Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Hello? ...Um, Is anybody in there?" Tactically Clearing a Building Info for Writers


Photo found publicly on FB no attribution
I thought today we could go over room clearing so you writers can write it right. I'm trying to type that with a straight face. 

This is not something that comes naturally, no matter how many times your heroine has watched cops do it on TV. The layperson in your plotline is going to act the fool. Don't believe me?

Rebecca and I tried our best as we trained under Captain Randy Shepherd's patient tutelage. But have we got stories to tell!

So Rebecca - I thought it would be the easiest task in the world: clear an apartment. It didn't even have furniture in it for the bad guy to hide behind. But in actuality, it isn't all that easy is it?

As I remember you died a few times.

Rebecca shooting her paper to death

Rebecca -
Thanks for pointing that out. Four times, if I counted correctly.

I think I have the "what not to do" covered.

Fiona - 

Let's start with - what is room clearing. 

The "room clearing" is the methodical procedure police and military follow to sweep through each room in the building, checking all the nooks and crannies, closets and bathroom showers for bad guys.

Rebecca - 
Our instructor was Captain Randy Shepherd, and he started us off from the perspective of officers responding to a 911 call about a door ajar in the middle of the day.

Of course there can be any number of reasons for that....

So the team that responds comes at it from the position of a threat being on the other side of that door, and they need to not only identify the threat(s) but neutralize it as well protect any victims in danger.

Fiona - 
The team doesn't just burst through the door guns-a blazin' There is prep work outside. 

* They gather what intel they can. 
* They dress in their protective gear including kevlar - with
* They choose their weapons 
* They try to get an idea about what the inside layout of the floor
   plan might be.
* They discuss their strategy.

Now, if this is law enforcement, one person is in charge and will signal his team what to do. The team needs to trust the skill level of their fellow team mates. I think Randy got shot in the head once - but he said it was only a flesh wound. Fingers off the triggers folks!

Fiona - 
Luckily, for our training exercise  we were using a little rubber gun so no harm no foul - how about I buy you a drink?

So there we were on a four man team. As the lead decides it's time to go in, she signals her intent.

This is the standard hand signal poster. I'm providing it for your writerly use LINK but please note we were only trying to master three signals - none of which are on this poster. They were: 
a) Crossed fingers for cross over
b) A hooked finger to mean "button hook" or move around the door
   frame and work on the same side of the room
c) Thumbs up means clear.

The leader will make a decision about  how to proceed and use hand signals to communicate this with the team.

Then the lead will bounce (mini-squat). On the third bounce it's a go!

So... we were awful. Some of us laughed hysterically and didn't enter. Some were completely freaked out even though it was an empty apartment, and had a full on anxiety attack/adrenaline dump.

Some were following the squats and hooks and still got shot in the head. Rebecca would you like to talk about why someone might get shot while clearing a room?

Rebecca - 
Let's see.... the FIRST time I was shot was when I went charging across the room to clear a closet for my partner... and didn't notice the first perp standing right by the door. Bam.

The SECOND bullet I took was when I cleared the first closet in the room, and turned around to see a scary bathroom shower at my back. Bam.

After that, I decided to sit back and let another pair take the lead.
I felt a headache coming on....

The THIRD bullet to my head at the building search exercise was when I was moving aside to open a door for another on my team... at which point I looked over my shoulder to the "bad guy" hiding in the pantry with her gun trained on me.

The four of us in our group were a bit slow in figuring out who would take the lead... and once the point person started directing the second with a buttonhook or crisscross gesture, that person missed the cue and things started moving fast.

One of the biggest take homes for me was how FAST the whole process is.

A couple of seconds per room by a team of two, while a second team clears a room across the hall. Perfectly synchronized, deadly, silent.

Fiona - 
My team was extremely cautious, but that's not how it happens in real life. The police don't have the luxury of time. It is very very fast. Point and clear, run forward. 

It would be easy to miss the bad guy huddling in the shadow. Even play acting - it was a nerve racking experience. We knew there were no real bullets or sharp knife points coming at us. The responder on the other hand does not. My respect for law enforcement and our soldiers went up a thousand fold when I tried the apartment clearing exercise.

Photo found publicly on FB no attribution

Fiona (cont)
I was one of the people who got to hide and jump out. I hid behind an open door. One thing that the officers would do is look through crack behind the door to see if someone is there. Now, I stood as close to the doorknob as I could to keep the door jam crack clear of my shadow or my bulk. I killed the chicklet coming around the door - but Randy Shepherd said he always slams the door open. If he was on lead, I'd have a broken nose.

Yay for small favors.

From what we learned clearing as a group with safety equipment - why don't you tell us about how you applied this knowledge when you had an apparent intruder in your garage?

Rebecca -
Ah, the real reason you wanted to do this interview with me!

Can't believe you remembered that... you mean the night I was home alone, my cats were going berserk, and then I heard what sounded like a ceramic planter scraping across the concrete floor of my garage behind me? Oh man.

I must be a cat. Nine lives, I tell ya.

Because four deaths was not enough...

Actually, my daughter was asleep in her room, I wasn't home alone....

I didn't have a weapon handy other than a kubaton on my key ring and a butcher knife in my kitchen, so I grabbed the knife in one hand and had 911 punched in on my phone... and stood just inside with my ear pressed to the door. Duh.

Because there's no way anyone would ever burst through the door, right?

No sounds (other than my head throbbing with my heart), and I decided it would be brilliant to use the element of surprise and throw the door open!

Of course, that was after I flipped on the light behind me in the doorway. It wasn't until I stood silhouetted in the doorway, looking into the pitch black garage while holding a butcher knife, that it occurred to me I probably shouldve made some different decisions...

Fiona - 
Wow! Rebecca how'd that work out for you? LOL
From your TRAINING what might you have done differently if you actually wanted to live through the experience?

Rebecca - 
Graphic found publicly on FB no attribution

I should have stood to the side of the doorframe (a la WPA building search).

And I should have been wearing Randy's Kevlar vest...

Or a helmet...

A shield....

A team of four trained officers to shove me aside and take over....

Fiona -
Yes, please.

Okay, lets actually talk about that. You have training. You're a smart girl. You did everything wrong. From a real life perspective walk me through your thought process and why you did so many stupid things?

(PS readers - Rebecca is a very dear friend - so I can tell her the truth here - as a matter of fact, I yelled at her about all of this)

Rebecca - 
You're lucky I love you so much.

The goal was to defend my home and my daughter against someone who'd snuck into my garage.

The only weapon I could think of was a kitchen knife. So I ran back to the kitchen, grabbed my butcher knife, and then stood just inside the door to listen.


The cats had been acting strange, so I really was worried someone had come in the side door (which is right next to my kiddo's window where she was sleeping).

I knew from WPA that I had to move fast, so no slowly creaking door opening.

... I knew I had to open the door fast. Of course, I threw it open without thinking about the lighting situation. The light overhead did nothing to illuminate the shadows in the garage, and as soon as I flung that door open I realized I was a sitting duck.

Dumb dumb dumb.

I had my phone ready to go, but I didn't want to bother the police.

In hindsight, I could've called, a unit might've come by, we would've chatted for ten minutes, and my address would be reason for a few laughs down the line. No harm, no foul, as you say, Fiona.

But, I believed it was nothing really, and so I decided to handle it myself.

Thank God it was nothing more than one of the killer palmetto bugs.  (Those suckers are BIG! Don't laugh til you've come face to face with 'em.)

Fiona -
Let me just interject here that Rebecca is not faint of heart
You can read about how she jumped out of a plane HERE

In hindsight - and in preparation for your next bug-in-the-garage scenario - how do you plan to handle this next time?

Make a plan, practice the plan, execute the plan (good tactical living)

Rebecca -
Since then, I've been working on becoming a harder target: trimming trees and shrubs back from the outside of my house in preparation for activating the alarm system (yes, the peace of mind is worth the cost).

And since then, I've been attending the local PD's citizen's training academy, which has been a great experience on so many levels -- not the least of which is that I'd feel much more comfortable calling for an officer in a similar situation.

(You just had to toss out the skydiving video, did ya? Just wait -- I'll get you up there some day.)

Fiona -
Only if I am just coming out of surgery and still highly sedated.

Rebecca -
That can be arranged!

Fiona - 
The sky is def, my limit.

Okay folks you want to see for yourselves? Repetition Repetition Repetition. Get it right, or you die. 

Video Quick Study (3:57) SWAT UK training.
Video Quick Study (5:21) Clearing your home by yourself
Video Study (14:50)  Husband and wife training for home invasion. See just how hard it is - even with your hero/heroine trained - to function in a high adrenaline/high stress scenario.

To learn more about Randy Shepherd:
* Go HERE for Sniper
* Go HERE for Breech entry with explosives

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

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