Matthew J. Sharps, PhD, DABPS, FACFEI
California State University, Fresno
Millie G. Herrera, BA
Alliant International University, Fresno
Amanda L. Lodeesen
California State University, Fresno
Contact Information: Prof. Matthew J. Sharps, Dept. of Psychology, M/S ST-11,
California State University, Fresno, CA 93740-8039. Ph. (559) 278-2347,
Fax (559) 278-7910, firstname.lastname@example.org
After reading this paper, the reader should be able to:
1. Demonstrate understanding of the difficulties and principles involved in successful IED search and detection.
2. Demonstrate understanding of the importance of prior frameworks for understanding, and of explicit, feature-intensive, cognitively-based training as foundations for successful IED search and detection.
3. Understand that in a controlled experiment, the ability of respondents to detect IED’s was significantly and substantially enhanced by such integrated training.
4. Discuss the five types of errors typical of less-successful IED search and detection.
5. Understand the importance of the incorporation of field exercises in the development of successful training for IED search and detection.
In an earlier article, we introduced the SMOKE system of cognitively-based training for improvised explosive device (IED) detection. SMOKE (based on the acronym for the five identified types of IED search error) literally doubled the detection performance of trainees in a single session, and defeated three of the five error types. As suggested in our earlier work, the present research incorporated a simple field exercise, also based in cognitive principles, to enhance the SMOKE system. This integrated approach defeated all five error types. This research demonstrates the importance of cognitive principles in the development of training, and provides a ready-for-deployment system of training for immediate use in law enforcement applications, and in corporate, commercial, transportation, and educational security environments.
Keywords: Improvised Explosive Device Detection, Explosive Ordinance Disposal, SMOKE System, Law Enforcement Training, Security Training
SMOKE: Effective Cognitive and Field Training for IED Detection
As warfare in Western Asia enters its second decade, the detection of improvised explosive devices (IED’s) has become increasingly important, both in domestic applications and abroad. Military approaches to IED interdiction have incurred substantial criticism, both in terms of progress and performance, even at the Congressional level (McClatchy Newspapers, 2011). Also, military advances in IED interdiction are not generally available to law enforcement, or to those entrusted with the security of corporate, commercial, transportation, and educational environments. The potential for IED threats in such environments is widely anticipated to have ongoing and increased importance in the future (e.g., Cameron, 2008; Johnson, 2011). This increase is, of course, expected to result in largely from the activities of genuine terrorists. However, it is important to realize that “copycat” offenders may readily become impressed with the power and notoriety of these weapons, and may use them in a variety of criminal venues, ranging from homicide and gang warfare to the robbery of such hardened targets as banks and armored cars. Thus, for domestic law enforcement and security applications, there is a strong and growing need for effective, economical training in the detection of IEDs.
At present, IED search-and-detection training may involve practice in the recognition of various types of IEDs, and field training in which trainees are exposed to practice environments containing mock explosive devices. As discussed in previous work (Sharps et al., 2010; also see Sharps, 2010), these types of training are laudable and important in the development of hazard detection skills. However, they generally lack important cognitive components. Specifically, these are prior frameworks for search methods; explicit connections between the skills employed and their rationales; and the use of specific, feature-intensive training to form smooth, coordinated search methods in the field (Sharps, 2010; also see Bransford and Johnson 1972, 1973; Haviland & Clark, 1975). As will be seen, these cognitive components, based on sound principles of cognitive science, are crucial for the development of the most effective forms of anti-IED training.
Initial ConsiderationsResearch in our laboratory, especially as concerned with eyewitness cognition, has demonstrated the need for the application of cognitively-based principles in visual search training (e.g., Sharps, Barber, Stahl, & Villegas, 2003; Villegas, Sharps, Satterthwaite, & Chisholm, 2005; Sharps, Hess, Casner, Ranes, & Jones, 2007; Sharps & Hess, 2008; Sharps, Janigian, Hess, & Hayward, 2009). The need for these principles assumes special significance in the search for IEDs. In our studies, many respondents looked directly at an explicit source of hazard, such as a hand grenade, or at an implicit potential source of hazard, such as a military ammunition box situated among street clutter, without actually noticing these hazards (Hess & Sharps, 2006, April; Sharps et al., 2007). The same effects may be observed in law enforcement training; even veteran officer trainees, when confronted with the need to move quickly to the scene of a mock violent crime, may completely ignore mock IEDs in plain sight, even to the degree of kicking them out of the way without noticing them (Sharps et al., 2010).
The Cognitive Basis of SMOKE
Training for IED detection involves the enhancement of cognitive skills. As noted above, however, much of the training currently available for domestic law enforcement and civilian operations lacks grounding in the cognitive principles most likely to ensure success. The most important principles, as mentioned above, are detailed as follows (Sharps, 2010):
1. Training should provide a prior framework for understanding. The specific purposes, utility, and scope for which a given evolution is appropriate should be made clear to all trainees prior to exercises in the given skills (see Bransford and Johnson, 1972, 1973). This “front loading” is essential for training success.
2. Training should be explicit. Trainees should not have to imply or infer the circumstances under which the training may be useful. The specific skills, and the specific circumstances under which they may be applied, should be explicitly clear to trainees prior to practice exercises (see Haviland and Clark, 1975).
3. Training should initially be feature-intensive in nature. Trainers should initially provide a step-by-step breakdown of the skills involved in any training evolution. They should provide explicit guidance concerning each feature of the skill set in question, together with its use in responding to the reasonable spectrum of eventuality which officers may encounter in the field. The skills involved should be explicitly understood by trainees, as a prior framework for understanding, prior to practice exercises (see Sharps, 2003, 2010).
With a prior, explicit, feature-intensive framework in place, practice exercises and subsequent performance will generally be enhanced in effectiveness, ultimately resulting in the smooth, “gestalt” sets of responses necessary for rapid response in the field (Sharps, 2010).
In a recent paper (Sharps et al., 2010), we presented the initial version of SMOKE, a system of training for IED detection based in these principles. Training for IED detection must address several specific issues, discussed in full in that paper. In summary, these are as follows:
1. Human beings tend to focus on the core of a given situation, at the expense of the periphery of the given scene where IEDs may be placed (e.g., Grossman & Christensen, 2004). Therefore, a number of exercises, using a variety of mock IEDs, were included to develop the habit of peripheral search.
2. These exercises involved violent crime scenes, developed in consultation with law enforcement experts, and incorporating armed and unarmed perpetrators of both sexes. This developed the habit of central and peripheral search even in the presence of potentially distracting “core,” or central, activity.
3. Trainees were exposed to a variety of IED types, of different levels of visual salience, in different central and peripheral locations.
4. IEDs may be disguised, or they may be placed or constructed in such a way that they present an innocuous or ambiguous visual picture to the observer. In other words, an IED may present itself in such a way that the major clue to its existence is its inappropriateness to the local environment. This may be true of a length of pipe which should simply not be where it is, or of a metal container which becomes visually lost among other clutter, but which is definitely out of place. This problem assumes special significance when a disguised or innocuous object is placed on the periphery of a given action. Even when such an object is directly observed, it may be completely misinterpreted. Therefore, exercises explicitly directed trainees to evaluate the appropriateness of objects for their surroundings.
5. Trainees were also explicitly shown how to evaluate the prospect that an object might be an IED, based on the relative probability of that type of object being in the given scene.
1. Errors of SEARCH. For this error type, respondents focused on only one part of the room, or only on one plane, failing to look up or down. An interesting finding was that some respondents focused on only one side of the room, failing to notice anything on the other side. In short, respondents frequently took part of the room as their core search area, and failed to examine items on the periphery of the given area.
2. Errors of MOVEMENT. There was a tendency on the part of some subjects to remain in one place in the room, frequently at the door. From such a perspective, many areas of the room, behind things and under tables, were completely invisible to them; there was frequently no tendency to move about the room in an effort to take different necessary visual perspectives.
3. Errors of OBSERVATION. In these errors, respondents looked directly at a given IED but did not report it, moving on to look at other things. In some cases, the same error was made repeatedly with a given IED. Whether these respondents mistook the given IED for something else, or simply did not see it in some sense, is unknown at this time. However, just as a person can look at a power screwdriver and see a handgun (Sharps & Hess, 2008), respondents who made errors of Observation looked at a large, silvery pipe bomb, with a timer and a battery pack clearly in view, and saw nothing dangerous at all.
4. Failures to KEEP SEARCHING. In these instances, respondents decided they had found everything there was to find. An innocuous object would be identified as an IED, and the individual would report to the experimenter that he or she was finished, even in the presence of additional secondary devices which remained undetected.
5. Errors of EVALUATION. These occurred when respondents identified innocuous objects as IEDs. Such objects included a briefcase; a laptop computer; an electronic amplifier for physiological experiments (the room used for the field exercise was a laboratory chamber); a small pillow; and a wooden box. Some of these objects were plausible disguises for IEDs; others were not, ranging from the implausible to the absurd. What is important about these errors, however, is that they occurred when the actual mock IED was in plain sight.
1. The fact that IEDs may be obvious or difficult to see, either because they are hidden or because they form good contours with their immediate environment.
2. The need to search peripheral as well as central locations in any given scene.
3. The need to conduct and continue such search even if surprised by a factor such as a female assailant.
4. The need to continue search even after a given IED is discovered.
ResultsTime to Detection for Each IED
DiscussionPrevious research on the PowerPoint component of SMOKE produced effects similar to those observed here, with the exceptions that errors of Movement and Evaluation were not defeated by the PowerPoint alone in that earlier work, and all five error types were defeated by the present integrated version of SMOKE. This was unsurprising. PowerPoint SMOKE training alone, even though front-loaded, explicit, and feature-intensive in nature, was never intended to replace field training. Rather, it was presented as a powerful adjunct and framework for field training. The present findings clearly underscore and demonstrate the accuracy of this perspective: the incorporation of a simple field training evolution into SMOKE resulted in the defeat of all five error types.
Matthew J. Sharps, Ph.D., DABPS, FACFEI, is Professor of Psychology at California State University, Fresno, and adjunct faculty member in Forensic Clinical Psychology at Alliant International University. He received his M.A. (clinical psychology) from UCLA, and M.A. and Ph.D. (psychology) from the University of Colorado. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychological Specialties, American College of Forensic Examiners, and a Fellow of the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute. He is the author of numerous articles and papers on cognition, forensic cognitive science, and related topics, as well as the books Aging, Representation, and Thought: Gestalt and Feature-Intensive Processing (2003, Transaction Publishers), and Processing Under Pressure: Stress, Memory, and Decision Making in Law Enforcement (2010, Looseleaf Law Publications). He has consulted on issues of eyewitness identification and related cognitive issues in over one hundred and sixty criminal cases.
Millie G. Herrera, B.A., is a graduate of California State University, Fresno, and a doctoral candidate in Forensic Clinical Psychology at Alliant International University, Fresno.
Amanda Lodeesen is a doctoral candidate in Forensic Clinical Psychology at Alliant International University, Fresno.
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