Article Archive Details
Hendon Publishing

Scenario Training for Rapid Deployment

For many, many years scenario-based exercises have been a staple component for tactical teams and active shooter training. Properly done, scenarios provide an exceptionally realistic learning tool. The advent of Simunition® has brought scenarios to a new level of authenticity. In some cases, instructors are including a graduation exercise as a graded portion of a course. Having facilitated scenarios for over 20 years, we have seen the evolution, had some success, and a few missteps. Our focus here is sharing some of the lessons learned with fellow trainers.


Set Goals and Objectives

Just recently, we heard from a couple of civilians who volunteered to be role players for their local SWAT team. Before the exercise, they were given Simunition guns, put into a vacant building, and told to “do whatever you think.” Not only is this a recipe for potential injuries, but lacks significant training validity. Scenario-based training needs a lesson plan like any other form of training.

By committing your plan to writing, you will help smooth out details and timings, and identify potential problems. At the least, outline what overall concepts the training is trying to accomplish and what tasks should trainees be able to perform. We want situations to elicit correct responses from trainees and reward them in real time. The following three headings link to this concept in more detail.


Practical Tasks for Trainees

Ask yourself, what has been taught so far and what skills should trainees be able to perform during the scenario? A bit of variation on tasks is OK, but we can’t play ‘stump the chump.’ A prime example is setting up each room as an ambush that the trainee can’t win no matter how well they employ the tactics learned. Not only does this lack real-life foundation, but it strips away a level of credibility from the drills and training presented up to that point.

Students will walk away frustrated, feeling that even if they use the tactics taught, they will lose in the outcome. Another training scar is introducing a topic or situation they had not yet been trained on. If trainers place a bomb into the scenario, they should have already covered protocols for IEDs. 

Conversely, situations should not be so easy that trainees see no worth in the exercise.



Every Role Player Has a Role

This keeps everyone engaged and helps prevent problems from occurring. Years ago, we had a role player show up late; near the deadline to start. We put him in the library with minimal instructions. During the scenario, that person decided to call 9-1-1 and say he was being held hostage at the high school.

Nowadays, we give every role player a task with the instructions: When you encounter officers, they should do “X” and your response will be “this.” If they don’t do “X” you should do “that.” There is a little room for interpretation, but role players have direction. For example, “When you see the first officer, run toward him/her yelling and screaming. If the officer gives you strong direct commands, do what you are told. If not, continue to scream and block his/her movement.”


Key Players for Key Roles

Not everyone can be a shooter. Depending on the objectives, trainers want to evaluate certain key tasks from students. Give these roles to your most trusted, proven role players to challenge the trainees. If you are using blanks or Simunition, give these responsibilities to role players who are familiar with firearms. Not everyone who volunteers wants to be an actor. That is OK. These people can be placed into lesser, support roles.

As you work with role players, you will learn their capabilities and who can be elevated into more substantial characters. Do be aware of certain people who want to show off in front of the police or show them a lesson. That is why all new role players start with a rather inconsequential task until they are proven.


Safety Brief for All Participants

Everyone needs to have common rules of engagement even though we may brief trainees and role players at different times or locations. Tap-out signals for use of force need common verbiage, as does a code word to differentiate between a simulated and real injury. Double check all participants for secondary weapons to include knives and chemical sprays. 

We offer an ‘amnesty box’ for role players to secure any valuables that could be damaged. The secondary benefit is we also control cell phones. Establish limit lines as needed and designate off-limit areas. Include whatever protocols you need. Last, have a common all-stop signal to stop the exercise.


Stay in Character Throughout

Depending on the details of the scenario and what objectives you want may require role players to layers of scripted actions


. A group of stunned victims can be staged near an entry point to confront each officer who enters.

Handcuffed suspects can be instructed to escape if left unattended. Previously compliant role players may become aggressive if a shooting happens nearby. This allows us to get more activities per scenario and prevents trainees from getting into the mode of “find and forget.”


Officers in Uniform

At least wearing an old uniform shirt identifies officers from role players. With open enrollment classes or multi-agency training scenarios, quick visual recognition is a must for all participants. Since enacting this policy, we have seen an increased level of focus from trainees.


Include Sound Effects

When using Simunition, the report of firing may not be heard at distance in a larger building. Officers need something to ‘key’ on when entering to locate the shooter[s]. The sound and smell of blanks raises the level of realism. We have found that 12-gauge smokeless powder blanks give excellent results.

Smaller calibers may not have enough report to be heard in a big building. A certain amount of role players should be briefed to produce desired verbal cues. Screams and calls for help can have a disorienting effect on trainees that they must push through. Consider an electric game calling device that has programmable sound effects.


Variety of Roles

Training can become stale when we run the same activities repeatedly. Consider a different weapon for the suspect, such as a machete or a ball bat, so encounters are not always gun-on-gun. Another variation is the gunman committing suicide upon contact with police. Add an off-duty officer making entry. One more is a student holding a ‘found’ weapon with a couple fingers. As long as the activity has a plausible foundation, it has training value. Stay away from the ‘fantasy roles’ that lack believable application.


Walk-Thru Rehearsals

Walking the role players through their actions and where they should be staged allows them to better understand the instructor’s intention for the scenario. Limit lines for actions are visualized by actually demonstrating start and stop points as well as approximate routes for individuals. At the same time, plans can be refined or modified as needed. The more important roles require a more in-depth rehearsal. Typically this can be done in 15 minutes, but it pays big benefits.


Keep the Setting Valid

When borrowing a school or other building for training, there will have to be certain concessions. Most locations won’t let you breach entry points, so you will have to prop doors open. Limit the amount of off-limit area and yellow tape. Visual barriers such as tarps are more realistic and effective.

By the same token, too many evaluators or facilitators can be distracting to trainees. Limit the number of observers and keep them static or place them in rooms with windows to observe. Once too often we have seen trainees who couldn’t get a shot at the ‘bad guy’ because there were orange-vested evaluators in the way. Video cameras on tripods at key locations and security system playbacks help alleviate hallway congestion.


Protect the Venue

There will always be critical areas to be avoided. Identifying these areas in advance and briefing role players prevent damage to the building. This directly relates to the rehearsals-briefing where contact should and should not occur. Computer labs and glass trophy cases are definitely no-fire zones when using Simunition.

If needed, place computer monitors on the floor. In our experience, school administrators are more receptive to using airsoft on campus than other similar training aids. Leaving with no damages helps ensure repeated use of that building for future training.


Use a Fast Clock System

For non-critical or ungraded tasks, simulate the event at an accelerated timing. For example, for the final exercise, we want to include the approach phase of officers arriving at irregular intervals in their vehicles, getting into the school, and linking with other officers inside. The objective is the process. We don’t need to run this at real time with 5–10 minutes between arrivals. 

As a result, we number the trainees and give each of them a delay sequence of 30–90 seconds. They are told to wait in the parking lot until the exercise begins. On the start signal, the first officer gets into his/her squad, drives a lap around the parking lot, stops and enters through the door of his/her choice. 

Once a unit sees the previous unit enter, the next unit waits the specified time and repeats the process. Each trainee has the choice of where he/she wants to park and enter based on radio traffic from units by now inside.


Precautions When Using Blanks

Blank cartridges can cause serious injuries or property damage even though there is no ‘projectile.’ There will be muzzle blast and some form of wadding expelled when firing. Reserve the use of blanks for the early part of the scenario to lure responders to a desired area of the building, then transition to Simunition. Use the most reliable role players to operate blank guns with a separate safety brief.

In addition to the standard rules for using blanks, operators are told to always fire muzzle down and never within 15 feet of another person. All participants wear hearing foam protection. Be aware that black powder blanks can start fires. Even smokeless powder blanks can activate fire alarms—we learned this one the hard way!


Say Thank You

While it is nice to bring the role players drinks and pizza afterward, a little bit of recognition goes a long way. Before debriefing trainees, bring the role players together with the whole group. Ask them their perspective of training or to outline what their tasks were. A comment about how essential the role players were to training and a round of applause from the student officers goes a long, long way.


Debrief the Trainees Separately

While you may hold an initial debrief with role players in an open forum to get their perspective, the formal evaluation is done behind closed doors. Only the trainees and trainers are present. This leads to more open discussion.


Consider Airsoft

This system has evolved into a highly realistic and valid training tool that is cost effective. Stay away from the toy version and use training guns designed for that purpose. Many times, school officials will turn down a training request when using Simunition or paintball, but will allow airsoft weapons. Be sure to pick up all the tiny plastic pellets.


Write It Down

At the end of the session, make notes about which role and actions went particularly well. Our goal is to develop a catalogue of individual roles for future training. Having the individual roles/tasks on 3x5 cards allows you to speed up the walk-thru process and link roles with role players.  

A training scenario needs to have validity and it also needs to have sustainability. An injury to a role player or damage to a building is pretty much a guarantee that the training program will be shut down or that venue will not be used again. Impractical scenarios with improbable situations lack validity. Trainees will recognize this.

Here are the twin goals: 1) Your training withstands the scrutiny of the court if called into question, and 2) Your training actually improves the skills under stress of the police officers. The effort put into designing and prepping a scenario pays dividends in long term.


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 2014

Rating : Not Yet Rated

Related Products



No Comments

Related Companies

Article Images

Click to enlarge images.

Close ...