Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Active Shooter Training

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

“We handcuff dead people.” That was the takeaway message after an afternoon spent participating in an active-shooter training. Of course, I wasn’t one of the law enforcement officers doing the actual training (darn!), but I did play a role that helped make the scenario as realistic as possible.

My job for the afternoon was to run screaming across the top floor of an abandoned office building—which served in the scenario as a federal courthouse. The trainers wanted the sessions to be high intensity with lots of noise and distractions. So first, a loud siren came on. That started my adrenaline pumping. Then it was time to pull on my facemask and get into place. The mask was for protection against the paint-like pellets in case someone shot me.

Moments later, a man in green fatigues came running straight at us—across the long, cement floor—with an AK-47 in hand. Then our instructor signaled the three of us to go. And we would run, yelling something like, “Help! They killed Dave. They’re shooting everyone.” And screaming too. He wanted us to be loud and distracting.

It was weird at first, because I’m not a screamer, but I quickly got into character. Between the assault weapons and the siren and the sudden barrage of uniformed officers pointing more guns—it was easy to feel alarmed

We ran the scenario seven or eight times, with different groups of law enforcement personnel getting their turn. People from Homeland Security, Lane County Sheriff’s Office, and Eugene and Springfield Police all participated.

After the first few times, my adrenaline settled down a little, and my observational journalist side kicked. I began to notice that each team of officers did things a little differently. For example, another participant played a wounded Federal Marshal. Some officers checked him briefly and moved on. Others patted him down and took his weapon. Still others instructed him to crawl out of the room.

And then there was the armed bad guy at the top of the stairs. He got shot every time. And in each debriefing following the scenario, the instructor would at some point say, “We cuff dead people.” Meaning, you don’t just walk away from the bad guy, even if he looks dead and you have his gun. You cuff him to be sure.

The afternoon is one of those vivid memories that will not likely fade. And that phrase will always stay with me. Don’t be surprised if you see it in one of my novels someday.

Have you participated in something like this?


  1. Great blog LJ!

    I hosted an advanced driving class and it was amazing. I learned from the professional drivers that if they are being chased, their life is on the line. If they crash the pursuers will kill the driver and take the principal in the backseat.

    What a scary business and what a great time I had learning how they keep their charges safe and themselves alive!

  2. Active shooter traiing is a very valuable resource to LE but a lot of agencies have trouble finding appropriate buildings to train in. The simunitions have greatly improved over the years. When I first participated we used old style paint ball guns. Now modern simunitions are much more realistic in sound. Instructors are getting much better at staging realistic scenarios as well and it's very instructive to see how officers respond. You had a rare treat L.J. and I'm glad you did it.

  3. One of the sessions for the Citizen Police Academy was supposed to have been on the firing range but they had a conflict, so instead we did very much what you described. It was a such a hit with the class I think they decided to make it a part of the program.

    At the Writer's Police Academy, I had the opportunity to go through a couple of FATS (Fire arms Training Simulator) programs. Very sophistiacted in that the computer operator can revise the program as the scene plays out.

    And tomorrow, LoML is taking me to the firing range. It should be fun. Other than the CPA and WPA, the last time I aimed a gun was at some tin cans when I was a kid.

    Great post! I can't wait to read something like this in one of your books.

  4. Excellent post, LJ! Entertaining and informative. Can't wait to see parts of it play out in your novels!

  5. Way Cool! And I think an important takeaway is that there ARE different ways these scenarios can play out. When I was doing research for a bank robbery/hostage situation scene, I asked a number of cops the "what if" questions, and I got different answers. Which means I wrote it "right" for some, but others might take exception.


  6. It's true, Terry, there is no single correct way. But a big part of the training is to standardize the most important things. And no matter how we write it, someone will always think it could be different or better or more realistic. It's all subjective!

  7. As a career LEO I went through too many shoot/don't shoot scenarios to recount. What I always took away? Bad guys are crafty and things are seldom what they seem. Oh, and range masters and defensive tactics instructors are je...I mean, diabolical.

    In one situation, complete with fake blood, an injured hostage begs for help. Every team who tried to intervene died, right along with the hostage. Correct answer? Withdraw and call for SWAT. Teams who survived? Zero. Every single team tried to do something. It's not in a cop's nature to run from trouble.

    In another memorable setup a bad guy secreted himself on top of a table behind a door, and picked off the lead member of every single entry team. Message: Look high!! Don't just focus on what's in front of you, look up.

    The next? After the death of a local SWAT officer a scenario was patterned after the incident that took his life. As the team made entry someone stepped out from behind an interior door. While the team's attention was diverted, a second suspect popped out from around the arm of a sofa and picked team members off. The message? Of course--Look low!! Suspects won't always come from right in front of you, they'll ambush from positions of cover and concealment.

    I could go on and on, but won't. The most important message? It's hard to be a cop. Hard remembering, hard figuring things out in a split second. All you can do is your best. You pray every day it will be enough.

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience, Finn. And thanks even more for your service! It's a dangerous occupation.

  9. Wow. Sobering and scary. Thanks, Finn.

  10. Thanks for sharing this experience, LJ. Loved your observations.
    Since you asked, I've had similar exposure to law enforcement training through two courses of Citizen Academy. (Highly recommended.)
    I also rode along with a sheriff on a Friday 13th, full-moon shift. (Murder, robbery, rape, shootings and no time for rest.)
    As writers, we don't need to make up stories about the ugly side of life – lots of examples for inspiration.


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