, explosives are now used, knives and vehicles are used to commit mass casualties. There have been active shooter situations turn into barricade hostage situations that revert back into active shooter situations with highly trained adversaries in some instances. Mass attacks and systems disruption are now part of the terrorist strategy, so we must prepare for multi-assaults. The threats are real and our adversaries adapt their techniques to keep us guessing.
“The dichotomy that uncertainty presents, then, is both a serendipitous and deliberate opportunity to create something from nothing, to find opportunity where others see conclusion. After all, only from chaos can calmness emerge. There is chaos we deal with as individuals, teams, and organizations; chaos that presents itself at the most inopportune times, and requires you to zig when you’d rather zag. No matter where you are, chaos finds you, and if you don’t know how to deal with change as an individual or as an organization, then you get eaten, swallowed whole, and left for dead.”
― Jeff Boss, Navigating Chaos: How to Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations
The uncertainty of the threats and the evolving chaos make going it alone extremely dangerous. So when we go it alone its critical we make sound decisions, use tactics and adapt as the situation dictates. Situational awareness and our sense-making abilities are especially critical in one person operations so when we go we must know why we are going. We must develop a course of action based on the current situation and not just because someone told us this is THE WAY to do it! We need to be better and train better than that!
“Tactics are not whether you go left or right. Tactics are about WHY you go left or right! The most formidable warriors are students of there profession!
~Gen. Al Gray
For this post I used two great resources from Special Tactics, Single-Person Close Quarter Battle and Law Enforcement Close Quarter Battle: Urban Tactics for Individuals, Teams and Tactical Units. Both resources are packed full of great information that will help shape and reshape your mindset and the tactics you use in handling active shooters and other dynamic encounters. I also am currently reading Jeff Boss, current book Navigating Chaos: How to Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations which will help in understanding the uncertainty and chaos involved in dynamic encounters and how to deal with it effectively.