Training at the speed of life - May 2005

RBT Tip of the Month

"Empty" weapons are not "cold" weapons. In many of the instances where people have been injured or killed during Reality Based Training exercises, loaded conventional weapons have somehow found their way into training environments that were presumed "sterile."

One of the ways this type of thing happens is the use of conventional weapons during training exercises where weapons are being pointed at others for the purposes of training simulations. Conventional weapons are often used due to budgetary constraints, where dedicated inert weapons are either not available or not affordable. Other times, careless safety procedures where training participants are made responsible for their own safety inspections are to blame.

In the IALEFI guidelines for simulation training safety, as well as in the book Training at the Speed of Life, it is strongly recommended that unloaded conventional weapons be avoided during simulation training exercises. Simply unloading a weapon does not render it "cold." It is, instead, an unloaded conventional weapon. This might sound like semantics, but it is not. An unloaded conventional weapon is capable of chambering and firing conventional ammunition. A "cold" weapon is not. A "cold" weapon is a conventional weapon that has been temporarily rendered incapable of chambering and firing conventional ammunition.

In order to help you standardize your terminology and improve safety, I offer the following terms:

  • Hot – a conventional weapon capable of firing conventional ammunition
  • Cold – a conventional weapon rendered temporarily incapable of firing any type of ammunition
  • Inert – a solid model of a weapon, or a conventional weapon that has been professionally rendered permanently incapable of firing conventional ammunition
  • NLTA – a weapon specifically designed to fire specialized munitions intended for use during force-on-force Reality Based Training
  • Blank – a weapon specifically designed or professionally converted to fire blank ammunition

The most tragic incidents have been the result of hot weapons inadvertently being confused with other types of weapons. Education and effective safety protocols are essential to avoiding this type of confusion. Improvisation and creativity are double edged swords. They are essential for devising interesting and effective training programs, but when improperly applied by those who do not have the experience necessary to ensure a safe training environment, they have and will continue to prove deadly.

Close Call Corner

A police department was planning a demonstration of training technologies for their administration. The person in charge of organizing the demonstration was unknowledgeable about either the many types of training ammunition available or Reality Based Training safety parameters. The plan was to demonstrate a high risk vehicle stop where the perpetrators were going to exit their vehicle and shoot at the officers stopping them. It was pointed out that the high ranking observers were likely to be in the line of fire of the perpetrators, and after much discussion, the organizer finally agreed to have the perpetrators use revolvers that were to be loaded with empty cartridge casings that contained only primers.

At the last minute prior to a full rehearsal, the organizer gave the perpetrators different "blank" ammunition with the intention that these blanks would be more spectacular in the demonstration. This was not discussed with any of the other participants. During the rehearsal, it appeared that something had gone wrong. As it turns out, the "blanks" that the organizer had given to the perpetrators were actually .38 caliber shot shells. Despite the close proximity and lack of protective equipment on the participants playing the part of the officer, there were no injuries whatsoever. All of the pellets from all of the rounds that were fired hit low on the door or the vehicle the officers were in. Had the perpetrators not been horrible shots, the shot shells would have shredded the faces of the exposed officers.


  • Unknowledgeable training staff
  • Nonexistent safety protocol
  • Arrogance and one-upmanship (organizer tried to over ride agreed upon safety parameters for his own aggrandizement


  • Those with ego issues have no place in the Reality Based Training environment
  • Establish safety protocols for any type of training exercise or demonstration and ensure all personnel follow them
  • Only properly trained personnel should be involved in the development and implementation of any type of Reality Based Training



A reader asks, "We have a guy at our agency that is the creative type. He is always coming up with interesting training devices designed to improve realism in training, or finding new ways of using various things for training, although they are not really designed for that purpose. We are a small agency and don’t have a lot of money, so isn’t having a guy like this a great way of cutting back on the costs associated with buying expensive equipment?"


Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. Coming up with creative ways of replicating otherwise expensive training equipment can save you a LOT of money, but often this can lead to tragedy. For example, an agency in Arizona thought it would be great training to utilize a smoke grenade inside a "gas axe" rather than using actual chemical agent. A gas axe is a device that permits a team to punch a hole through a wall and deliver chemical agent into a structure through the spike that penetrated the wall. Unfortunately, no one anticipated the difference in the burn rate of a smoke grenade, and the canister containing the pyrotechnic exploded killing one and injuring several.

In another instance, an agency decided to use an old "blank" gun during a training exercise. This was not a gun that was originally designed to fire blanks, but instead a gun that one of the "innovative" people in the agency had "dedicated" to blank fire by pouring molten lead down the barrel and painting the grips red. Although the original intention was to only use primed casings, someone else put full powered blanks into it. When it was fired, the lead plug blew out of the barrel and a medic was killed.

The point is, innovative people often do not have an engineering background and do not understand some of the potential consequences of their "improvised" devices. Extreme caution must be used any time someone "invents" a training device or uses a piece of equipment in a manner for which it was never designed. You will often find that in an effort to save a few dollars, the cost of tragedy is often the unintended consequence of well-intentioned creativity.

If someone inside your agency is creatively talented, encourage them as there are many ways to save money by building your own training devices. Just make sure that someone with an engineering or gun-smithing background gives the device a hard look before putting it into action … then test, test, test – from a safe distance – before putting the device into service.

Until next time, train hard and train safe.

Ken Murray

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