The experience and dialogue around confrontations (think Ferguson, think Tamir Rice in Cleveland) reverberate around dynamic decision-making.
Think the safety and well-being of you and yours in a society that is increasingly on edge and ready to engage in violence.
On one hand, there is the understanding and practice from within the discipline of aikido, which teaches movement and reaction, and taking control of the situation and the attack; on the other hand are the safety and training practices within law enforcement.
On the third hand, much is made about guns and gun safety, with the movement to take them away, and yet the people who have them as a public duty appear to be untrained in their safe and judicious use.
Much is made of how police officers are trained and under great stress when attacked, if in fact some of these events constituted an attack. Perception and differentiation, and thinking on your feet, is key.
One of the headlines I saw recently was about how the police officer had only seconds to react and respond to what he perceived was a deadly threat. Without arguing the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death, or that of the 12-year old boy playing alone with what looked like and was reported to have been a toy or fake gun, I recalled — because I have written about it in the past and used some of its principles in my own instruction of those who respond to mass casualty situations— OODA loop training for public safety personnel.
Well, they are there for our mutual safety and well-being, aren’t they?
There’s a lot of information available to your search engine; here are the top three that popped out of mine when I asked.
There’s a lot more about the OODA loop, to say nothing of the research done under the aegis of the US military on tactical decision-making under stress (TADMUS) after the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner by mistake. (Though there’s debate about that too, I guess….)
Boyd’s O.O.D.A Loop and How We Use It
By: Tracy A. Hightower
The O.O.D.A. Loop is a process we go through hundreds if not thousands of times in a single day. It is a process that defines how we humans react to stimulus. Colonel John Boyd coined the term O.O.D.A. Loop, in the 1950’s. Colonel Boyd, known as the “Fighter Pilot who changed the Art of War”, was an F-86 pilot and commander of a fighter group during the latter part of the Korean War. He believed that when at a disadvantage a competent pilot could still overcome that disadvantage by “Attacking the Mind” of his opponent. His observations led him to a greater understanding of Human reaction time and the coining of the term O.O.D.A. Loop. Colonel Boyd trained his pilots based upon his observations of Human reaction time and as a result his pilots had a 10 to 1 kill ratio over the superior Mig-15’s.
Human reaction time is defined as the time elapsing between the onset of a stimulus and the onset of a response to that stimulus. The O.O.D.A. Loop, which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act, is Boyd’s way of explaining how we go through the process of reacting to stimulus. First we Observe, and keep in mind that although we process approximately 80% of the information we receive with our sense of sight, we can and do make observations with our other senses. For instance you might hear a gunshot and not see the person who fired it. Once you look and see the source of the gunfire you are now in the Orient stage of the process. In the Orient stage you are now focusing your attention on what you have just observed. The next step is the Decide step in which you have to make a decision on what to do about what you have just observed and focused your attention on. Finally you have made your decision and the last step is to Act upon that decision. Keep in mind that the O.O.D.A loop is what happens between the onset of a stimulus and the onset of a reaction to that stimulus.
How fast is your O.O.D.A. Loop? Well, that depends on several factors that can affect your reaction time. Simple Reaction Time is generally accepted to be around 220 milliseconds (Laming 1968). In simple reaction time experiments, there is only one stimulus and one response. Simple reaction time can be gauged in a variety of ways but basically a person is asked to place their finger on a button or a switch and told to manipulate that button or switch in response to a light or a sound. In this case the person is reacting to a “Known Stimulus” during the observe step and using a pre-determined response during the decide step. It should be noted here that many researchers have found that reaction to Auditory Stimulus is faster than reaction to Visual Stimulus. Perhaps this is because an Auditory Stimulus only takes 8-10 Milliseconds to reach the brain (Kemp et al., 1973), but a visual stimulus takes 20-40 milliseconds to reach the brain (Marshall et al., 1943).
A more familiar example of simple reaction time is the “Brake Light Theory” You are driving down the road and you “Observe” the brake lights of the car in front of you come on. This is a “Known Stimulus” because you expect while driving to have this happen and because you expect this, you already have a predetermined response, which is to remove your foot from the accelerator and apply the brake. From the time we Observe the brake light (Onset of Stimulus) to the time we begin to remove our foot from the accelerator, (Onset of a reaction to Stimulus) less time has elapsed than if we were responding to an Unknown Stimulus, which brings us to the Flash Bang Theory. Our reaction time is slower when we are responding to “Unknown Stimulus” such as when Joe Drug Dealer is sitting in his living room watching the Simpson’s on TV after a long day of cooking Meth. Suddenly he hears and sees an object fly through the window. Just before it (A Flashbang) goes off is the point at which Joe is saying “What the &%@#”! His reaction time is slowed by the fact that he has to respond to unknown stimulus and this does not include what the effects of the Flashbang going off will further do to disorient him. Had he been watching the Discovery channel he might have known that Police sometimes use this tactic when raiding drug dealer’s homes and it might have been known stimulus had he been expecting it.
There are other factors that can affect your O.O.D.A. Loop, some of which can be overcome with training. In 1952 a researcher named Hick confirmed that by going from one response choice (Decision Step) to two, response time increased by 58%. This is widely known as “Hick’s Law” and has been repeatedly confirmed by subsequent research. It is because of this that we teach some of the things we teach such as various malfunction drills. If the weapon does not go bang when it should, the more choices our students have to choose from, the slower they will react. As an example if a student through training has learned that at any given time his/her firearm may experience a type one malfunction and he/she has trained to have a single response (move, tap, rack bang) then as in the “Brake Light” example, through training and experience the malfunction has become a “Known Stimulus” and the solution has become a predetermined response and reaction time is faster.
Two factors that affect your O.O.D.A. loop during the Orient step are Denial and Emotional Filter. Denial is when you refuse to accept or Deny that this is happening to you. Emotional Filter is a lot like Denial except that you wish that this were not happening. “Oh man, please don’t let this be happening”. Both of these things can and will affect your reaction time but fortunately they can be overcome with training as this commonly happens with people who have little or no training.
In 1960 Researchers Franklin Henry and Donald Rogers found that not only does increasing the number of responses affect your reaction time, but also by increasing the complexity of the tasks, induces stress that can adversely affect your reaction time. While doing simple reaction time test, they told each subject to place their finger next to a switch and when they hear a certain sound, they are to flip the switch. After each subject’s time was registered and recorded they used the same group and did the same test but added another task to do after flipping the switch. The subjects were told to flip a second switch after completing the second task. In both tests, the only time recorded was the time it took to push the first button and Henry and Rogers found that the added stress of having a more complex task to perform caused each subject’s reaction time to increase by an average of 31%.
Colonel Boyd also knew that other factors could affect your O.O.D.A. Loop. During his research he found that Fatigue was also a factor. He and his pilots were flying F-86’s and although they were slower and less maneuverable than the Mig 15’s they were flying against, The F-86 was fully hydraulically controlled and the Mig 15 was only hydraulically assisted. This meant that Boyd’s pilots could operate their aircraft with easy and gentle manipulation of the controls, while the Mig pilots had to work harder to maneuver their aircraft. Boyd found that the more his pilots maneuvered and the longer a dogfight persisted the more fatigued the Mig pilots became and the slower their reaction time became until the F-86 pilots were able to maneuver their aircraft into a position of dominance.
As Instructors we are always striving to find ways to give our students the advantage in a fight while diminishing their opponents will and ability to fight back effectively. Making sure our students understand the O.O.D.A. Loop and how we react as humans can go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. The really great thing about understanding the O.O.D.A. Loop is the realization that everybody has one and their O.O.D.A. Loop is affected by the same factors that yours is. This is one of the reasons why in nearly every drill we teach it incorporates moving. This has the effect of resetting your opponent’s O.O.D.A. Loop and giving you still another advantage. Learning how your opponent’s mind works and using tactics that allow you to take advantage of that knowledge is what we should strive to do. Colonel Boyd had it right, know your opponent’s mind and then attack it.
Training to Think
with Sgt. Steve “Pappy” Papenfuhs
The OODA loop, reaction time, and decision making
February 23, 2012
“… While I agree with this model as a conceptual strategy for combat, and while we need to be prepared to use reasonable force up to and including deadly force at a moment’s notice, we would all prefer to “talk” suspects into compliance whenever possible. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2 approximately 99.96 percent of the time we are successful in doing so. Perhaps a more global view therefore, would be to view our job as “managing” the opponent’s OODA loop when practicable. In fact, this is exactly what SWAT teams do during critical incidents; and the vast majority of such events are resolved peacefully using the Time – Talk – Tear Gas strategies that ensure the safety of both suspects and officers.
In order for a suspect to voluntarily comply with our commands and surrender to an arrest he needs the requisite time to perceive, decide, and respond. Acknowledging this, I would like to review a video that is in the public domain and analyze it from this perspective. This exercise is not meant as an analysis of the reasonableness of the involved officer’s actions as that would be inappropriate without knowing the totality of the circumstances, but rather as an exercise in understanding the human factors involved; and to consider a point or two about tactical deployment and training considerations…..”
Why the OODA Loop is Still Relevant
Understanding the mind’s decision-making process can help you calm down subjects and improve your own reactions.
There isn’t a day that goes by where officers don’t have to deal with upset people who lash out at the very ones trying to help them. Getting them on track and on a manageable level is paramount to your handing of their problem.
By the time you get out of your car, a subject has already made most of his decisions. Talking to you is usually the last part of his OODA loop. This is why it is so difficult to talk to a person when he is fired up. Simply ordering him to calm down does absolutely no good. He won’t respond the way you want because he is locked in his own loop. You have to break the subject’s concentration by changing his focus. This starts him on a new loop or, at the very least, breaks the one he is on even if only for a brief moment.
I was on a call years ago dealing with an out-of-control “he said, she said” domestic disturbance. While dealing with my half, I quickly changed the conversation and asked a question about the interior decoration of the living room, focusing on a beautiful painting. It totally caught the person off guard. It was like seeing someone slamming on the brakes. The woman literally said, “What, huh, what did you just say?” My off-the-wall question was just enough to break her OODA loop and start me down the path to calming her down.
In such situations, “yes or no” questions won’t work. You have to ask a question that the person has to think about before answering. My first attempt usually consists of asking a question totally unrelated to the situation. If that doesn’t work, my next question is about something I think means a lot to the subject, like asking about his or her children. You’re not looking to become best friends; you just need to interrupt the person’s OODA loop long enough to get a word in edgewise. Though not 100% successful, it works more times than not.
Your job is ultimately about obtaining control of the situation even if it requires going hands on. The OODA loop works the same way here. Once a person decides he is going to hit you, he gets locked into his own loop and commits to the action. Any change on your part will make him have to start the decision-making process over again. For example, if a person is stepping into you before throwing a punch, you cannot let him set down that lead foot before striking. If he gets to plant his foot you’re going to get hit. You need to make a move that forces the subject to reposition and start his OODA loop over again.
Since action beats reaction every time, the guy who keeps forcing the other to change his plans usually keeps the upper hand. This is also where speed comes in. The guy who moves the fastest usually wins the fight.
Another example of where this tactic applies is an active shooter scenario. If you are standing across from the shooter and you each draw and then shoot, both of you will probably get hit. But if you move off his centerline, you will cause him to miss (or at least hit you in a less critical spot) because you have made him change his plans, requiring a new round of decision-making. The shooter is now going to have to lift and shift in order to shoot you. That’s why the military lives by the mantra move, shoot, and communicate.
Improving Your OODA Loop
The only way to improve your OODA loop is through training. It’s not something you think about; it’s something you do. Ever wonder why you do the same small number of defensive tactics moves over and over again the entire length of your career? They work in part because of the OODA loop.
Because how you train is how you fight, you have a handful of techniques you default to under stress. You have worked on them so much you don’t think about it, you just do it. This shortens your OODA loop and increases your reaction time. It’s thinking less and acting more that gives you an advantage.
That’s why those who don’t train don’t react well. By the time they finish processing their OODA loop, it’s already too late. Or worse, they make the one and only decision they know and stick to it even if it’s not working. Officers who skip training help increase the bad guy’s ability to steal their response time. The saying “He who hesitates is lost” certainly rings true.
Malfunction drills are a great example. When you practice them regularly your movements are as smooth as silk; when you don’t practice, you look like you’ve never done them before. But have you ever watched someone on the range dealing with a malfunction that isn’t a typical stoppage? You usually see the guy keep doing the same thing over and over again until he just stares at his gun wondering what to do.
This happens when you don’t have a way to break your own loop. This is why it’s getting more and more common to see people training at police ranges looking left and then right after they shoot. This action is part security check and part breaking their loop.
The only way to improve reaction time is to train, train, and then train some more. If skill sets don’t become second nature they act as boat anchors. The more time it takes for you to get into action, the more time you give to the bad guy.
Beat the Battle for Time
The OODA loop is a form of dynamic decision-making that is as easy to understand as it is to apply. It will help you beat the battle for time. If you still don’t see the usefulness of the OODA loop, perform this simple drill taught to me by a fellow combatives instructor.
Have a coworker place a small towel on her right shoulder. Tell her you are going to snatch the towel and she has to stop you. Most of the time, she will. After a few tries, tell her to recite her social security number or something else that makes her think. Then have her try to stop you again. You’ll grab hold of the towel each and every time. You win not only because action is faster than reaction, but more importantly, because you are able to divide the person’s attention and therefore successfully change her OODA loop.
Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has over 25 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.