Playing Well With Others

National security concerns about terrorist attacks may be the motivator, but joint training exercises will yield tangible benefits every day on the street.


If you do joint training, you will find that it can be very useful--and very revealing. Different groups have different strengths. For example, in my experience, law enforcement officers have better people skills and are better teachers than firefighters. After all, officers have to deal with people all day, every day. Firefighters deal mostly with equipment. But firefighters are vastly better at organizing and coordinating a team effort and managing complex scenes. Cops spend most of their time operating solo or in pairs; firefighters almost never do.

To make joint training work well, you need to spend time upfront planning and time afterward reviewing how things went. Three keys to a successful exercise are

  • Joint planning
  • Joint supervision
  • Separate and joint after-action review

Joint Planning

If you are planning a joint training with, say, EMS, first find out who your counterpart is in the EMS training unit. Call him or her up and suggest an informal meeting over coffee. See if there is any interest in doing some joint training. If there is, explore the kinds of training you see as being needed in both agencies. You may find that your varied perspectives will make it easier to see training "holes." Identify some common goals and figure out specific objectives for each agency. Then build a scenario around those goals and objectives. For example, let's say you decide that the police need more work on rendering first aid to injured crime victims and that the EMS providers need work on how to treat patients without messing up crime scenes unnecessarily. Any number of scenarios could be built around those goals: a domestic battery, a convenience-store armed robbery involving an attack on the clerk, or a sexual assault, to name a few.

Be sure to identify specific training objectives for both agencies, and tie them into agency training curricula. Then develop the scenario. Always start with the goals and objectives, then build the scenario to fit. Work to put together a joint training proposal that explains the value of the training for both agencies and clearly identifies the responsibilities of each agency in organizing and executing the training. Joint training may require more complicated and formal layers of approval than internal training.

Joint Supervision

Remember those unfortunate turf wars I mentioned earlier? Don't let your training exercise become a battleground. Be sure everyone understands the roles members of each agency are to play, then use the Incident Command System (ICS) on training day. If you are scratching your head trying to remember what ICS is, there's an opportunity to learn something from the hose jockeys--the fire service has been using ICS for years. Use of ICS is mandated under the National Incident Management System, but law enforcement agencies have often lagged behind in learning and using it on a daily basis, in part because most law enforcement calls are routinely handled by one or two officers. If it's only you and your partner, you don't really need to designate an Incident Commander. And NIMS training can be some of the dullest, most tedious classroom training imaginable. You know it's going to be a challenge when the federal government's own online training program acknowledges the need to include a hypertext glossary of acronyms!

Joint operations, however, are exactly where ICS excels, because the command structure depends on function, not rank. You don't need to try to figure out if a Precinct Captain outranks a Battalion Chief or vice versa--the chain of command flows from the standard roles and responsibilities involved in managing the incident. Be sure that the overall Incident Command for the training day includes a representative from each agency involved ("unified command" in ICS jargon). You don't want conflicting orders confusing things, nor do you want participants to be able to "shop" for a supervisor who will give the answer they want.

Separate and Joint After-Action Review

A critical part of making joint training useful is conducting an after-action review to identify what went well, what didn't go so well, and what could be done differently in the future. It's a good idea when you're doing joint training to have each agency debrief separately first, and then come together to look at the incident jointly. No one likes to air their dirty laundry in public. Let each participating agency figure out their own screw-ups first. It's a lot less painful to volunteer your own shortcomings to the group rather than have them pointed out by others. The longstanding friendly rivalries between different agencies and sectors in emergency services reflect deep pride. Offering an opportunity first for separate debriefing helps minimize bruised egos and facilitates later problem-solving.

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