Training For Reality

HMN - Training For Reality

“In no other profession are the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling or so irrevocable” 

Douglas MacArthur, 1933.

An assessment team jump starts the exercise by entering a suspected contaminated area to detect possible chemical agents, assess and report damage to critical infrastructure, and identify any possible chemical casualties who needed first aid and then extract them from the area. The areas contaminated were indicated by post it notes with the name of the substance on them. Next, an engineer team donned personal protective equipment and entered the area with prepared structural equipment to stabilize the infrastructure to protect response personnel and casualties for further rescue efforts. An umpire standing by shouted the changing environmental conditions and wind direction. A training exercise with some value but it could have been worth a whole lot more! 

Realism has always been something I have been a proponent of throughout my career. Whether it’s realistic interrogations in conduct after capture training for military air crew, use of petrol bombs and missiles in riot control training, real knives and guns in self defense for law enforcement or testing ‘home made’ explosive with colorimetric test kits – whenever I have been in the role of trainer I have always trained for reality

Training is the instruction and applied exercises for acquiring and retaining knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes (KSAAs) necessary to complete specific tasks. It’s not practice that makes a first responder or service personnel perfect, it is perfect practice and to achieve that you have to be as realistic as possible and push the envelope as far as measured risk will allow.

HMN - Training For Reality

Training must continually be forward-thinking, innovative, and aggressive, both in understanding how your role is evolving and in adapting the training to meet those challenges. Training is one of the key functions of the military or first responders. It is training that wraps all of the functions of an organization together to create and maintain effective performance when it counts. 

Training with the right resources allowing for that element of realism is critical. It prevents a loss of appetite. In sport this ‘staleness syndrome’ is well documented and recognized. The athlete falls short of all expectations. This staleness is common among elite athletes, affecting more than 60 percent of top long-distance runners at least once in their career.  

Avoidance of this syndrome simply comes down to how you train, where you train, what you train with and injecting the right amount of organized chaos to increase the operators stress upon decision making. Having the technical ability is not the same as operational experience or realistic training as close to live incidents as you can immerse the student in. 

HMN - Training For Reality

Generally speaking, all training is divided into two broad categories: individual and collective and then within that you can have simulated or live training. When we’re dealing with the HAZMAT or CBRNe world these are some of the most challenging circumstances in which anyone must operate. It is so challenging and unique that it simply cannot be completely replicated outside of reality itself.

Thus, to be truly effective, organizations must train under conditions that are as realistic as possible and come as close as possible to placing the individual, the team, the unit, and the crew in the environment and situations they will face on the ground. This training realism is one of the key measures of training effectiveness. How can military and first responders realistically train with toxic substances? Live-agent training is expensive and difficult to organize. 

Much of the design and innovation in training is aimed at generating realism. Training design generally has three components:

  • The task itself—the thing an individual or the element is expected to accomplish. 
  • The conditions—the set of circumstances in which the task is expected to be performed. 
  • The standards—the level of competence and effectiveness at which the task is expected to be accomplished. Standards might include the speed at which the task is to be performed, the accuracy or the percentage of operational systems that are ready and available.

Identifying the tasks, conditions, and standards drives training realism. As first responders or CBRNe military units the goal is “to have been there before” so that they know they can fight, win, and survive. This approach is not often consistent with the need to use real chemical, biological and radiation sources. On occasion different sources are used making the exercise less than realistic with the agent under the control of an umpire or instructor  nearby, limiting the training value. The use of simulants is better than a ‘post it note’ – but we can go one better than this. 

Realistic training requires individuals to train as they would respond – with the same protective gear and equipment they would use in a real-world situation where they could be exposed to dangerous CBRN and Hazmat agents. If you’re detecting a gas leak your instrumentation needs to show that, not some ‘post it note’ stuck on a worktop. 

In the Hazmat /CBRNe world, there will inevitably be a multi agency response achieving a level of competence across the board is challenging. Many agencies or in the case of military operations overseas, allied or host nations, do not have the same equipment, knowledge or capabilities. It’s not practice that makes perfect; rather, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect. It is, after all, the seemingly small disciplines and commitment to high standards that makes us who we are and binds us together and prepares units to detect chemical agents, conduct decontamination procedures and provide first aid to exposed people, while operating in rigorous CBRN or Hazmat conditions. The CBRN exercise should be realistic and dynamic, based on a simulated real-time threat allowing for the fourth dimension of all training – flexibility.

To keep students interested and engaged, it has to be relevant and engaging. Repetitive actions are often necessary but they lead to complacency. You cannot run the same scenario multiple times and expect the student to maintain proficiency and competence. Breaking up monotony with challenging new scenarios, locations and most of all being able to put a responder in full PPE, send them into unfamiliar territory building, and then the instructor sending real-time data on their detection system such as the HazSim Pro 2.0 device allows testing of knowledge, stress and reaction in as near realistic setting as possible. The flexibility and versatility of the HazSim system allows for training on multiple agents, chemicals, radiation or gaseous environments without requiring a switchover of equipment.

HMN - Training For Reality

It allows the trainer to detach themselves from the scenario so the student is effectively operating in isolation -but is still interactive, the instructor knowing the level of each student and able to send questions related to evolution in real time. The student then answers questions via the touch screen on HazSim.

Training needs to test on multiple perishable skills that need to be regularly exercised in the event the unit is deployed to deal with a live scenario and reflects the effectiveness of the unit’s response procedures and flexibility to adapt under any condition, you train to be able to manage the situation… no matter what the circumstances dictate and that’s why the ‘post it note’ style of training falls short!  This is where having realistic training equipment, like the HazSim system, can improve the capabilities and effectiveness of the individual and the team immensely and remember – you don’t have to take students out of the classroom to still obtain realistic conditions for kinesthetic teaching. 

“Take full advantage of these years when the wisdom of the world is placed at your disposal, but do not spend too much time buckling on your armour in the tent. The battle is going on in every walk and sphere of life.” 

– Winston Churchill, 1929.

Kevin Cresswell

Contributor