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July 19, 2017

Thinking About Situational Awareness Through the Lens of a Field Researcher

Learning how to learn is a skill that often separates the professionals from the novices in a professional field. In the fast-paced and constantly changing world we live in, those who can quickly learn what is happening in a situation, especially once it changes, have many advantages over their slower moving peers. But how do you develop that ability? Learning how to learn isn’t just about picking up on new skills. It’s also about learning how to size-up and make sense of a situation. How do you learn the “way they do things here?” How do you learn what makes the people in an area tick? Whether your goal is to blend in and avoid attention or to identify opportunities to pursue gains, it begins by being capable of building your own map for the areas and situations you encounter. For protectors, guardians and warriors operating in locations where your ability to quickly and accurately learn about the situation can be the difference between success and failure, and it turns out that there is a lot we can learn in this vein from professional field researchers.

According to David Danelo, a Marine Officer, Iraq War Veteran and author of the recently released book The Field Research Handbook: A Guide to the Art and Science of Professional Fieldwork, field research is a simplified process of collecting information outside of a laboratory. While academic research often produces quantifiable results that come from controlling a limited set of variables and clearly defined datasets, I meet many people in the military, law enforcement or security industries that often question the applicability of that research. While academic research can be interesting and enlightening, the very fact that it is done within the controlled environment of a laboratory often makes professional operators question how it will translate into the real world where variables abound, where control is hard to establish and where cause and effect are often difficult to tie together.

Field research is different in that it does reflect all of those real world truths. Field research is also something that you are already doing whether you are aware of it or not. The “collection of information” component to field research is already present in our field; we just use different names for it. In the military, we say that

July 5, 2017

Podcast Interview With “The Idea Vacuum”

Recently, I had the chance to talk with Adrian Stewart from The Idea Vacuum podcast about Left of Bang and provide a few examples of what people can do to apply behavioral analysis in different settings, what goes into the four pillars and some other topics of situational awareness.

From Adrian’s site:

We cover..

  • the specifics of what to look for in people and your environment
  • how you can apply this in an office environment and beyond
  • what it was like landing in Iraq on his first deployment
  • what motivated me to join the Marines

To listen to the hour-long conversation, check out The Idea Vacuum and our conversation here.

May 25, 2017

“Left of Bang” Added to the U.S.M.C. Commandant’s Reading List

Last week, Jason Riley and I learned that our book that we co-authored, Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, was added to the 2017 Marine Corps’ Commandant’s Professional Reading List for the Sergeant and Staff Sergeant ranks. As you might imagine, being included on this list is something that we consider to be an incredible honor.

When we first set out to write this book in the fall of 2011, we only had one goal, and that was to ensure that any Marine who wanted to learn how to read behavior and recognize threats by enhancing their situational awareness had the ability to do so. We realized that not every Marine who wanted to attend the Combat Hunter course would be able to. We know that not every Marine has the extra money to pursue similar training outside of the military on their own. But we also knew that books are easily sharable and something that can be revisited time and again and talked about amongst the members of a unit. While the book is just one of many tactics that we are using to help ensure that violent acts are prevented around the world, it continues to be one of the most impactful ways that are helping us make these skills accessible to everyone.

It is also very humbling to be added to the Commandant’s Reading List for Sergeants and Staff Sergeants as well. While the book was written with the individual Marine on patrol in mind, there are no roles better able to influence a unit than the squad leaders and platoon sergeants that Marines of these ranks fill. They see these Marines more than anyone else does and can use their experience to develop competent and proficient Marines before they deploy, making them incredibly influential members in a unit. One of the challenges that these Marines face, however, is that it can be challenging at times to put their experiences into words so that they can be shared and used as teaching tools. One of the most common comments that we hear from our readers and students is that, for the first time, they have a common terminology to explain what it is that they saw. They have a shared language to explain why what they were observing was important. And if that ability to communicate with someone else can help even just one squad leader help a new Marine elevate their situational awareness to a level of informed awareness, then I see that as a massive success.

To show my appreciation for the men and women wearing a uniform and volunteering to head into harm’s way, we have added a “Left of Bang Discussion Guide” to our library. This guide is designed to help leaders discuss the principles of how to get and stay left of bang with their unit, whether it is a formal Professional Military Education session or an impromptu debrief between the members of a team. You can find the discussion guide here.

To everyone who has read the book, thank you.

Never forget. Never Quit. Semper Fidelis.


 

May 25, 2017

A Situational Awareness Discussion Guide: “Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life”

The goal for this discussion guide is to help leaders in organizations across the military, police, and security industries, as well as corporations, universities, and other academic institutions, have effective conversations about how the concepts discussed in Left of Bang apply to them and their organizations.

As professional reading discussions are an effective way for leaders to understand the concerns of their teams, demonstrate how they view situations and communicate values throughout an organization, each of the topics covered in this guide is followed by a statement of purpose for that particular question as well as questions for leaders to consider following the discussion for internal reflection.

My hope is that through the following questions and reflection points, leaders are able to jump start their discussions with their team about the book or situational awareness and are stimulated to create more questions of their own that solve problems unique to them. If there are any questions that come up during a discussion about Left of Bang that you are unable to answer for your team or that you would like a second opinion on, please do not hesitate to reach out and ask us using the contact form here.

Get left of bang and stay there,

Patrick Van Horne


Part 1 – The War Lab

Prompt:

  • Make a list of the training events you have conducted in the last year and the purpose of each event.  How much of your recent training is focused on what to do both before and after an incident occurs?  Does this align with the tasks and problems you are likely to face in your job?

May 17, 2017

When Is Good, Good Enough? How Leaders Should Talk About Standards of Excellence

The question, “When is good, good enough?” was recently posed to readers in Brian Willis’ law enforcement and training related newsletter What’s Important Now?, which focuses on ways to prioritize decisions in our lives. The question came from one of his readers who is training foreign police officers but is having trouble getting them to meet the standards of the training he is tasked with developing. Conversations about standards and the level of training needed for operators in any protector related profession are essential to have, yet they can often be frustrating. Without an objectively defined goal and end state for each person in your team or organization, it can be easy to be fooled into thinking that the progress you’ve made to get to the level of good, is actually good enough, when it truly isn’t. In this article, I’ll take a look at a few different aspects of what goes into a conversation about standards so that leaders can continue to advance their organizations in the face of constant change.

Avoiding Predictable Pitfalls While Talking About Standards

Before we begin to talk about what should go into a discussion about performance standards, the first thing a leader needs to decide is who will be involved in the conversation. In our work with our clients in the military, law enforcement and security industries, the number one pre-event indicator to an ineffective meeting about ways to elevate an organization through training is when the person leading the meeting has not given deliberate consideration to who will be taking part in the process. While the desire to want to cast a wide net and include many different people in a conversation about performance standards is natural and can be seen as a safer option than only including a few people, the decision to do that is far riskier than it may initially appear.

When evaluating and working to improve an organization through training, there will be two groups or people involved in the process. There will be the people involved in the defining of performance standards and there will be the people responsible for doing the planning to make that a reality. While the planners and support personnel (administrators and trainers) can be in the meeting where standards are defined, it is important that they understand they play a supporting role to the person who is in the room to talk about the operational requirements of the men and women in the organization. The involvement of administrators and trainers should only begin once the standard has been defined and set by the leader of the organization.

The reason why failing to distinguish between these two groups of stakeholders is such a problem is because support personnel have different professional responsibilities, priorities and concerns than the operationally focused person does. As a result, the planners and administrators can have a tendency to bring a conversation to the specifics of what it will take to do something before the end-state is clearly defined, leading to distractions and frustrations from everyone involved. To keep a meeting on track and focused on the essential parts of establishing the standards, the next section will highlight the four key components of a performance related standard.

Establishing Standards: The Four Operation Focused Factors

To talk about the standards of excellence that members of a team should meet in order to be successful in an operational setting in a rational and objective way, there are four distinct factors that should be considered.

The first is:

May 12, 2017

The Importance of Mindset In Policing

Here is a great TEDx talk given by our friend Chip Huth in 2015 that we share as a reminder to protectors, warriors and guardians in our society.  As “us vs. them” mindsets continually bombard us in our media, in our politics and in our community, stepping back to remember that we hold ourselves to a higher standard when we sign up to be a public servant can help ensure we focus on what is important and what it will take to get to successful outcomes in each encounter we have.  Take 10 minutes to watch the video below.


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Lisa Van Horne

April 25, 2017

The Furry Anchor Point: Behavioral Analysis Through a Canine Lens

Let me start by saying that the puppy magnet is real. I get it. You see a dog, you want to pet it. It’s natural. You see a puppy, you want to run up to it, pick it up, talk to it, snuggle it, name it, take it home with you and raise it as your own….

Time to get a grip. The truth is that, just like any environment or situation you might find yourself in on a day-to-day basis, interacting with someone else’s dog is a scenario in which any number of circumstances could be at play that you have to identify and decipher before taking any action.

Think of each dog you may encounter as its own anchor point, a furry, moving, wiggling, wagging anchor point. In theory, there are a limited number of select people who are “allowed” to approach that dog and enter into its personal space on any given day. The criteria for entering that space differs with the personality, temperament, and history of each dog. In my dog’s case, all you have to be is a human with hands that could be scratching him and he’ll let you approach him (if he doesn’t approach you first) with zero hesitancy. However, this is not always the case. Think of service dogs and police dogs on duty who are not to be approached, touched, or pet by anyone other than their owner or handler. Every dog you encounter should be treated as if they have that spatial boundary around them until you’ve gotten a read on the situation and made contact with the owner.

Let’s take the act of dog walking as an example, as it’s the behavior of a dog’s owner that is often the best indicator of whether you will be allowed into the space of the anchor point that is their dog. It’s no different than the scenario of approaching a group of people and using behavioral analysis to determine group relationships and dynamics. Dog walking is a situation that dog owners find themselves in likely multiple times a day, and it’s a scenario where you can use multiple principles of situational awareness to read universal signs of human behavior to be conscious, respectful, and ensure you have a good experience while avoiding potentially dangerous encounters for you and your pet.

Interactions with other dog walkers and their canine companions is perhaps one of the biggest wildcards that can come up during a walk. When a dog and their owner is approaching, think about the four clusters of human behavior

April 17, 2017

Three Situations That Should Cause Protection Specialists to Transition to the Deliberate Search

Threat recognition is a game of speed. For executive protection specialists, delays or hesitations in decision-making upon recognizing a threat can be the difference between success and failure while working on protection detail. Because there are some behavioral observations that need to be made immediately upon entering an area and some assessments that can wait until an initial level of safety has been established before being turned to, it is important for a protector (especially one just entering the field) to know which assessment needs to be made and in what order. Improving the method for establishing a baseline in operational settings has been one of our greatest focuses over the last few years. The recent release of our flow charts for how to conduct a hasty search and a deliberate search represents the most current techniques that we use to ensure both speed and accuracy in establishing baselines and searching for anomalies, but what the diagrams don’t show is when a person should begin the deliberate search.

The primary reason why we divide the establishment of a baseline into two phases (hasty and deliberate) is because a full and complete baseline (the result of the deliberate search) is not always needed. There might be situations where you aren’t in the area long enough to even complete both searches. There might be times when you are walking or driving and to try and complete both searches would completely overwhelm you mentally. There might be times when your brain has to be focused on things besides your safety, so you might not be able to dedicate all of your cognitive resources to establishing baselines and looking for anomalies with 100% of your attention. The division between the hasty search and deliberate search exists so that you know the minimum you should be doing (the hasty search) and you know how to conduct the deliberate search when that level of depth in the baseline is needed. But that distinction also creates the question of when a protection specialist should make the transition from the hasty search and begin to conduct the deliberate search.

This question became apparent to me during a recent conversation with Chris Pendas. Chris is a security professional, the owner of the Staying Safe – Self Defense website and a graduate of our Tactical Analysis program. Chris recently recorded a video of himself conducting a hasty search while walking from his apartment building to the subway station, a task that many people can relate to as they commute to work each day. To set the stage for our discussion about transitioning from the hasty search into the deliberate search, start by watching the video he made and think about the steps that go into each search.

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As you watched the video, you may have noticed that he begins to make some assessments about the environment as he identifies habitual areas and anchor points (a deliberate search task), even though he is intentionally trying to limit himself to the hasty search. During our conversation, Chris asked about the times when he should make the transition into the deliberate search. Because answering questions in a way that implies you will “know it when you see it,” or that it is “situationally dependent” is a lazy form of instruction, I provided Chris with three situations when we advise our students and clients to make the transition from the hasty search and begin the deliberate search to heighten their level of situational awareness. Since Chris’ video is of him walking, each of these situations is focused on

March 29, 2017

Making the Deli Experience Deliberate

At The CP Journal we teach the process of determining the baseline for any given area and situation to improve people’s situational awareness. The process involves two primary steps for any area that you operate in – the hasty search and the deliberate search. Last month, in various blog posts, we outlined the hasty search and used some scenarios that occur in daily life to explain how to best to practice it and make it your own.   As a reminder, the hasty search is the first step that anyone can take to set his or her baseline for the area. It involves assessing the collective mood as positive or negative and then confirming that assessment by observing the individual people in the area. This month we are continuing to expand on the baselining process by highlighting the deliberate search. The purpose of this post is to describe the deliberate search process using an environment that many people are accustomed to, the grocery store deli counter.

Before we begin, it is worth noting that the deliberate search is more detailed than the hasty search. The goal of the deliberate search is to identify the underlying patterns that present themselves in any given situation that you find yourself in, which makes it easier to identify anomalies. Because pattern recognition takes patience, the deliberate search requires time and practice.   Once you build your deliberate search skills, they can be repeated over and over again everywhere you go.

The grocery store or supermarket is familiar territory for most people. They are familiar with how the store operates and understand the layout of the deli area in relation to the rest of the store. The process at the deli counter is pretty cut and dry. People approach the area to order meats, cheeses, cold cuts, and salads. People form a queue and wait for attention from someone behind the counter to take their order. Customers then add those items to their carts and continue shopping in other areas of the store. The deli area within the grocery store is usually uniform and offers a repeatable setting that exists in most areas of the country, which makes it a great place to practice the deliberate search because you can consistently see the same interaction over and over again.

The steps to the deliberate search that I will outline here are as follows:

March 22, 2017

Just Tell Me What To Do: The Instructor’s Dilemma

 

“What would you do in this situation?

This seemingly simple question coming from a student is one of the most challenging and difficult questions for an instructor to answer. Especially when considering the consequences of failing to recognize a threat left of bang, it is understandable why someone would want to know what cues and what behaviors would reveal a potential threat for every single scenario they might face. There is, of course, the drive to answer the question in the best way possible too. It’s the people who truly want to learn how to protect themselves, protect their family or be better at their job that ask this question. They are looking for a way to get the process started. But for any instructor who has ever been asked what they would do in a particular situation, you are probably well aware of the challenge it poses because it often forces the instructor to choose from two equally unattractive options when deciding how to respond.

Option #1: The Decisive Answer

The first option for the instructor when asked, “What would you do?” is to simply answer the question and explain what you would do in the specific situation being discussed. Your first response to this option might be, “How is answering the question a bad thing?” On its own, providing clear and decisive answers that students can take with them from the classroom to the job is a great thing and, whenever possible, should be the standard.

The problem, however, with answering the question and stating what you would do, and in turn telling someone what they should do, is that it

March 17, 2017

The Deliberate Search: A Visual Guide

Once an observer has completed their Hasty Search of the area, they are able to turn their attention to completing an in-depth look at the processes, patterns and behaviors that make up the baseline for the area they are in.  That comprehensive baseline is the result of the Deliberate Search.

The Deliberate Search Flowchart was initially created at the request of one of our online students who was looking for some clarification on the steps and, we’ve refined our initial design using feedback from students and advisors as well as through use in the field during our one-on-one practical application sessions with students.

While the process outlined in the flowchart was designed to be a standalone guide, these concepts can be best implemented by also completing our training programs here at The CP Journal to develop a deeper understanding of each piece of the process.

You can download the Deliberate Search Flowchart in our library by clicking here.


 

March 3, 2017

Choosing Your Conversational Style

 

Since getting to present at the 2015 WINx Conference, I’ve really come to appreciate the amount of time and effort that Roy Bethge and Brian Willis put into creating this excellent event each year in Lisle, Illinois. With the goal of helping police officers continually elevate their performance and achieve excellence in their field, the 18-minute long videos on the WINx site are certainly worth the time and attention of law enforcement professionals looking to be inspired. While the 2017 conference is just over a month away, I was recently re-watching the talk above by Chelly Seibert that she gave at the 2016 conference.

In this talk, Seibert highlights the need for police officers to adopt different conversational styles while responding to calls depending on the type of situation they find themselves in. Referring to the different conversational styles as characters to be played, she showed how officers might find themselves portraying one of three characters in any given situation. They might take on the behaviors of “The Enforcer,” “The Compassionate Consoler” or “The Composed Stabilizer” in order to get to a successful outcome in the encounter. By taking the time to consider and develop the ability to display the type of body language, tone of voice, facial expression and other non-verbal and verbal styles of communication to fit your character’s behavior and the situation, you can begin to take control over the way that other people see you.

Before I talk about how these three main characters listed above tie in with our approach to situational awareness, threat recognition and behavior-based conversations, here is how