Street Survival II: Chapter 13 Excerpt

In the Fight: Stress, surprise, & performance

By Calibre Press  |   Nov 27, 2018

“You have to be ready for when the day chooses you!”

St. Paul, MN Officer Brian Wanschura

One night in California, two officers on stakeout were sitting in their patrol car chatting quietly to while-away the dragging hours. In the darkness, a man silently crept up from behind, leveled a .30 cal. carbine at their back window, and carefully drew a bead on one officer’s head. Without a word, he racked a round into the chamber and pulled the trigger. Bullets shattered through the rear window glass.

To the offender’s astonishment, neither officer was hit. Both had put into practice what should be a rule of gunfighting: Don’t be there when the bullets show up.

At the split-second sound of the rifle being racked, without exchanging a word or a glance, each had instantly dived below the line of fire, flung open his door, and rolled out of the patrol car to a position of cover all in one pre-practiced, fluid motion. By the time their would-be killer absorbed what had happened, he was on the receiving end of their fire.

Lag Time

Lag time is the delay that’s involved while your senses perceive danger then transmit the alarm to your brain. Your brain decides what you should do and then relays the message to the part of your body it wants to react, and then you actually respond.

This process takes longer when you are distracted, unprepared, or inattentive at the moment of the threat. Your brain must first be called back from wherever it has wandered and change gears before it can evaluate the alarm and dispatch a reactive message. This lag time can be considerably extended if your first response is to panic. Uncontrolled panic most often leads to one of two things: an underreaction or an overreaction.  Neither of these is effective in the moment.  As pointed out by ambush survivor Officer Dan King, “When the moment comes, don’t panic, and if you do recognize you have panicked, get it back! If we don’t control our minds our bodies can’t perform.”

Understanding and Responding to Stress

The Street Survival Seminar has evolved drastically over the years.  In its current form, the foundation of survival—on and off duty—begins with an understanding of stress.  The inability to deal with stress, both sudden onset stress experienced in an event and the chronic stress that officers live with to some degree 24/7, is what really kills cops.

For our purposes here in this book, let’s address sudden onset stress (often referred to as acute stress) that officers experience during a high-pressure single event.

Being ill-prepared mentally.  Lacking confidence in your physical skills. Lacking exposure to or an understanding of sudden onset stress often causes a maladaptive response.

Walter Bradford Cannon is credited with the first real investigation of hyperarousal or the acute stress response in humans.  Simply put, it is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to an attack or perceived threat.  Studying animals, he deduced that they react to threats by activating the sympathetic nervous system, preparing to fight or flee. Thus the term Fight or Flight.

Cannon’s theory has been accepted scientifically for over 100 years.  While some quibble with the semantics and add different stages to the response options, the general theory is widely recognized as being accurate.

Back to the maladaptive response issue.

Under high-stress events, those who are unfamiliar with and/or unprepared for such an incident will break from what nature expects.  And instead of fleeing, a person may simply freeze in place, making them easy targets, unable to cognitively process or even defend adequately.  At the other end of the spectrum under high-stress, instead of simply fighting to survive the moment some people experience what Calibre Press refers to as hyper-fight.  Instead of fighting to survive, officers may harshly overreact and behave outside of community expectations and even legal conventions.  When in hyper-fight mode officers may shoot without legal justification, punch, kick and strike excessively, use a barrage of foul profanities, and issue orders that are inappropriate and patently illegal.

There is an old saying in police training: The body will not go where the mind has never been.  This means that if a person has never experienced, contemplated, visualized, practiced a situation or an event, and suddenly they are faced with it in real life, there will be hesitation while the brain attempts to process.  This could cause a dangerous lag time.

Are you Prepared?

The best opportunity to shorten or eliminate lag time is to prepare, practice, and visualize ahead of time.  If that happens, your brain will be primed to send a “go” signal when the event begins.  You will be ready physically as well as emotionally to handle the danger. Your brain won’t have to think what it will have you do; it will already know. It will be programmed to respond to the perceived need. Your goal should be to train to the point that your reaction to a deadly threat can be as quick and effective as a baseball pitcher catching a line drive hit at his head … and it needs to be!

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Calibre Press has 37 years in the business of keeping officers safer, smarter and more successful, from rookie to retirement.
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