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Ep 49: ASIM Checklist Endorsed as National Standard by NTOA

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Ep 49: ASIM Checklist Endorsed as National Standard by NTOA

SPECIAL EPISODE - We have exciting news on this week's podcast! Our guest is Thor Eells, Executive Director of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). Today, Thor shares the news NTOA is endorsing the C3 Pathways Active Shooter Incident Management Checklist as the national standard of incident management of active shooter events. We discuss the importance of setting national standards for first responder training. Thor also tells us what NTOA is working on, including a neuroplasticity program to help first responders make decisions faster and more accurately while under stress.

Bill Godfrey:

Welcome to the Active Shooter Incident Management Podcast. My name is Bill Godfrey. I'm your podcast host. It has been a minute since the last podcast we've done. I'm excited to be back, but I'm even more excited that we're back with a very special guest today. I would like to introduce you to Thor Eells, the executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, known to our law enforcement audience as the NTOA. Thor, welcome.

Thor Eells:

Thank you very much.

Bill Godfrey:

Hey, before we get going on this, because we probably have some audience members that aren't familiar with NTOA because we have more than just law enforcement. Can you tell us a little bit about the NTOA and its mission and where you guys are going?

Thor Eells:

Absolutely. I appreciate the opportunity to do so. The NTOA is a nonprofit organization we originally created in 1983 by a then-lieutenant with the LA County Sheriff's Department, who was hoping to establish an association for networking information sharing among tactical teams in the United States while they were in their relative infancy and ensuring that through this shared information and knowledge, that it would professionalize this pledging self-discipline within law enforcement.

Over these past decades, this association grown now to roughly 40,000 members with specialties that now include patrol, tactical EMS, crisis negotiations, and corrections. We even now also have membership from fire and EMS as a result of the whole development of rescue task forces and the need, with these new emerging threats, for all of these disciplines to be able to work and collaborate together in critical incidents for successful outcomes. We teach roughly 200 classes a year. We have taught all over the world, and we have membership from five continents. So it has grown exponentially since the founder, John Coleman, first created the association.

Bill Godfrey:

Wow. That's fascinating. I didn't realize that you guys had formed back in 1983. That is pretty amazing. I'm so excited to hear you talk about the fire/EMS membership and the pursuit of rescue task force. Obviously we're going to talk about that a little bit today, but we've got a big announcement to offer today. You want to go ahead and break the news to the audience?

Thor Eells:

Well, happy to. We are extremely excited to be able to enter into this collaborative agreement with C3 Pathways and the endorsement and the creation of a lot of information sharing between our two entities, but particularly as it pertains to the active assailant/active shooter checklist. I think that this is really a very important and potentially impactful partnership in helping those first responders that are tasked with a very, very difficult job in making good decisions in a time-compressed and stressful environment. So I think this is just the beginning of many good things to come between our two companies and associations.

Bill Godfrey:

I think it's wonderful. I'm so very excited to have you guys recognize the checklist and endorse it as a national standard. I'm just blown away and so humbled by that, along with the rest of the C3 team and the instructors that have been doing training for years. It's an interesting phenomenon. We've been using the checklist and training for over 10 years now and have some 3,000 different agencies from law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency management across the country that are using it.

But this is the first time that we've actually had a national standard-setting bodies such as yourself. For those not on the law enforcement side, NTOA is essentially to law enforcement, what the NFPA, the National Fire Protection Association is to the fire department in being able to set the standards and set national standards. We are just so honored to have you guys recognize that and endorse it.

I think it's a really big deal. I've obviously been gone from active duty for a little bit now, but it always made me more comfortable as a responder when I knew that the process or the procedure that I was following was a national standard. It wasn't just something we thunk up on the spot. How does that sit with you, because I know you guys got into writing the standards for originally the tactical team, the SWAT teams years ago, and it's branched much beyond that. Thor, where do you think the importance of those national standards sit with responders?

Thor Eells:

Well, I think they're more important today than they ever have been. I don't think you have to look very far in the news or elsewhere, your local legislators, to recognize that there is a loud human cry for standards, for some benchmark that our communities and our citizens that we serve are able to look to, to be able to better gauge, are we doing what we're supposed to do when we're supposed to do it.

We talk about transparency in these things that everyone is calling for, but if they don't have something to really look at and against, it's difficult. Let's face it. If we're going very frank and honest, many of us in law enforcement and our brothers and sisters in fire and EMS get frustrated at much of the criticism that's directed our way because there's this perceived bias and/or there's this willful proliferation of misinformation, etc.

But once we calm down and we get past the emotional aspect of that, and we really begin to take a hard look at it, what we realize is, well, there's really not much information out there. I had a very good friend of mine share with me once, this old adage of "If you don't tell your story, somebody else will, and you may not like it."

Bill Godfrey:

Oh, boy, is that true.

Thor Eells:

It's so true. So for us to be able to set standards that we ourselves have taken the time to objectively and very deliberately find the best minds, the best experience from all these disciplines, fire, EMS, and law enforcement, and look at our roles and our responsibilities in these critical incidents and have them provide the input on what the priorities should be, when and where we should be doing certain things when and where we shouldn't be doing other things, and then establishing a standard like that, that then can be converted into a template and/or roadmap, which enhances the probabilities of success instead of allowing just fate to determine the outcome, is exactly what we should be doing.

So we, too, like you, are extremely humbled and quite honestly honored to be part of putting such a high quality, high caliber product out there to enhance our first responders' capabilities. It's really exciting to see the impact that this is likely to have.

Bill Godfrey:

I completely agree with you on everything you said. I think the other thing that can have really significant value to the standards is the ability to normalize the terminology because sometimes it sounds stupid. But boy, in emergency and in a crisis, when people are speaking different languages and different terminologies, it can really get in the way.

The classic example of this, of course, in our business for the last, I don't know, 40 years now has been the use of 10 codes and signals day to day. But when you start to get multiple agencies together, nobody uses the same codes. The next thing you know, you've got confusion over what's going on. So standardizing that terminology.

The other piece of this that just seems so incredibly important to me is when you have one of these horrible events and they are always tragic, even the ones that have the best outcomes are still horrible and tragic. When you have these events, you're going to have people responding and showing up on your scene to be part of that response that you've never met, you've never trained with. They may be from agencies you hadn't even heard of, especially from some of the federal law enforcement agencies that don't typically have a high profile. But if they're in the area, they will show up to help. If you don't have everybody on the same page, what's that going to look like?

Thor Eells:

Well, I absolutely agree with you, Bill. I think we know, unfortunately, through some very hard and difficult lessons learned from these tragedies. I could not echo your perspective of all of these are tragic, and we want to do our best to not repeat mistakes. Yet, we find that one of the most common mistakes is lack of communication, lack of understanding. To your point, whether it's 10 code or signals or different things, it's like speaking different languages.

There's a reason that in air travel, English was selected as the single language that all airlines will use when they speak to air traffic control, so that there is consistent verbiage, terminology, etc that's being utilized, which mitigates the potential for misunderstanding and error and then outcome. We should be equally committed to ensuring that in critical incidents, knowing, to your point, that there will be multiple agencies interfacing with one another, that we are not adding to the complexity of a problem, but doing everything we can to further simplify it and then make better decisions leading to the more optimal outcome.

Bill Godfrey:

Boy, we are completely on the same page there. Way back when, and I know I've shared this with you previously, but for the benefit of the audience, way back when, the origin story of this checklist came from a training experience we had where things just were not going very well in the exercises. We did an analysis after the fact and said, "What's going on here?" We tried and experimented with a couple different things.

Lo and behold, we found that changing up the way we were doing things and changing the order in which we were doing things suddenly had this huge impact. I don't mean like one or two minutes. I'm talking 15 to 20 minutes faster getting patients off the scene of one of these events. We realized that there's fundamentally two huge problems, two huge gaps that have been left because so much of the active threat, active shooter, active assailant training over the years that's been done has been focused on stopping the threat and obviously a critical part of the response. But very, very little of that training covered anything past stopping the threat.

As a result, what we realized was we've got an integration problem, meaning law enforcement agencies working with other law enforcement agencies that they don't normally work with day to day, wasn't terribly comfortable. It wasn't really clear how we were supposed to do that and how we were supposed to integrate those together. That compounded when we looked at law enforcement and fire/EMS working together. I realize that sounds a little silly because a lot of times, we're responding to same calls day in, day out. Car accidents, things like this.

But that's a different type of response and it's a different type of you and I working together. Whereas in the case of an active shooter, you and I become part of the same team. It's not like on the structure fire where you're holding the perimeter and I'm going in on the hose line with a bunch of firefighters. It'd be like you being on the hose line with us, and we have to rely on each other. We have to know what we're doing and have that model for how to work together, what I like to call the integration problem.

Then the other problem that became horribly apparent is that the order in which you do things or don't do things really can impact very negatively, how long it takes to get things done, how long it takes to neutralize a threat, how long it takes to get to the injured, get them off the scene and get them transported to a hospital. What we classically call the clock problem. How does that fit with your read of what you've seen going on over the years? Because I know NTOA has been part of active shooter training certainly since Columbine, but I think you guys were doing some stuff before then, too, weren't you?

Thor Eells:

Well, yes. We were really very innovative, instrumental in evaluating tactics for quite a number of years. Once the tragedy of Columbine began to unfold before our eyes, it was within days that the NTOA had developed a active shooter training program. We completely revamped our perspective on law enforcement's role and what our responsibilities were and things of that nature.

I do agree with you that for a long time, we had probably a disproportionate emphasis on this "address the threat" versus a more balanced approach of consideration. Okay, yes, we do need to neutralize the threat unquestionably, but there is more than one way to neutralize the threat. You can neutralize the threat by removing potential victims and not ever fire a shot or actively engage the threat. So there are different ways to approach the problem.

What I think has really encouraging to see is the dialogue, the communication, the cooperation between fire, EMS, and law enforcement in recognizing that each of our responsibilities is not in conflict. In fact, they're really singular in nature, which is our primary goal is to save lives-

Bill Godfrey:

Yes.

Thor Eells:

... for all three of those specific responding entities. So we have a duty morally and ethically to find out how we're going to assist one another in being successful in doing that, and doing it in a manner in which we're not unwittingly, unknowingly creating difficulties. So we have to anticipate when we push a domino, is it interfere your dominoes or others that cause problem?

I think we've done a very, very good job of improving with unfortunately, each of these incidents in an after-action analysis. We've gotten better and better. But to circle back around, the checklist is a compilation of that. It really is a huge, huge tool in helping ensure that we don't go out and reinvent the wheel in a negative manner. We don't go out and repeat these mistakes, albeit noble effort on our part. If we're still repeating mistakes that we need not be repeating, it's still unnecessary. The checklist really does a lot in helping that.

Law enforcement has been fractured for years. By that, there are over 18,000 police departments in America and a little over 3,000 sheriff's departments and an unknown but significant number of federal partners involved in this equation. There's really very few standards. So there are a lot of ways of doing things when you bring two law enforcement agencies. They say city police department and a county sheriff's department. If they don't have that commonality in purpose and in function and in terminology and in tactics and familiarity, and then you add other partners to that, it makes it very, very difficult to be successful.

You mentioned something about time, fighting the clock. Within the NTOA, we make a big point of trying to get people to appreciate that there's this good time and then there is bad time. In an active shooter scenario, the second the shooting starts, we're in bad time. We now have a responsibility to interrupt that cycle and get it into good time. Good time being the time in which law enforcement, fire, EMS is using to gain a tactical advantage to reduce the potential for serious injury or death and to save lives.

Right now, when there's not an incident unfolding, we're in good time. So now is when fire, EMS, and law enforcement should be working together, speaking together, training together, functioning together as much as we can in anticipation of critical incidents, so that when we do come together, many of those problems don't even exist because we've already forecasted them, addressed them, and eliminated from the possibility of occurrence, through preparation and planning.

Bill Godfrey:

Yeah, and the all-important training and retraining. I ran some numbers here. This was actually just a few months ago. I was talking with somebody and it struck me. It's a little bit different all over the country where you are, but for the most part in public safety, it's 25 years of active duty before you retire out. There's just, at a certain point, a certain age, it's hard for the bodies to keep up with the physical demands of the job. So typical is 25 years and out.

So if you factor in your attrition from retirement, from full career retirement, your attrition from some people who just leave the business for whatever reasons, your attrition for promotions and moving up or moving to different agencies, I was estimating that every police department sheriff's office, fire department, EMS agency, everybody out there is turning over somewhere around 7% of their workforce every year.

So when you think about that and the importance of staying frosty on your Active Shooter Incident Management training, it is a never ending task to constantly be training the new people, coming back around, training the new supervisors and providing that ongoing refresher so that the retention is there as well, because it's not like you can do it one time in your career and hold onto it for 25 years. It just doesn't work like that.

Thor Eells:

Absolutely. That's very well said. That's really a very interesting number to hear. I had not heard anything like that before, but yeah, close to 10% of your workforce at any point in time is being new or unfamiliar. It would make sense that you would want be in a continual training cycle to develop the skill set necessary to function well. But I think unfortunately, as recent events have demonstrated to us in a number of occasions, that simply training alone does not equate to competency and proficiency.

Bill Godfrey:

Oh, yes. Correct. Absolutely.

Thor Eells:

We have even a greater obligation to be focused on the quality of our training as well as the critical feedback of our training is never be complacent, never settle for good enough. The standard that I tend to profess to people is any time you run through an evolution of something, if this were real, and it was your family involved, would you be comfortable with it?

Bill Godfrey:

That's a-

Thor Eells:

Every time.

Bill Godfrey:

That's a good benchmark. To me, one of the most critical components of the training that we do, the after shooter incident management training that we do, is the fact that we make people practice. For example, our advanced class is three days long. They're running 11 scenarios from dispatch to last patient transported. Those scenarios increase in difficulty. They increase in the numbers of shooters, the numbers of injured, all of those things, but it builds and there's repetition. Everybody rotates through the different jobs.

So over the course of that three days, you get to practice. The simple analogy, and it's over-simplification, but for purposes of illustration, you're not going to get to the Super Bowl by practicing one time. You got to do it over and over and over again.

Thor Eells:

Right.

Bill Godfrey:

I think it's hard, today's day and age. Law enforcement, fire, EMS, the number of training requirements just keeps going up and up and up. But the ability to come off the road long enough to do your training is severely limited.

Thor Eells:

It's going the opposite direction. So as staffing through recruiting and retention is negatively impacted, the availability of personnel to attend training, and yet to meet your day-to-day obligations of service in any one of the disciplines of police, fire, or EMS, is tough. You could not have said it better.

There are more competing interests in training today than ever before. It's easy to blame a chief or saying no to this and yes to that, etc-

Bill Godfrey:

Yes.

Thor Eells:

... without really fully appreciating all the different tasks that they have been given and ordered to have accomplished within said period of time.

Bill Godfrey:

Yeah. I don't know any chief that would actually say, "Yeah, I've got the time and money to get that training done. I just don't care enough to do it."

Thor Eells:

Correct.

Bill Godfrey:

That's just not what goes on.

Thor Eells:

No, it isn't. They're an easy scapegoat, but I have a pet peeve with regard to that whole thing, which is, well, we have to do more with less. Unfortunately, that has become so commonplace in our vernacular in this day and age, we've almost arrived at a point where we're beginning to either believe it or try to believe it. I'm constantly trying to argue that don't settle for that. Recognize there is one thing you can do with less and that's less.

You can go talk to the most brilliant people on the planet, work whatever mathematical statistical formula you want or otherwise, that you can do one thing with less and that's less. The question then becomes, what do you want to do less of? Do you want less quantity? Do you want less quality? Or do you want less of both? But it'll be one of those three, but nonetheless, it will be less.

That is something we have to be very cognizant of and do our utmost in safeguarding again, in recognizing if our training time is limited, then we need to prioritize it. We need to be very careful about recognizing what is most important. At the end of the day, no one has any problem with arriving at agreements that saving lies is at the top of the list. So when we have to pick and choose, we need to be mindful of that.

Bill Godfrey:

I completely agree with you. I think the other piece of that as a former fire chief, you're always having to make compromises. That's part of the job. Goes with the territory. If you're not willing to do that, then the job's not for you. You got to make decisions. You have to prioritize. You have to compromise. But I think the other piece of that, you also have to inform your boss, your city manager, your county manager, the mayor, your elected officials.

You have to say, "Look, here's what we're doing. This is good. Here's what we're not doing because we can't do this. We don't have this, we don't have that. I don't expect you to act on it. I just want you to understand that. Do you have any questions about what we are, or we're not doing and why?"

I think that that's something that often we forget to close the loop with the leadership to say, "We've got 1,000 hours of training requirements to fit into 120 hour bag. Something's not going to get done."

Thor Eells:

Right.

Bill Godfrey:

"Here's where we're at this year." You make those compromises. Yeah. It's a tough gig. Well, Thor, we're coming up on the end of our time. I am just so excited and so appreciative for what you're doing and the NTOA and just the support that you guys are throwing our way. What lies ahead for the NTOA? Anything coming up that you want to tease or talk about?

Thor Eells:

Well, yeah, we have several projects that we're working on that we're very, very excited about. One of our passions is in recognizing these critical incidents and what we train for is optimal performance in these incidents, is how do we assist in accomplishing that and ensuring that? While the ability to perform skills is important, we really believe that the crux to a successful and positive outcome is in decision-making.

So we focused a lot lately on a program called brain science. It is a neuroscience, neuroplasticity program that helps people in any one of these disciplines (fire, EMS, police) be able to make decisions faster, more accurately under stress. So we're spending a lot of time looking at that and developing that and getting that pushed out into the field. We're very, very excited about that program.

Bill Godfrey:

That's so fascinating. We just recently, three or four months ago, recently added a module to the Active Shooter Incident Management advanced class on managing cognitive overload to avoid getting into cognitive lock. It's been fascinating to see that. The very first time we talked about it, we talked about it first thing in the morning on day one. We realized that was a terrible mistake.

So then we tuned it in and put it right smack in the middle of the class on the afternoon to day two, when everybody was starting to feel that pressure. We've moved on from the simple scenarios. There's some complexity, there's difficulty, there's a lot of decisions to be made, a lot of cross-communication and it's very easy to get into cognitive overload.

It's been a fascinating conversation to have with responders and talk about what that feels like and some of the coping mechanisms to recognize it in yourself, to recognize it in others and how to avoid the edge. I'd love to compare notes with you at some point on that.

Thor Eells:

Yeah, I'm super excited about this. I think it's just amazing in my research and looking at it. I have a son that works in special operations as a pilot, and he was the one that really helped turn me onto this a little bit. But our US Special Operations Command has adopted this and is using it wholesale. But perhaps a better example of the utility of this is professional sports are using this. Major League Baseball, the NFL, other sports.

But probably the best example that I could use to endorse it, so to speak, would be Tom Brady has been using this for about three or four years. Many people would say that he's playing better now than he's ever been. He himself would say that. In fact, in one of his, I think interviews, he even mentioned that he's been using this type of training. It allows him to break a huddle and now more accurately, and with greater speed, assess the play that was called in the huddle versus what the defense is presenting to them, and then how to make the audibles to adjust, to exploit any potential weakness of that defense versus what they have, in terms of player packages, etc.

When you think about it, the football game is still 60 minutes long. The play clock has not changed. But he will tell you that he can process much, much more information in a shorter period of time, or at least the staying period of time, as he did before. That's what's led to is improved performance. So I think the ability to take that and adapt it to public safety, fire, EMS and police and maximize the same potential in our performance would be a huge, huge service to our respective communities. So we're very excited about that.

We're also very excited about we have developed public order standards now. So we're all way too familiar with a lot of the civil unrest that has been taking place here recently, resulting in a lot of property damage, a lot of injuries. How do we respond to that? Because what we have learned is that the tactics that we used 50 years ago do not translate to success today.

Just as tactical teams were developed as a response to unique problems, we believe that law enforcement is at a crossroads, where they need to be looking at the creation of public order units and public order teams, which are their own sub specialty within law enforcement and how to interface, act, police, enforce, protect their communities in these environments. So that is probably the other area that we're excited to see, that we can make a difference in improving law enforcement's service to the public.

Bill Godfrey:

Well, and I can tell you from our side, our team is so excited about working with you guys on designing some of the exercise scenarios and the incident management support of that, to be able to exercise that in the class, both in a low fidelity way, and also not to give away the secret, but a very high fidelity way and a very immersive way of putting people in those roles and give them that opportunity that we were talking about earlier of just being able to practice.

Thor Eells:

No doubt.

Bill Godfrey:

Practice a couple different scenarios. Practice a couple different things. We are so excited to be working with your team on that and look forward to many more great things to come. Well, Thor, again, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. I realize some people may be listening to this after the fact. So this is being announced on Tuesday, July 19th in 2022, if you happen to be hearing this podcast after the fact.

But Thor, thank you for being here today. Thank you for the support. We look forward to working with you for years to come, to try to make a difference here for the common good.

Thor Eells:

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here, and I appreciate the opportunity for us to be partnering with you as well. I do believe that this type of collaboration is going to make a difference.

Bill Godfrey:

I agree completely. Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for tuning in. We hope you've enjoyed the podcast. We are going to be back on track in dropping podcasts from a regular basis here moving forward. Look forward to talking to you on the next one. Until then, stay safe.

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Ep 49: ASIM Checklist Endorsed as National Standard by NTOA

SPECIAL EPISODE - We have exciting news on this week's podcast! Our guest is Thor Eells, Executive Director of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). Today, Thor shares the news NTOA is endorsing the C3 Pathways Active Shooter Incident Management Checklist as the national standard of incident management of active shooter events. We discuss the importance of setting national standards for first responder training. Thor also tells us what NTOA is working on, including a neuroplasticity program to help first responders make decisions faster and more accurately while under stress.

Bill Godfrey:

Welcome to the Active Shooter Incident Management Podcast. My name is Bill Godfrey. I'm your podcast host. It has been a minute since the last podcast we've done. I'm excited to be back, but I'm even more excited that we're back with a very special guest today. I would like to introduce you to Thor Eells, the executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, known to our law enforcement audience as the NTOA. Thor, welcome.

Thor Eells:

Thank you very much.

Bill Godfrey:

Hey, before we get going on this, because we probably have some audience members that aren't familiar with NTOA because we have more than just law enforcement. Can you tell us a little bit about the NTOA and its mission and where you guys are going?

Thor Eells:

Absolutely. I appreciate the opportunity to do so. The NTOA is a nonprofit organization we originally created in 1983 by a then-lieutenant with the LA County Sheriff's Department, who was hoping to establish an association for networking information sharing among tactical teams in the United States while they were in their relative infancy and ensuring that through this shared information and knowledge, that it would professionalize this pledging self-discipline within law enforcement.

Over these past decades, this association grown now to roughly 40,000 members with specialties that now include patrol, tactical EMS, crisis negotiations, and corrections. We even now also have membership from fire and EMS as a result of the whole development of rescue task forces and the need, with these new emerging threats, for all of these disciplines to be able to work and collaborate together in critical incidents for successful outcomes. We teach roughly 200 classes a year. We have taught all over the world, and we have membership from five continents. So it has grown exponentially since the founder, John Coleman, first created the association.

Bill Godfrey:

Wow. That's fascinating. I didn't realize that you guys had formed back in 1983. That is pretty amazing. I'm so excited to hear you talk about the fire/EMS membership and the pursuit of rescue task force. Obviously we're going to talk about that a little bit today, but we've got a big announcement to offer today. You want to go ahead and break the news to the audience?

Thor Eells:

Well, happy to. We are extremely excited to be able to enter into this collaborative agreement with C3 Pathways and the endorsement and the creation of a lot of information sharing between our two entities, but particularly as it pertains to the active assailant/active shooter checklist. I think that this is really a very important and potentially impactful partnership in helping those first responders that are tasked with a very, very difficult job in making good decisions in a time-compressed and stressful environment. So I think this is just the beginning of many good things to come between our two companies and associations.

Bill Godfrey:

I think it's wonderful. I'm so very excited to have you guys recognize the checklist and endorse it as a national standard. I'm just blown away and so humbled by that, along with the rest of the C3 team and the instructors that have been doing training for years. It's an interesting phenomenon. We've been using the checklist and training for over 10 years now and have some 3,000 different agencies from law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency management across the country that are using it.

But this is the first time that we've actually had a national standard-setting bodies such as yourself. For those not on the law enforcement side, NTOA is essentially to law enforcement, what the NFPA, the National Fire Protection Association is to the fire department in being able to set the standards and set national standards. We are just so honored to have you guys recognize that and endorse it.

I think it's a really big deal. I've obviously been gone from active duty for a little bit now, but it always made me more comfortable as a responder when I knew that the process or the procedure that I was following was a national standard. It wasn't just something we thunk up on the spot. How does that sit with you, because I know you guys got into writing the standards for originally the tactical team, the SWAT teams years ago, and it's branched much beyond that. Thor, where do you think the importance of those national standards sit with responders?

Thor Eells:

Well, I think they're more important today than they ever have been. I don't think you have to look very far in the news or elsewhere, your local legislators, to recognize that there is a loud human cry for standards, for some benchmark that our communities and our citizens that we serve are able to look to, to be able to better gauge, are we doing what we're supposed to do when we're supposed to do it.

We talk about transparency in these things that everyone is calling for, but if they don't have something to really look at and against, it's difficult. Let's face it. If we're going very frank and honest, many of us in law enforcement and our brothers and sisters in fire and EMS get frustrated at much of the criticism that's directed our way because there's this perceived bias and/or there's this willful proliferation of misinformation, etc.

But once we calm down and we get past the emotional aspect of that, and we really begin to take a hard look at it, what we realize is, well, there's really not much information out there. I had a very good friend of mine share with me once, this old adage of "If you don't tell your story, somebody else will, and you may not like it."

Bill Godfrey:

Oh, boy, is that true.

Thor Eells:

It's so true. So for us to be able to set standards that we ourselves have taken the time to objectively and very deliberately find the best minds, the best experience from all these disciplines, fire, EMS, and law enforcement, and look at our roles and our responsibilities in these critical incidents and have them provide the input on what the priorities should be, when and where we should be doing certain things when and where we shouldn't be doing other things, and then establishing a standard like that, that then can be converted into a template and/or roadmap, which enhances the probabilities of success instead of allowing just fate to determine the outcome, is exactly what we should be doing.

So we, too, like you, are extremely humbled and quite honestly honored to be part of putting such a high quality, high caliber product out there to enhance our first responders' capabilities. It's really exciting to see the impact that this is likely to have.

Bill Godfrey:

I completely agree with you on everything you said. I think the other thing that can have really significant value to the standards is the ability to normalize the terminology because sometimes it sounds stupid. But boy, in emergency and in a crisis, when people are speaking different languages and different terminologies, it can really get in the way.

The classic example of this, of course, in our business for the last, I don't know, 40 years now has been the use of 10 codes and signals day to day. But when you start to get multiple agencies together, nobody uses the same codes. The next thing you know, you've got confusion over what's going on. So standardizing that terminology.

The other piece of this that just seems so incredibly important to me is when you have one of these horrible events and they are always tragic, even the ones that have the best outcomes are still horrible and tragic. When you have these events, you're going to have people responding and showing up on your scene to be part of that response that you've never met, you've never trained with. They may be from agencies you hadn't even heard of, especially from some of the federal law enforcement agencies that don't typically have a high profile. But if they're in the area, they will show up to help. If you don't have everybody on the same page, what's that going to look like?

Thor Eells:

Well, I absolutely agree with you, Bill. I think we know, unfortunately, through some very hard and difficult lessons learned from these tragedies. I could not echo your perspective of all of these are tragic, and we want to do our best to not repeat mistakes. Yet, we find that one of the most common mistakes is lack of communication, lack of understanding. To your point, whether it's 10 code or signals or different things, it's like speaking different languages.

There's a reason that in air travel, English was selected as the single language that all airlines will use when they speak to air traffic control, so that there is consistent verbiage, terminology, etc that's being utilized, which mitigates the potential for misunderstanding and error and then outcome. We should be equally committed to ensuring that in critical incidents, knowing, to your point, that there will be multiple agencies interfacing with one another, that we are not adding to the complexity of a problem, but doing everything we can to further simplify it and then make better decisions leading to the more optimal outcome.

Bill Godfrey:

Boy, we are completely on the same page there. Way back when, and I know I've shared this with you previously, but for the benefit of the audience, way back when, the origin story of this checklist came from a training experience we had where things just were not going very well in the exercises. We did an analysis after the fact and said, "What's going on here?" We tried and experimented with a couple different things.

Lo and behold, we found that changing up the way we were doing things and changing the order in which we were doing things suddenly had this huge impact. I don't mean like one or two minutes. I'm talking 15 to 20 minutes faster getting patients off the scene of one of these events. We realized that there's fundamentally two huge problems, two huge gaps that have been left because so much of the active threat, active shooter, active assailant training over the years that's been done has been focused on stopping the threat and obviously a critical part of the response. But very, very little of that training covered anything past stopping the threat.

As a result, what we realized was we've got an integration problem, meaning law enforcement agencies working with other law enforcement agencies that they don't normally work with day to day, wasn't terribly comfortable. It wasn't really clear how we were supposed to do that and how we were supposed to integrate those together. That compounded when we looked at law enforcement and fire/EMS working together. I realize that sounds a little silly because a lot of times, we're responding to same calls day in, day out. Car accidents, things like this.

But that's a different type of response and it's a different type of you and I working together. Whereas in the case of an active shooter, you and I become part of the same team. It's not like on the structure fire where you're holding the perimeter and I'm going in on the hose line with a bunch of firefighters. It'd be like you being on the hose line with us, and we have to rely on each other. We have to know what we're doing and have that model for how to work together, what I like to call the integration problem.

Then the other problem that became horribly apparent is that the order in which you do things or don't do things really can impact very negatively, how long it takes to get things done, how long it takes to neutralize a threat, how long it takes to get to the injured, get them off the scene and get them transported to a hospital. What we classically call the clock problem. How does that fit with your read of what you've seen going on over the years? Because I know NTOA has been part of active shooter training certainly since Columbine, but I think you guys were doing some stuff before then, too, weren't you?

Thor Eells:

Well, yes. We were really very innovative, instrumental in evaluating tactics for quite a number of years. Once the tragedy of Columbine began to unfold before our eyes, it was within days that the NTOA had developed a active shooter training program. We completely revamped our perspective on law enforcement's role and what our responsibilities were and things of that nature.

I do agree with you that for a long time, we had probably a disproportionate emphasis on this "address the threat" versus a more balanced approach of consideration. Okay, yes, we do need to neutralize the threat unquestionably, but there is more than one way to neutralize the threat. You can neutralize the threat by removing potential victims and not ever fire a shot or actively engage the threat. So there are different ways to approach the problem.

What I think has really encouraging to see is the dialogue, the communication, the cooperation between fire, EMS, and law enforcement in recognizing that each of our responsibilities is not in conflict. In fact, they're really singular in nature, which is our primary goal is to save lives-

Bill Godfrey:

Yes.

Thor Eells:

... for all three of those specific responding entities. So we have a duty morally and ethically to find out how we're going to assist one another in being successful in doing that, and doing it in a manner in which we're not unwittingly, unknowingly creating difficulties. So we have to anticipate when we push a domino, is it interfere your dominoes or others that cause problem?

I think we've done a very, very good job of improving with unfortunately, each of these incidents in an after-action analysis. We've gotten better and better. But to circle back around, the checklist is a compilation of that. It really is a huge, huge tool in helping ensure that we don't go out and reinvent the wheel in a negative manner. We don't go out and repeat these mistakes, albeit noble effort on our part. If we're still repeating mistakes that we need not be repeating, it's still unnecessary. The checklist really does a lot in helping that.

Law enforcement has been fractured for years. By that, there are over 18,000 police departments in America and a little over 3,000 sheriff's departments and an unknown but significant number of federal partners involved in this equation. There's really very few standards. So there are a lot of ways of doing things when you bring two law enforcement agencies. They say city police department and a county sheriff's department. If they don't have that commonality in purpose and in function and in terminology and in tactics and familiarity, and then you add other partners to that, it makes it very, very difficult to be successful.

You mentioned something about time, fighting the clock. Within the NTOA, we make a big point of trying to get people to appreciate that there's this good time and then there is bad time. In an active shooter scenario, the second the shooting starts, we're in bad time. We now have a responsibility to interrupt that cycle and get it into good time. Good time being the time in which law enforcement, fire, EMS is using to gain a tactical advantage to reduce the potential for serious injury or death and to save lives.

Right now, when there's not an incident unfolding, we're in good time. So now is when fire, EMS, and law enforcement should be working together, speaking together, training together, functioning together as much as we can in anticipation of critical incidents, so that when we do come together, many of those problems don't even exist because we've already forecasted them, addressed them, and eliminated from the possibility of occurrence, through preparation and planning.

Bill Godfrey:

Yeah, and the all-important training and retraining. I ran some numbers here. This was actually just a few months ago. I was talking with somebody and it struck me. It's a little bit different all over the country where you are, but for the most part in public safety, it's 25 years of active duty before you retire out. There's just, at a certain point, a certain age, it's hard for the bodies to keep up with the physical demands of the job. So typical is 25 years and out.

So if you factor in your attrition from retirement, from full career retirement, your attrition from some people who just leave the business for whatever reasons, your attrition for promotions and moving up or moving to different agencies, I was estimating that every police department sheriff's office, fire department, EMS agency, everybody out there is turning over somewhere around 7% of their workforce every year.

So when you think about that and the importance of staying frosty on your Active Shooter Incident Management training, it is a never ending task to constantly be training the new people, coming back around, training the new supervisors and providing that ongoing refresher so that the retention is there as well, because it's not like you can do it one time in your career and hold onto it for 25 years. It just doesn't work like that.

Thor Eells:

Absolutely. That's very well said. That's really a very interesting number to hear. I had not heard anything like that before, but yeah, close to 10% of your workforce at any point in time is being new or unfamiliar. It would make sense that you would want be in a continual training cycle to develop the skill set necessary to function well. But I think unfortunately, as recent events have demonstrated to us in a number of occasions, that simply training alone does not equate to competency and proficiency.

Bill Godfrey:

Oh, yes. Correct. Absolutely.

Thor Eells:

We have even a greater obligation to be focused on the quality of our training as well as the critical feedback of our training is never be complacent, never settle for good enough. The standard that I tend to profess to people is any time you run through an evolution of something, if this were real, and it was your family involved, would you be comfortable with it?

Bill Godfrey:

That's a-

Thor Eells:

Every time.

Bill Godfrey:

That's a good benchmark. To me, one of the most critical components of the training that we do, the after shooter incident management training that we do, is the fact that we make people practice. For example, our advanced class is three days long. They're running 11 scenarios from dispatch to last patient transported. Those scenarios increase in difficulty. They increase in the numbers of shooters, the numbers of injured, all of those things, but it builds and there's repetition. Everybody rotates through the different jobs.

So over the course of that three days, you get to practice. The simple analogy, and it's over-simplification, but for purposes of illustration, you're not going to get to the Super Bowl by practicing one time. You got to do it over and over and over again.

Thor Eells:

Right.

Bill Godfrey:

I think it's hard, today's day and age. Law enforcement, fire, EMS, the number of training requirements just keeps going up and up and up. But the ability to come off the road long enough to do your training is severely limited.

Thor Eells:

It's going the opposite direction. So as staffing through recruiting and retention is negatively impacted, the availability of personnel to attend training, and yet to meet your day-to-day obligations of service in any one of the disciplines of police, fire, or EMS, is tough. You could not have said it better.

There are more competing interests in training today than ever before. It's easy to blame a chief or saying no to this and yes to that, etc-

Bill Godfrey:

Yes.

Thor Eells:

... without really fully appreciating all the different tasks that they have been given and ordered to have accomplished within said period of time.

Bill Godfrey:

Yeah. I don't know any chief that would actually say, "Yeah, I've got the time and money to get that training done. I just don't care enough to do it."

Thor Eells:

Correct.

Bill Godfrey:

That's just not what goes on.

Thor Eells:

No, it isn't. They're an easy scapegoat, but I have a pet peeve with regard to that whole thing, which is, well, we have to do more with less. Unfortunately, that has become so commonplace in our vernacular in this day and age, we've almost arrived at a point where we're beginning to either believe it or try to believe it. I'm constantly trying to argue that don't settle for that. Recognize there is one thing you can do with less and that's less.

You can go talk to the most brilliant people on the planet, work whatever mathematical statistical formula you want or otherwise, that you can do one thing with less and that's less. The question then becomes, what do you want to do less of? Do you want less quantity? Do you want less quality? Or do you want less of both? But it'll be one of those three, but nonetheless, it will be less.

That is something we have to be very cognizant of and do our utmost in safeguarding again, in recognizing if our training time is limited, then we need to prioritize it. We need to be very careful about recognizing what is most important. At the end of the day, no one has any problem with arriving at agreements that saving lies is at the top of the list. So when we have to pick and choose, we need to be mindful of that.

Bill Godfrey:

I completely agree with you. I think the other piece of that as a former fire chief, you're always having to make compromises. That's part of the job. Goes with the territory. If you're not willing to do that, then the job's not for you. You got to make decisions. You have to prioritize. You have to compromise. But I think the other piece of that, you also have to inform your boss, your city manager, your county manager, the mayor, your elected officials.

You have to say, "Look, here's what we're doing. This is good. Here's what we're not doing because we can't do this. We don't have this, we don't have that. I don't expect you to act on it. I just want you to understand that. Do you have any questions about what we are, or we're not doing and why?"

I think that that's something that often we forget to close the loop with the leadership to say, "We've got 1,000 hours of training requirements to fit into 120 hour bag. Something's not going to get done."

Thor Eells:

Right.

Bill Godfrey:

"Here's where we're at this year." You make those compromises. Yeah. It's a tough gig. Well, Thor, we're coming up on the end of our time. I am just so excited and so appreciative for what you're doing and the NTOA and just the support that you guys are throwing our way. What lies ahead for the NTOA? Anything coming up that you want to tease or talk about?

Thor Eells:

Well, yeah, we have several projects that we're working on that we're very, very excited about. One of our passions is in recognizing these critical incidents and what we train for is optimal performance in these incidents, is how do we assist in accomplishing that and ensuring that? While the ability to perform skills is important, we really believe that the crux to a successful and positive outcome is in decision-making.

So we focused a lot lately on a program called brain science. It is a neuroscience, neuroplasticity program that helps people in any one of these disciplines (fire, EMS, police) be able to make decisions faster, more accurately under stress. So we're spending a lot of time looking at that and developing that and getting that pushed out into the field. We're very, very excited about that program.

Bill Godfrey:

That's so fascinating. We just recently, three or four months ago, recently added a module to the Active Shooter Incident Management advanced class on managing cognitive overload to avoid getting into cognitive lock. It's been fascinating to see that. The very first time we talked about it, we talked about it first thing in the morning on day one. We realized that was a terrible mistake.

So then we tuned it in and put it right smack in the middle of the class on the afternoon to day two, when everybody was starting to feel that pressure. We've moved on from the simple scenarios. There's some complexity, there's difficulty, there's a lot of decisions to be made, a lot of cross-communication and it's very easy to get into cognitive overload.

It's been a fascinating conversation to have with responders and talk about what that feels like and some of the coping mechanisms to recognize it in yourself, to recognize it in others and how to avoid the edge. I'd love to compare notes with you at some point on that.

Thor Eells:

Yeah, I'm super excited about this. I think it's just amazing in my research and looking at it. I have a son that works in special operations as a pilot, and he was the one that really helped turn me onto this a little bit. But our US Special Operations Command has adopted this and is using it wholesale. But perhaps a better example of the utility of this is professional sports are using this. Major League Baseball, the NFL, other sports.

But probably the best example that I could use to endorse it, so to speak, would be Tom Brady has been using this for about three or four years. Many people would say that he's playing better now than he's ever been. He himself would say that. In fact, in one of his, I think interviews, he even mentioned that he's been using this type of training. It allows him to break a huddle and now more accurately, and with greater speed, assess the play that was called in the huddle versus what the defense is presenting to them, and then how to make the audibles to adjust, to exploit any potential weakness of that defense versus what they have, in terms of player packages, etc.

When you think about it, the football game is still 60 minutes long. The play clock has not changed. But he will tell you that he can process much, much more information in a shorter period of time, or at least the staying period of time, as he did before. That's what's led to is improved performance. So I think the ability to take that and adapt it to public safety, fire, EMS and police and maximize the same potential in our performance would be a huge, huge service to our respective communities. So we're very excited about that.

We're also very excited about we have developed public order standards now. So we're all way too familiar with a lot of the civil unrest that has been taking place here recently, resulting in a lot of property damage, a lot of injuries. How do we respond to that? Because what we have learned is that the tactics that we used 50 years ago do not translate to success today.

Just as tactical teams were developed as a response to unique problems, we believe that law enforcement is at a crossroads, where they need to be looking at the creation of public order units and public order teams, which are their own sub specialty within law enforcement and how to interface, act, police, enforce, protect their communities in these environments. So that is probably the other area that we're excited to see, that we can make a difference in improving law enforcement's service to the public.

Bill Godfrey:

Well, and I can tell you from our side, our team is so excited about working with you guys on designing some of the exercise scenarios and the incident management support of that, to be able to exercise that in the class, both in a low fidelity way, and also not to give away the secret, but a very high fidelity way and a very immersive way of putting people in those roles and give them that opportunity that we were talking about earlier of just being able to practice.

Thor Eells:

No doubt.

Bill Godfrey:

Practice a couple different scenarios. Practice a couple different things. We are so excited to be working with your team on that and look forward to many more great things to come. Well, Thor, again, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. I realize some people may be listening to this after the fact. So this is being announced on Tuesday, July 19th in 2022, if you happen to be hearing this podcast after the fact.

But Thor, thank you for being here today. Thank you for the support. We look forward to working with you for years to come, to try to make a difference here for the common good.

Thor Eells:

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here, and I appreciate the opportunity for us to be partnering with you as well. I do believe that this type of collaboration is going to make a difference.

Bill Godfrey:

I agree completely. Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for tuning in. We hope you've enjoyed the podcast. We are going to be back on track in dropping podcasts from a regular basis here moving forward. Look forward to talking to you on the next one. Until then, stay safe.

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