Monday, October 24, 2011

Survival Scores Research Project

The U.S. Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) provides training to law enforcement personnel from numerous federal, state, and local agencies. A law enforcement officer's survival requires that he or she is able with to quickly assess a situation and respond with appropriate actions in dynamic, life-threatening, time-pressured situations that are likely to be encountered in carrying out their duties. A research program was initiated to examine the extent to which stress training can better prepare law enforcement officers to perform under highly stressful conditions. Initial results from the research program have been reported in a technical report entitled the Survival Scores Research Project (FLETC 2004).

The report refers to an FBI report for the year 200 which 'provides some alarming statistics in the area of officer survival':
The number of law enforcement officers feloniously killed in the line of duty was up 21.4 percent from the previous year’s number – 51 officers were slain in 2000, and 42 officers were killed in 1999.

Slightly more than half (53%) of the felonious shootings took place at a distance of 0-5 feet, and 70% were at 0-10 feet. These close range killings are also representative of the ten-year period for 1991 – 2000.

Body armor appears to provide minimal protection in close range shooting scenarios, as 29 of the 47 (62%) slain officers wore protective clothing.
When discussing the requirement to train law enforcement officers to perform under stress:
A Department of Justice report on 40 attempted shootings of officers found that victim officers returning fire averaged a hit on their target 41% of the time, while the offenders achieved a 91% hit rate. Of course, each of these officers was reacting to being shot at (the majority were actually shot), and under severe stress ... Preparing individuals for such moments is among the challenges law enforcement trainers face.
FLETC researchers developed a scenario designed to replicate real-world law enforcement situations. One of the scenarios was 'gun take-away and shout-out':
Maximum levels of arousal were achieved as the scenario deteriorates with the return of the theft suspect, an escalating argument, and the decision by the 'senior partner' to remove the hostile theft suspect from the building. The 'senior partner' has his weapon taken and is shot by the suspect, who then takes the complainant hostage which he also shoots. Stress is further escalated by loud music limiting communication, the sound of a loud, barking dog in the adjoining room, very close quarters and very limited cover. The exit is blocked by the downed 'body' of the 'senior partner.' The suspect (a firearms instructor) has cover and produces a shotgun (simunitions) which he uses in conjunction with the downed 'senior partner’s' weapon to fire at exposed parts of the trainee with simunitions rounds. The trainee’s third round in the magazine in the weapon provided has been altered to not fire, forcing the trainee to respond to the development. The suspect is either shot by the officer and eventually falls, or commits suicide if the officer does not disable the suspect.
What were the results? 'Overall, performance deteriorated, as expected, and only 28.2% performed well enough to pass this event.'
Popular theory has long held that a loss of fine and complex motor skill could be observed as a result of high stress levels. The trainees observed in this study did not appear to be unable to perform fine and complex motor skills as noted when weapons handling skills were evaluated. Rather, they seemed to perform them in the incorrect sequence or perform the wrong function all together, thereby producing a 25.8% success rate.
The popular theory to which they refer is Bruce Siddle's theories first espoused in Sharpening the Warrior's Edge. His ideas appear to have taken on the authority of popular theory or commonly conceived wisdom. Many in activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter who refer to these theories often are unaware of their origins, and their limitations.

In Performance Under Stress (Hancock and Szalma 2008), in the contribution concerning Stress Exposure Training, Driskell et al refer to the FLETC research project. They explain that 'weapons handling skills were seriously degraded as trainees were unable to perform complex motor skills ...'. This observation appears to be at odds with the authors of the FLETC report.

Siddle's thesis is that as combat stress increases, a survival stress response is initiated which has 'catastrophic' effects on cognitive and motor performance. He suggests that 'fine and complex motor skills begin to deteriorate when the working heart rate accelerates beyond 145 beats per minute.' The trainees heart rate approached but did not exceed 140 bpm.
These scores show a majority of the trainees made poor tactical decisions as to courses of action, did not effectively resort to more advanced/complex and less utilized re-loading methods, could not perform a sequence skill under stress, did not employ tactical movement concepts of 'shoot and move', and did not use the instructed kneeling position behind cover.
The shot placement data was interesting, if not disturbing:
Overall performance in this element showed a 28% passing rate. Analysis determined only 3.4% of the trainees demonstrated 70% accuracy or better when all rounds expended during the engagement were considered. Only 19.4% of all rounds fired hit the suspect who was approximately 3 yards from the trainee. In addition to shots going low, trainees scored poorly in applying fire to center mass or available center mass. Approximately 20% shot the hostage. The only performance item in the upper 50 percentile was proper clearing on the weapon, with 63% passing this element.

Of note was the statistically significant difference in overall shot placement scores by gender. 94.74% of females failed the shot placement element, while 66.25% of males failed. Further analysis was conducted to examine firearms qualification scores achieved during training. Once again, a statistically significant difference was, observed (as expected), with females averaging 248 compared to 273 for males. These data would suggest that a lower degree of accuracy in a static training environment may translate into a lower level of accuracy in a dynamic environment.
One of the research questions was: 'Can specific psychological factors be identified that predict performance in a highly stressful law enforcement encounter?' In their discussion they suggest, 'the relationship of psychological factors to performance in a high stress encounter will require further examination.'

This is the basis of my work in Beyond Fight-or-Flight: Surviving a Violent Encounter (an extended title I'm trying out). Our survival mechanism includes an appraisal process and a subjective feeling, physiological, motor expression, action tendency, and behavioural response. These are all highly interconnected. The stress discipline studies this mechanism in a limited and biased way reflecting their disciplinary interest. Another discipline, the emotion discipline, studies the same process but in a more complete, survival focused, way. Integrating the theories and concepts of the two disciplines, as I do, provides a more complete understanding of our evolved survival mechanism. It also provides the basis for understanding all of the methods developed by those activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter. These methods are interventions in the survival process.

When differentiating between physical stress and psychological stress, albeit without the benefit of an explicit understanding of the difference, they suggest that, 'training under psychological/emotional stress will better prepare the brain to perform under those conditions when the need arises versus having trainees exercise. The focus should be in the process of how the stress is created (the stimulus), rather than in the product of how the stress is measured (the response). I agree, to a point. The first step should be to understand our survival process. This then would lead to an appreciation that the appraisal process and subjective feelings are the important elements in the process. The stress discipline tends to focus on the physiological response. This is reflected in Siddle's focus, and the focus of the FLETC research program.

In The Definitive Textbook for Military and Law Enforcement Reality Based Training, Murray refers to the FLETC research program. He suggests that 'trainers must have the knowledge and skills to decode student behaviour to achieve optimum results.' I agree, but I don't believe the knowledge is available when only stress theory is referred to in connection with a person's survival response. This is the basis of my Beyond Fight-or-Flight.

1 comment:

  1. As you can imagine, your post was of great interest to me. I have some thoughts on the topic which I hope to explore in the near future. Good post.


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