Solo Building Search Tactics

When we built our shoot house, one of our goals was to incorporate training not only for tactical units, but also provide courses for patrol level operations. A gap exists in tactical training at this tier. In medium sized to smaller agencies, officers and deputies will rarely if ever have the opportunity to train in a shoot house. Yet they face many of the same risks as their SWAT brethren. This thought began the development of our High Risk Building Search Course and Live Fire Rapid Deployment Course. Both courses targeted small teams of two to four officers.

Increasingly we have seen a number of students who work a shift or beat by themselves, or with backup an extended distance away. Based on curriculum developed for another project, it was decided to provide a Solo Officer Building Search Course. The objective here is providing tactics for the exigent situations when an officer is forced to act alone; centered on dynamic room clearing. We want to equip the officer with several tactical tools to better handle a worst case scenario such as an active shooter, home invasion or abduction where he is forced to take action.

The course begins in the classroom with some administrative tasks and a safety brief. Since this is the first time for most of the students to go in the shoot house, we thoroughly cover the safety protocols and contingencies. To keep everyone on the same level, we introduce the basic of CQB shooting and pistol carry positions.

For many years academies have taught the “hunt” position – with the arms extended and pointing down at a 45- to 60-degree angle. Besides flagging the pistol at doorways, this carry position promotes undue muscle tension. For years we have seen officers’ tendency to lock up with a death grip on the pistol in this position. Trainers should watch for this in their students. A tell-tale sign is the student who shakes out the wrists at the end of a room clearing exercise.

Still we see a few students using the “Sabrina” (Charlie’s Angels) position with the pistol point straight up near the face. We point out that this method brings nothing to the tactical arena from the standpoint of neither accurate presentations nor weapon retention.

Positions 3 or SUL are the primary carry positions taught. Both are demonstrated and, after practicing both methods, students are free to use whichever suits them best. Position 3 Alpha or High Sternum with the pistol held at sternum level with the muzzle pointed straight ahead is discussed.

While this can be a viable method when working solo, it has some inherent flaws. It is a stand-alone method only for solo tactics. If the officer is taught Position 3 or SUL for working in small teams, there is now another method to use under stress. When used as a single tactic there is a tendency to go to Position 3A when working with others under pressure.

While being a micro second faster, the high ready position increases the possibility of a negligent discharge from a startle response. Starting from Position 3 or SUL promotes positive threat identification before taking action. For some reason, students using the sternum ready position tend to have their finger rest on the trigger more often. This applies even with students who have previously learned position SUL. The exact cause for this is still under consideration.

In preparation for the shoot house, some preliminary flat range drills are incorporated. As part of the presentation drill; follow through is incorporated. This involves following the suspect down, ensuring she / she is no longer a threat before checking the flanks and rear. To accomplish this, a small index card is placed at the bottom of a silhouette target. On the command “Up” students engage the silhouette with the appropriate number of rounds. They immediately cover down onto the index card, performing a trigger / sear reset and keeping their sight picture.

At random timings, the instructor calls “Gun” as the signal to engage the smaller, secondary target. This simulates a suspect dropping to the ground and reacquiring a weapon. Before standing down, shooters must look over their shoulder and call out the number of fingers the instructor is holding up. This keeps everyone honest when it’s time to “check their six.”

The remaining flat range drills are movement drills. Working alone in the shoot house, students will need to cover multiple areas of responsibility in quick succession. Learning the dance steps helps them do this efficiently with minimal trip hazards. First we do some diagonal drills to simulate crossing a doorway. Shooters take two to three steps across a mat before engaging their target. This drill promotes safe gun handling during basic movements. 

Students also perform lateral movement drills with the emphasis on body shifts without crossing their feet. To perfect this they do a one-step body shift – step out with the outboard foot while dragging the inboard foot to a balanced stance. After singles, student multi-step drills.

Turning drills are the final component. Depending on the room configuration, clearing officers will need to check behind them after initial entry. Whether the shooter executes a 45-, 90- or 180-degree turn, the process is the same. The only thing that changes is the amount of physical effort put into the movement.

First the student looks toward the area of interest to confirm a threat. This also allows them to see in their peripheral that the area in front is clear of trip hazards. The turn is made pivot on the foot closest to the threat.  Once squared off to the threat, the pistol is presented in a normal manner. When the pistol is present during the turn, there is a good probability that its momentum will place the sights left or right of the intended target.

Next we are back to the classroom for a presentation on the theory and tactics of solo building search. One of the key points to emphasize is these tactics are used for crimes in progress where lives are believed to be endangered. Property crimes are not worth risking an officer’s life and waiting for assistance is recommended. Another portion of the theory is slice-the-pie open doors to a point of diminishing returns. At a certain point, the officer will overexpose him or herself while slowly slicing an open doorway.

The tactic we propose is slice-the-pie at an open door to a point of clearing obvious threat in the main portion of the room and getting an idea of the floor plan for that room. From that point, quickly get through the doorway to establish a toe hold in the room—generally into an uncleared corner. Get your back to a wall to cut your exposure in half. With a door in the center of the room, there will usually be an uncleared corner opposite of the current position that must be addressed immediately after the first corner is visually swept. At this point, we are only concerned with visual sweeps of the room for obvious threats.

Once the visual sweep is completed, we can slow down and read the room. Students are encouraged to take several deep breaths to slow their heart rate. Even with the induced stress of training in a shoot house, we often see students whose breathing becomes rapid and shallow indicating they are not performing at an optimal level. By slowing down and reading the room, students are less likely to make an impulsive move that puts them in a tactical predicament.

They will hear and see signs that may otherwise be missed. We are not talking about a long pause here; only a few seconds to reorient themselves to the room. Use the OODA Loop: observe, orient, decide, act. A simple change of position can present a new visual perspective of that same space.

After determining a plan of action or movement to the next room, the student then acts on his / her plan. This is a move to contact situation very similar to a rapid deployment / active shooter concept. This process is repeated room by room until the threat is encountered or the situation changes. For example, if the incident escalates into a hostage taking and no imminent threat to life is present, the solo officer may be better served to hold and relay real-time information. At least the situation is now somewhat contained.

We are working on the hypothesis of a crime in progress where the suspect is engaged with other activities, not waiting in ambush for the officer to enter. To validly test this theory with Simuntion®, have your role player suspect actively engaged with some assignment; gathering role-player victims, searching for something, etc. The whole idea is the bad guy’s attention is on doing something other than lying in wait. Then put your clearing officer into the scenario. The concept is to test the method without setting up a stump-the-chump, no-win scenario.

To complete the theory session we move from the classroom to the flat range for rope drills. Originally this drill façade was set up with engineer tap and landscaping spikes. The floor plan for three rooms is outlined out on a flat range. When laying out the floor plan, it is better and safer to go a bit on the large side. Include at least one center fed and one corner fed room. With careful target placement, this can be a live fire event. We use fire hose semi-permanently spiked to the ground. It lays flatter and ensures continuity between classes.

Rope drills serve a multipurpose training agenda. Without a wall, students can better foresee in their mind’s eye how to best progress to the next room or doorway. Spectators can watch the progress and learning curve of fellow students. This makes the facade very time effective since we are only working the rope drill one at a time. The trainer can easily step across a tape “wall” to remedy a problem or correct a student.

Once we confirm on the rope drills that everyone is up to speed, we can move to the shoot house. The whole process to this point takes up to nearly lunch time. We want to get everyone a short run in the shoot house before we take a major break.  Each student gets a two-room “run” in the shoot house to keep the continuity of training.

The afternoon session carries on in the shoot house. Initial drills are kept relatively simple to maintain the learning curve. Three room drills with a single target keep the class flowing. Having multiple exit doors on the shoot house allows you to pre-stage your targets, which lessens the turnaround time between drills. Without giving away the syllabus for future students, the shoot house session incorporates closed doors, more rooms and multiple threat targets.

A few quick points on solo officer closed door drills. First, officers much reach under their pistol with the support hand to access the door knob. If the pistol needs to be presented quickly, having the support hand underneath precludes an entanglement and allows a two-handed grip to be established. Second, once the door is opened, get inside quickly. The noise of opening the door will attract attention to that fatal funnel. Time spent slicing-the-pie at the door increases your exposure. Several steps inside makes the officer more difficult to locate.

Third, when opening a push door, stand on the knob side to open the door. Move diagonally through the opening, getting your back to a wall. After checking for immediate threats, a quick glance over the shoulder lets you see dead space behind the door. Fourth, when opening a pull door, stand on the hinge side and over-reach to access the knob. Once opened, stand up while pulling the door with you. This creates a sufficient gap to keep the door from hitting you in the face or stepping back with the door blocking your view.

In a perfect world we would have plenty of backup arriving in a moment’s notice. Smaller agencies and rural departments may not have that backup readily available. Emergency circumstances can force an officer into taking direct action. Having some form of sound tactics is superior to blind rush inside and thinking on the fly.

Ron Yanor is retired after a 25-year law enforcement career. He spent 19 years on a 22-operator, multi-jurisdictional tactical unit, with nine years as the training and intel officer. Since 1999, he has been a contract trainer and currently operates Adamax Tactical Academy in Illinois. He is also on the staff of Tactical Energetic Entry Systems.

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2012

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