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Simulation Training: Staying in Character and Using Consequences to Get the Most Out of Your Sim

 

Regardless of your equipment or budget, there are two key practices that can consistently increase the effectiveness of any simulation training program:

1. Build Consequences into Each Scenario

2. Stay in Character 

Rob Raheb—a simulation training specialist with FAAC—has decades of experience in Emergency Medical Services and has trained first responders and transit drivers for decades. In his experience, these no-cost training tactics will improve any simulation training program.

 

Building Consequences into Simulation Training Scenarios

“In real life,” Raheb points out, “most of the time, we get away with doing unsafe things: eating and driving, texting and driving, talking on our cell phone without a hands-free device, that type of stuff. And nothing ever happens: we don’t get pulled over and get a ticket, we’re not involved in a collision. Nine times out of ten, we get away with it, and that [reality] actually reinforces the unsafe behavior.”

As a result, 73 percent of all Americans think they are “better than average” drivers—an obvious impossibility (especially given that 90 percent of all accidents are due to human error). Given that the average transit driver spends ten times as many hours behind the wheel as the average driver and that the average first responder will be driving under exceptionally unforgiving conditions, Raheb believes dispelling this fantasy as quickly as possible is a vital part of any training.

“It’s so important that when we build our simulation training scenarios, there has to be a consequence for an unsafe behavior.” Raheb invites us to imagine a toddler playing in the kitchen. “If you tell him to be careful because the stove might be hot and he touches it, but no one’s been cooking, what’s he learned? Nothing—or worse, he’s learned it’s no big deal, and maybe Dad is a liar. But if he touches that hot stove just once, he learns fast. Unsafe behavior, when met with a consequence, eradicates the unsafe behavior. So in training, every time an unsafe behavior is done, we want it to be met with a consequence. And in contrast to being out on a closed course, in simulation, we can make sure every unsafe behavior results in that worst-case scenario every time.”

 

Stay in Character During Simulation Training

But building consequences into your scenarios—making sure that rolling through that stop sign results in hitting a cyclist—is just half the formula. The other half is you, as a trainer, staying in character.

“In my experience, when a student is involved in a collision in the simulator, the first thing that student wants to do is laugh. Not that it’s a joke. This is a psychological reflex to minimize the situation and stress. I’ve just killed somebody, and even though it’s ‘just a simulation,’ that still feels awful. So the student almost has to laugh, to make it into a video game, to help minimize the stress. As an instructor, what I need to do is bring them back up to that stress level again. I don’t allow them to laugh. I stay in character, even though they did not, and get back on the radio and make them go through the whole process, as they would in a real-life collision. I make them actually say that they are not going to make their ETA and actually describe the injuries. I tell them I’m sending EMS. Only then do we step back, debrief, and break down that situation and what led up to the collision, and what we’ve learned. What I like to tell them is that what you’ve learned is that the smallest mistake leads to the most horrific collision.”

Although this “play-acting” can feel awkward at first—possibly manipulative or even cruel—Raheb is emphatic about its importance to mitigate and minimize the risks that come with operating these vehicles.

“I purposefully put them there [in the scenario]…. And I keep them there, by staying in character, so that the consequences of their actions can help fix that lesson in their minds more permanently.”