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As an example of what CrisisCast offer, it could not have been more graphic. Brian Mitchell, the MD of the company, which offers actors and plots for realistic emergency training, told the audience that there was a gunman in the building. He asked us to stay calm and in the room for the sake of safety. A young man ran to the front, saying that his wife and child were outside – he had to get to them. Brian raised his voice, to ask the man to stay in the room. But the man was already the far side of Brian, nearer the door, saying that he had to get to his family. This was a completely believable, quick and neat example of the sort of ‘immersive’ training that CrisisCast run, using actors and film-based techniques. Speaking later to Professional Security, Brian Mitchell stressed the immersion in the scenario, so real that those taking part don’t think of the outside world, ‘and a moment is all we need to extract the learning issues and enhance trainees’ insights. It’s that which prepares them for the most unexpected events in the field.’
In the case of the gunman in the building, what might the audience have done? So Brian asked the gathering, of exporters at the defence and security trade association ADS Group in central London. Someone from the floor said, ‘sit on him’. While restraint might have kept the man in the room, equally it might further have escalated the situation and could have harmed the man (or the people trying to restrain him). Another suggestion was more sensible; tell the man to ring his wife. Such simulations of extreme operations, as Brian said, allow people to learn from their ‘stress behaviours’. The trainees might be the military, or police, or a board of bankers confronting the kidnap and ransom of an executive’s family; in all cases it’s better to learn about yourself and make your mistakes before the real thing. As Brian said: “Very often people find stress behaviours that they didn’t know they had.”
What then does CrisisCast do? Brian Mitchell’s a former actor who set up the company; actors (who sign non-disclosure agreements) will play parts in a play or film, perhaps of ten or 15 minutes, plotted to bring out whatever issues the client wants tested. Brian gave an example of a shopping centre, where a robbery has gone wrong and a mum pushing a pram has been taken hostage. CrisisCast can provide the robber and hostage, who are trained psychologically to act realistically in such an event. What do the security officers do, faced with such a situation? Take on the robber, or try to negotiate, to give the woman a chance to escape? Apart from how the various choices might play out, the officers would learn how their bodies react in such an emergency; the muscles freeze; the decision-making parts of our brain short-circuit. That is how it might be if you were the man told to stay calm while a gunman is on the loose, yet you knew your wife and child were in reception. Your instinct might be to head towards them, even though that might bring the gunman on yourself, and all the others in your room. Other role-playing might be; what if your building suffers an earthquake, or has to evacuate for another reason? Or a group in hoods are protesting against your firm? Or if someone deranged is smashing up your building? In that case, as with the worried father and the gunman, your aim would be to de-escalate the situation; but how? What’s the good of confronting the mentally ill person – whether you’re from Security or a police officer – with violence, when you might try talking first?
Or, you find yourself at the scene of a road traffic accident; how do you respond? As for accidents, Brian Mitchell has done work with Amputees in Action, the agency that provides amputees as realistic ‘casualties’, featured in the January 2012 issue of Professional Security. In a word, Brian’s company offers ‘high-fidelity’ training, drawing on people from the fields of film and theatre, social media and PR (because what might shoppers say on social media while the shopping centre has a hostage situation?) and as security adviser the former Met Police man Dennis Cotton. Also speaking at the event was Carol Morey of the consultants Hanover Associates, who work with CrisisCast on the operational side of emergency response, business continuity and command and control, the sorts of topics the training covers. The possible extreme scenarios that businesses might want to prepare for are many, and as Brian told Professional Security, he is asked about ones that he did not think of when he set up the company. Scale? Could be two actors – gunman and hostage – but could be up to 200. And the training can be filmed – covert pinhole camera, from the air, all in HD – to capture that immersion that Brian stresses, as a training tool after the event.