I'm OK... Are you OK?
Submitted by Eric Dallin
Chapel Hill Police Department, NC
Question: “How are you?”
Question: “How’s it going?”
We all have conditioned responses to commonly asked questions. “How’s the family?” “Good.”
We answer without thinking because the response expected and socially acceptable. In firearms training we teach officers to communicate with each other. “Suspect is down. I’m good. Are you OK?”
In the real world, the answer you get may be a conditioned response and it may not tell the whole story. An officer that is injured in a fight, a shooting or a traffic crash might tell his partner “I’m OK” when asked. In fact, they have been injured and their abilities may be diminished.
We train to “stay in the fight” and the injured officer may be ignoring an injury or fighting through it as part of that training. Adrenaline may prevent the officer from realizing that they have been injured but they may very well recognize that something is “off.”
I experienced this as a passenger in a helicopter that crashed violently in to the ocean. After surfacing and conducting a self-assessment, I asked the two other passengers “Are you guys OK?” The automatic and conditioned response was “I’m OK.”
Realizing that it was unlikely that we all managed to escape uninjured I said, “I’m 100%! Are you 100%?” The other passenger responded, “I’m 100%.”
The pilot, however, responded, “I’m 90%.”
This let me know that he was not “OK”. Something was wrong. He explained that his legs were heavy and we focused keeping him afloat while awaiting rescue. Luckily, there were no serious injuries and we all survived.
I learned an important lesson that day that I have incorporated it in to my training as a firearms instructor. An injured person might not be aware of an injury but they might be able to identify that something is off. They might know they have an injury but not know the extent of the injury.
The only alternative to the question is, “No, I’m not OK”. After a traumatic event resulting in an injury, we want to fight through that injury. The statement “I’m OK” might be more of a personal reassurance that they are going to make it through the event. That’s the right mindset but the verbal response may not represent the truth of the situation.
If I am going to rely on this officer to close on a suspect, provide cover or move to engage a target, I need an accurate assessment of the officer’s ability. By asking, “Are you 100%?” I can reduce the likelihood of receiving an automatic or conditioned response. This forces the officer to self-assess and attach a numeric value to their condition and abilities. Anything less than 100% lets me know that something is wrong and adjust my tactics accordingly.