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The Power of Simulation


VR in application at Arlington, Virginia. SOURCE: https://uploadvr.com/military-virtual-training-simulation-summit-arlington-virginia/

I have spent a lot of my younger years working with mental health suffers and what stood out to me the most was the brain's powerful ability to process feelings and events. It is astounding how certain events are able to trigger an individual not only mentally but physically react to a given event simply by how they perceive it in their mind.

This is equally true in the security industry when you are trying to de-escalate a hostile situation , getting that perfect 'money shot' for your surveillance investigation or that academic plotting out different courses of action on a mind map and so on. No one got where they were without the simulated events, exercises and assignments that helped them develop the minimum skill-set required to start their learning journey in the workforce. This blog has been intentionally been put due to an argument that was overheard about the irrelevance of simulations as they do not teach practical skills and that swapping simulations for real exercises would be much better off in the long-term. To these individuals, we put forward these examples.


Firstly, a real exercise might be either too costly or practically impossible to implement such as in the following.

In the Thesis by USMC Major by Michael L. Valenti titled " HE MATTIS WAY OF WAR: AN EXAMINATION OF OPERATIONAL ART IN TASK FORCE 58 AND 1ST MARINE DIVISION ", the Major went to considerable limits to highlight the extent of how General Mattis went to paint a picture of the battlefield when it came to operational planning. Here is an example of what he had to say:


"General Mattis ordered the purchase of over 6,000 Lego blocks to represent each vehicle in the division. Each unit was assigned a color code and their appropriately colored Lego vehicles were mounted on a cardboard plate. The Legos were then placed on a scale terrain model located on the parade deck outside the division headquarters building on Camp Pendleton"


The Mattis Way of War: SOURCE. AMAZON.COM

For Mattis, this was a careful way of planning. Despite having had plenty of training exercises during his decorative career, there is always room to imagine how certain decisions might impact the battlefield. The costing of losing an armoured division is very high not to mentioned human life. This is even more relevant in Naval Warfare. The USS George Bush alone is worth $6.2US Billion and might be worth your investment to see how things might pan out before you move your troops and assets to the front-line.


Secondly, the simulation is relevant to your application. As a student you might not see the benefit of it but some things have been done in training for a very long time and it might not be wise to challenge best practice.


Thirdly,The brain is a powerful tool. use it!

At BCSS, we had an honest discussion among our staff with regards to simulations. We got as far as discussing this issue wit ha couple of registered Psychologists. They simply put it, "You brain is a powerful tool use it". When asked how, they came to the consensus that your brain has an amazing ability to relate certain events to one another and if it happens to come across a mental gap, it can mentally bridge this gap by approximating in order to get from A to B. As demonstrated in the Dry-fire Project demonstrated this on the shooting range just recently (See our previous blogs) as he was mentally able to adapt from shifting to a fake toy gun to a Glock 19! As of today, we have current and ex-mil contacts who rely on toy guns for training as well as instruction.

Without getting side-tracked on the science of why this takes place, certain parts of the brain behave and process information differently in relation to one another. Given the right conditions and circumstance, the brain is able to perceive certain scenarios as real in real application. This is due to experiences being stored in different parts of the brain.


In summary, the frontal cortex is the brain's powerhouse (Hippocampus) and where logical reasoning, the ability to formulate relationships and calculate outcomes resides. The (Amygdala) is the brain's survival center. It is responsible for what we call the "Fight or flight" response and is emotionally driven as opposed to the frontal brain.

What we failing to understand when it comes to simulations is to conduct realistic exercises that utilize both these parts of the brain effectively. Let us take these examples.

If you have ever been in a martial arts or firearms course, try this exercise to see if someone is Amygdala driven Vs. Hippocampus driven. In the first group, the Hippocampus driven person would most likely be focusing on breaking the technique in order to absorb it and think it through. Speed may not necessarily be a priority as long as their primary focus is getting the task done correctly. The other camp has a much different response. They will most likely flinch be it in shooting or when anticipating a strike.

Creating an effective simulation for the security environment is about moving flawlessly between the two parts of the brain as residing in one part can deliver a skewed perception when it comes to context. Dave Spaulding at Handgun Combatives gives the example of a student who would take 3 seconds to de-holster and fire 1 round at the center of his target. When asked why he did it, he raised the fact that it greatly helped his accuracy. Dave's reply was blunt "Well you are gonna be more accurate....and more dead too!".

Hopefully this example illustrates the point. As mentioned earlier, it is practically impossible to simulate an impulse response that is driven by the brain's survival center as the real situation might vary from person to person and security environment to security environment. Creating realistic simulations is the best exposure we can give to our men and women on the front line. By carving the neural pathways into their training early on "Or muscle memory", we are giving them a life saving tool as when they are flooded with adrenaline and stress in the real-world, they will be able to navigate their way out of that situation due to the investment they have put into their training early on.


Chris Sajnog, former Navy Seal Firearms Instructor discusses dry-fire training v.s live-fire training. We asked about his overemphasis on dry-fire, he replied "If you think going to the range and firing rounds at a piece of paper is real...then you are gravely mistaken".


Chris Sijnog: SOURCE: Chrissijnog.com

Obstacles to overcome

Based on our limited experience, the biggest obstacle to simulation is attitude. According to various instructors we have interviewed, there appears to be a theme when it came to dropping old beliefs and trying something new. Subjects need to have a result based approach to problem-solving and a willingness to try out new training routines in order to efficiently execute tasks in the future. It is important to note that technology is ever evolving at such a fast pace and likewise, having negative experiences with a training platform in the past may not be applicable with a more advanced system, especially after feedback is implemented.

Simulation platforms will continue to play a vital role in the security industry and with existing technologies becoming cheaper with age, one can only imagine what training will be like in the course of the next decade.

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