Ep 39: Hosting ASIM Intermediate

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Episode 39: ASIM Intermediate

Sheriff Michelle Cook shares her experience hosting the Active Shooter Incident Management (ASIM) Intermediate course remotely for Clay County (FL) on the NCIER Campus virtual platform

Bill Godfrey:

Welcome to the Active Shooter incident management podcast. My name is Bill Godfrey, your podcast host. We appreciate you tuning back in with us this week. We have a special guest, one of our instructors who has been on a little bit of a leave of absence, Michelle Cook. Now, most of you will remember, if you've been with us for a long time, Michelle's done some podcasts in the past, and was a police chief up in the north Florida area. Not too long ago, she was elected sheriff in Clay County in the north Florida area, and is taking the time to talk with us today. Kind of catch us up, what's going on, and tell us a little bit about her experience with the Active Shooter Incident Management, intermediate class. Michelle, welcome, and thank you for taking the time to join us.

Michelle Cook:

Thank you, Bill. I appreciate you inviting me back on.

Bill Godfrey:

So, being sheriff, it's an elected position, a lot of work with that. Was it as much fun as you thought it was going to be?

Michelle Cook:

The campaigning, or the actual job?

Bill Godfrey:

I'll let you answer that anyway you want.

Michelle Cook:

Sure, yeah. Campaigning was tough, but I'm truly a committed public servant that wants to do right by the officers on the street that protect us every day. So, that was my motivation to run, and since winning the election, and being in office now for just about a year, the ability to bring the great training, and looking out for the deputies that serve on the street, has really been my driving force for going into work every day.

Bill Godfrey:

Well, I know you're very good at it and have a passion for this like nobody else I've ever seen. We certainly miss you here on our side of the fence. I look forward to the time comes that you slow down a little bit and kind of come back to the fold. So, I thought it'd be fun to have you on to talk about our Active Shooter Incident Management, intermediate class, and your experience with hosting that. Now for the audience, the ASIM intermediate is our two day version of the class, which obviously we used to do face to face, but because of COVID, we developed a new platform that would allow us to do this hands-on training remotely. So, the ASIM intermediate two day is now available remote, and not in Zoom or Microsoft Team meetings, but in our own platform that we built, so that we could still do hands-on live scenarios. So sheriff, I thought it'd be fun to have you kind of share with everybody, what, from your perspective, led you to want to do that, have the class, tell us the story.

Michelle Cook:

Sure. I'm going to take you back to 10 years ago, when I started getting involved in the Active Shooter Incident Management classes, and they were in person, and they were so valuable. I saw the value, and was actually able to apply the principles in the active shooter incident management class to my work, and teaching the officers and the deputies that I work with, the principals of thought and action. The more I saw the principles working, the more I bought into this training.

Michelle Cook:

So, when COVID struck and really took training, came to a halt for all of us. As a police leader, I knew that I could not go out there in the public and say, "Well, we had to stop training because of COVID." That is not acceptable in my line of work. So, when the ASIM intermediate came up, and you guys talked about this virtual platform, I will say I was a little hesitant. I'm a 30 year veteran, I believe in the old school sitting at a desk hands-on, but I realized, Bill, quickly, that really the technology is the wave of the future. In talking to my younger deputies, they were not fearful of a virtual class. Now, I will say some of my older deputies were hesitant, but we pushed forward anyway. I can tell you from sitting in the class during the virtual delivery, it was absolutely spot on. It really provided the ASIM principles in a virtual platform, and the training was fantastic.

Bill Godfrey:

Well, that's wonderful to hear, and I'm relieved. Honestly, I was a little nervous when you said you wanted to host this class because you're a perfectionist like me, and a stickler, and I thought, "Oh, please Lord, let everything go right." So, I was a little risk, but Michelle, from your perspective, how would you describe that platform and the experience to somebody who's never seen it? Because that's always a challenge for me trying to describe it to folks.

Michelle Cook:

Yeah. It really is a challenge, but the the way that I would describe it, or the way I do describe it to people is you have an active shooter incident. You have a critical incident, and we do as a profession, we've done so well at training how to tactically respond, and take the bad guy out. But active shooter incident management is so much bigger than that. So, through this virtual platform where you have everybody has a character that acts, and interacts with the other characters, you're able to learn the principles of the incident management. It's less about clearing a room, and more about taking command and control of the scene. With the virtual platform, you're able to learn these principles, and practice these principles, all while sitting at a desk.

Bill Godfrey:

I think that's a great summary. I might have to borrow some of that for some of the materials, when people ask for the explanation. I appreciate that.

Michelle Cook:

I won't charge you. I won't charge you.

Bill Godfrey:

Sheriff, one of the things I thought was kind of interesting, you had what, 30, 30, 40 people in the class from your side?

Michelle Cook:

Yes. Yes.

Bill Godfrey:

Then we had about, I don't know, it was another half dozen, or dozen, from across the country that all joined in. You made an interesting choice, which was even though this was a virtual delivery, you made a choice to pull all of your people to one central location. So, we had this group up at your place that was taking it together, and then these a half dozen other, a dozen other students from across the country that were all remote. How did that work? What led up to you to decide that?

Michelle Cook:

Well, Bill, that was a purposeful, deliberate decision, and there was a couple of reasons I did it that way. Number one, my county, we have four different law enforcement agencies in my county. Plus our two different fire rescue agencies in the county. So, by bringing all of these people in a room, even though they were working virtually, we were able to establish, re-establish, and build relationships. That was lacking a little bit in my county, is the working relationship, so bringing them all together. I also purposely planted some, what I call ringers, in this class. These are guys who truly understand the ASIM concepts, and are champions of the concepts, and so during break, I encourage these guys to lead the informal discussions. "Hey, what did you think about that?" "Hey, didn't that work out well?" So, really reemphasizing the concepts through the informal conversations that would occur at each break.

Michelle Cook:

So, although the technology, bringing everybody in one room, there was a draw or pull on the technology side, it really worked out well for us because now we're back to some traditional training, and my trainers who were in the class are ensuring that they include these other agencies that they've never really thought about before in our training. So for me, it was very purposeful, very deliberate because what I saw that lacked in my county was some working relationships, and making sure that I got buy-in by planting some ringers in the room who can continue the conversation.

Bill Godfrey:

That's really interesting. I knew you had a couple of strong people in the room that were taking the class, but I didn't know that you had kind of purposely planted, as you said, some ringers. What made you feel so passionately about that? That's an interesting idea.

Michelle Cook:

Well, policemen love training, they hate training all at the same time. Here we were introducing some new concepts, for many of these, in the class. At the same time, we were doing it virtually. For many in law enforcement, especially, guys that have about seven years on or more, they're still afraid of the technology. They're still concerned that there's a training value on using technology. So, I wanted to make sure that I did not have a strong personality in the middle of this class, throw his hands up and go, "This is BS. This is dumb. This is not worth it," because you're informal leaders in the class can really drive how people feel about the training.

Michelle Cook:

So, by planting some informal leaders that were ringers, I purposely drove the conversation to the positive, and then people who had questions about what they learned, or what was said, they naturally gravitated to these leaders, and said, "Well, tell me why this happened. Why do we have to go to staging? Why can't we self deploy from another agency?" And those conversations happened. So the guys that really understood the concepts, were able to, again, really drive home the purpose, or the principles, that were being taught on this virtual platform.

Bill Godfrey:

That's really interesting. Now I'm curious, because we did have a number of other students that were from different places in the country that were in that same class, interacting with your team, and the folks that you had on that location. Did you hear any feedback, or reactions, about what it was like working with people from different states in the class and in the responses?

Michelle Cook:

Yeah, it's interesting because there was some conversation, a little bit of a conversation about lingo and tactics, and the pace of response for some of them. For me, that really gave me an opportunity for a training point. I said, "Guy, those guys are from out of state. We don't have to worry about them responding to our incident. However, if we don't all work together as different agencies in the county, if we don't get all on the same page and train together, and have the same concepts, and use the same principles, when we haven't an active shooter incident in our county, we're going to see the same thing from those agency members. That's why we have to train together." So for me, it was really a point that I could drive home to everybody that was in the classroom because I had other agency leaders in there, "Hey guys, this is why it's so important to train. Those guys that were out from another state. We may be in the same county, but if we don't train together, we're going to experience what we experienced in this virtual platform."

Michelle Cook:

Now, let me say this though. The overall general feeling about working with guys from out of state was phenomenal. I mean, apparently whatever group was in there was really sharp. My guys were commenting on how really sharp they were. So, that was a plus, but the little nuances of not training together, were apparent. Again, for me, it really drove home the point. We can't just think that because we're all in the same county, we're going to respond the same. We have to train together.

Bill Godfrey:

Yeah. It's a really interesting perspective. I remember from your class, so one of the students was from Portland police, and there was a scenario where one of your fire department people, and I'm not really sure if it was with your county fire department or one of the other ones, but the Portland police officer was in the tactical position, and your firefighter was in the triage position. He just kept saying over and over and over again afterwards, he just could not get over the fact that he just spent 45 minutes running a live active shooter scenario with a guy that was literally across the country for him. I mean, I don't know that it could be much further, Florida over to Portland-

Michelle Cook:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bill Godfrey:

... and they just ran it seamlessly. They were talking to each other like they were standing next to each other. They worked it together. It was a common language, and he just couldn't get over that this guy that's literally across the country in three hours, and three different time zones away, and they're working this incident together. I thought that was a pretty fascinating perspective.

Michelle Cook:

Well, but I think that speaks to the comprehensive, yet simple principles of Active Shooter Incident Management. It really does, kind of like ICS. If you have the basic principles, it's very simple, as long as you stick to the simple but comprehensive principles. If the guy in Portland happens to be on vacation in Florida, where you have an active shooter incident, he can jump right in seamlessly. I think that that's the value of the class and making sure that your class is diverse with people that could potentially respond together. The great thing about the virtual platform is you can do it virtually, so we can have people in neighboring agencies, neighboring county, all very realistically could respond to an incident with us, training with us.

Bill Godfrey:

So, I got to ask what were some of the good comments, and some of the negative comments? Because I'm sure that you heard both after the training. What was some of the good and bad that you heard?

Michelle Cook:

So good, absolutely was understandable, realistic. Boy, I could use this. I could use it on other calls that are critical in nature. Easy to learn. They loved the scenarios. They thought the scenarios were very realistic.

Michelle Cook:

The downs were, some of my old timers, didn't like the technology. That's understandable. I've told you several times, the technology sort of scares me too, as a 30 year law enforcement officer, but I go back to two things, and I would tell these guys this. Yes, you've been on 20 years. Yes, using a virtual system is a little bit cumbersome for you, but two things. One, younger deputies, younger officers, younger firemen, younger dispatchers, they're not scared of the technology. They've grown up with technology.

Michelle Cook:

The other thing too, as a long-time trainer, what I've realized, and what I've come to understand, is that different people learn from different platforms. So whether it's a tabletop, a real life exercise, or virtual training platform, the more ways that you can present the concepts on different platforms, the more opportunity you have to connect with your students, and the more opportunity you have to really drive home those principles and those training points that you want to get to. So my younger deputies loved, they thought they were sitting at home on their X-Box. They love the technology. The older guys, not so much, but they understood why we were going that way.

Bill Godfrey:

Well, I would expect to hear that. It would surprise me if you didn't have some of the old timers that didn't really care for it. I laughingly joked just a few weeks ago, during one of the classes, we had a support call come in, and I was on the phone with somebody trying to walk them through an issue they were having with their computer. And I go, "Well, just hit your escape key." And they go, "What's an escape key." And I thought, "Well, all right. I've just gone around the bend here."

Bill Godfrey:

So, I get it. There are people that are a little bit uncomfortable with it. I think the other piece of this is, and I'm really curious to see where this goes, but during COVID I know I got sick and tired of these virtual meetings, and the idea of one more virtual training. I think everybody just got accustomed to logging in and zoning out. I'm going to sign in. I'm going to turn on my video and my microphone for just a minute. I'm going to say hi to everybody, and then I'm going to mute my video and mute my microphone. Then I'm going to move on to another task, but I'm going to get credit for this class. People got used to that and really kind of developed a bad habit. Of course in this class, you can't do that. There's-

Michelle Cook:

No, you can't do that at all.

Bill Godfrey:

Yeah. You're engaged. It's like being in the classroom. You're present. The instructors are walking up to you asking you questions. You are moving around working through the scenarios. Yeah. We do get some surprise, I guess, but what do you think? Where do you think we'll go, once we get to the other side of COVID? We were forced to use all this virtual remote stuff, and now everybody's sick of it, so there's kind of a backlash, and at some point next year, I think it will kind of settle in. Where do you think we'll settle in on this?

Michelle Cook:

I think we'll settle with a leaning towards virtual. Again, I'll go back to the fact of, there's a couple of things. One, this is a different way, from a management standpoint, a relatively easy way, inexpensive way, to get good solid training in. Again, with the younger deputies, they grew up playing these games. ASIM intermediate is not a game, but they grew up playing these sorts of games, using technology, and they're not afraid of it.

Michelle Cook:

So, I love the idea that it's, again, another training platform that resonates with a lot of people. I think good police leaders, good fire leaders, good EMS leaders should really consider a variety of platforms when bringing in such an important topic like this. Because understanding that some of your members are going to like the hands-on in person training. Some of your members are going to like the virtual training. Some of your members are going to like another training platform that's out there. Really, I think it's a great opportunity to utilize different platforms that present the same concepts, because, again, it just really deepens and further seeds the embedding of this process of this response into the core your agency.

Bill Godfrey:

I think you're probably right. It's a fascinating topic, and I'm not really sure where it's going to go. Obviously, we have restarted our face-to-face deliveries as well, and we are going to maintain the virtual platform. In fact, we've got a couple of other classes that we're going to be rolling out on it. We've got some EOC training classes that are planned, and hospital active shooter course, and a couple of other things that are in the works. So, we're going to make use of the platform moving forward, but I'll be curious to see longterm what that impact is.

Bill Godfrey:

So, let me shift gears a little bit, Sheriff. You took over a county law enforcement agency. You're the big boss. The buck stops with you. Your agency, and your county or region has adopted the Active Shooter Incident Management checklist process, if you will. You've had this preliminary training, which obviously didn't hit all of your people. I know you've got way more people than that. So, what's next? Where are you going to go from here?

Michelle Cook:

Well, for us, it's a couple of things. Again, deliberately putting some ringers in the class that really appreciate and understand the processes. We're continuing to push it out. In fact, my training division, which consists of several SWAT guys, and the SWAT guys, anything that's active shooter, your SWAT guys tend to give it credibility if they've bought into it. So, that was part of the deliberate processes, getting those guys to buy in. So, they're continuing the training. When they go out and do the traditional room clearing, and suspect mitigation training, and when they're out there doing that, they're implementing the principles that they learned in the ASIM intermediate into our routine training at our agency. For me, we're going to continue to push those principles and concepts out.

Michelle Cook:

I will tell you at my previous agency, where I was a chief of police, they even went one step further. The guys on the street, in any hot call or priority one call, they would use the ASIM principles. The person in charge of the hot zone declares themselves tactical, and he will say if staging was needed, he would set up upstaging, or she would set up staging. So, whether it was a robbery in progress, or burglary in progress, they carried it one step further out there. I'm hoping to see that with my new agency, sort of organically letting that happen. I think we're heading that way, but as a police leader, continue pushing the principles.

Michelle Cook:

I tell people that management is a perishable skill. If you don't have a plan, a training plan, to continue pushing it, people will lose that skill. So for us, it's the informal training, the formal training, and then reaching back out to seek new pathways every couple of years, and bringing the training in for a refresher, so to speak, is where I'm headed with it.

Bill Godfrey:

It's so interesting to hear you say that. I can't remember if it was last week or a week before, but just in the last two weeks, we had a podcast episode where the whole episode was about other uses of the ASIM checklist, besides just active shooter. To me, it's one of those funny little secrets that we chuckle about because it is what you just said. The ASIM checklist process is a standardized way of approaching these things, and it doesn't have to be an active shooter call for it to be very useful in laying out the roles.

Michelle Cook:

Absolutely. I mean, my folks used it in a robbery to a bank in progress, we've used it on house fire calls, just to avoid over convergence, who's in charge of the hot zone. We're evacuating due to a fire, not due to an active shooter, but still a lot of the same things are happening. Again, as a long time police practitioner, and two decades on the street, so to speak, I absolutely, without a doubt, 100% believe, and have seen, the ASIM checklist principles applied to other hot calls. When they're using it for those other calls, when the big call does come in, when the active shooter incident does come in, they're not looking for their checklists in the car, so to speak. It is in their mind because they've been using it on the hot calls already.

Bill Godfrey:

I think that's wonderful. I always knew you were a law enforcement leader with a lot of vision. I know I've told you that before, and you always roll your eyes at me when I say it. You're probably rolling your eyes right now.

Michelle Cook:

Probably.

Bill Godfrey:

It was decades ago that you saw through some of the, for the benefit of the audience, I say frequently to people, and to the other instructors, FEMA and the fire service did a horrible disservice to law enforcement. When we convinced you that ICS meant an 18 Wheeler semi-truck of paperwork is going to back up to your scene, and vomit paper on your scene. That's really not what ICS is about, but I mean-

Michelle Cook:

Right.

Bill Godfrey:

... it was at least two decades ago that you kind of saw through that and said, "Wait a minute, there's something of value in here for law enforcement." So, you've been a practitioner of it for a very, very long time.

Michelle Cook:

Absolutely.

Bill Godfrey:

You're not a Johnny come lately. You've been doing this a long time, but let me ask you this, we'll wrap up here on this final closing thought. What would you say to your fellow law enforcement leaders who are the sheriff, the chief of police, the deputy chief, chief deputy at the county Sheriff's office, what would you say to them about how to get started and make things a little bit better? Maybe they've done some contact training. They've done a little bit of move to the threat training, but not a whole lot beyond that, haven't done any integrated stuff with their fire EMS agencies. What would your advice be to them?

Michelle Cook:

Well, the first thing I would tell him is I think you're morally, ethically, and legally obligated to move beyond just dealing with the suspect. Police leaders can't say, "Well, I taught him how to shoot the bad guy, but all these other bad things happened because we weren't prepared." Study after study, after action report, after action report show and prove that the incident management is really where things fall. Unfortunately, people die because scenes are not managed correctly. So, as a police leader, as a fire leader, as a EMS leader, you have an obligation legally, morally and ethically to take the next step, which is the scene management, the active shooter or critical incident team management.

Michelle Cook:

I'll say this, and I've said it before, because again, I was on the street for 20 years. I was the commander of our SWAT team for three years. I led a patrol division for a number of years. The principles at ASIM are simple, comprehensive, and they work. If you, as a police leader, are not moving your team to the next step of scene management, when it does happen in your jurisdiction, you're going to be the one at the end of the day that has to answer for why your folks messed up. And it's not that they messed up, it's that you didn't take them to the next step of training,

Bill Godfrey:

Sheriff Michelle Cook, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today, and to talk about this and share your experience. I know I speak with fondness from the other instructors. We miss you. We look forward when the time comes that your life slows down a little bit, that you can join us doing some of the training classes, but we know in the meantime, you're doing very, very important work on the other side. So, thank you for carving the time out to, to make this happen. Thanks for being here.

Michelle Cook:

Absolutely, Bill. I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you, sir.

Bill Godfrey:

Absolutely. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us for this podcast. We hope you enjoyed it. If you have not subscribed to the podcast, please do so wherever you're consuming your podcasts. I'd like to also give a shout out, thanks to our producer, Karla Torres for putting these things together for us. Until next time, stay safe.

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