There’s a military aphorism “Train as you fight, fight as you train.” I was recently reminded of this by a friend mine and a reader of my blog. We’ve shared a mutual interest in the space program for decades. He mentioned this last week (though I can’t seem to find the post) in response to something I wrote and it got me thinking.
When we teach cave rescue, we almost always use a real patient in the litter. There’s a couple of reasons for this. For one, it ipso facto recreates the actual mass and weight distribution of a real patient. Now, there are training dummies that are similar in weight and mass, but they can be a pain in the neck. For one thing, ever try to move an inert body? That’s what a training dummy can be like. Sure it’s great once it’s IN the litter, but getting it into position deep inside a cave can be almost impossible.
For another, it gives our students a chance to experience what being a patient feels like. This gives them a deeper appreciation for what it feels like to be moved through a cave. For example, you quickly realize that perhaps being dragged over the floor is less than ideal. Or, you learn as a patient what it feels like when your rescuers become nameless and faceless behind the glare of a dozen headlamps; next time you’re you’re a rescuer, you tend to keep in mind there’s an actual patient there and talk to them and treat them like an actual person, not a lump you’re moving through the cave.
And this leads to one of the biggest reasons: we don’t want our students to get in the habit of treating a patient like a lump in a litter. We want them to realize there’s an actual person in there.
I once did a practice rescue with a local sheriff’s department. Since it was their exercise, they set the rules. They elected to use a straw dummy as the patient. They congratulated themselves on a successful rescue at the end of the exercise. I saw a disaster. For one thing, the litter was so light, they could have probably had one person pick it up and carry it out of the cave. This may sound like a minor or even funny nit to pick. But, it can lead the Incident Commander to misjudge the crew size that may be necessary in a real rescue. (We had a cave rescue here in New York State about 20 years ago where the patient was only 300 feet into the cave. It was so arduous that we ended up having to fly in cavers from West Virginia; all the local cavers who could fit were completely exhausted.)
Because of the lightness they were practically bouncing the litter off the ceiling and walls because straw dummies don’t scream in pain when they hit rock. If they had tried to move an actual patient in that manner, they’d might have been surprised by the patient’s expressive vocabulary.
Training as one fights, or training as one rescues doesn’t necessarily mean that every scenario exactly recreates what you expect to happen. As another adage says, “no battle plan encounters the first contact with the enemy.” So you might train with a mock patient who is 180lbs and has a broken leg. And then in a real event, the patient is 240lbs, diabetic and has a broken pelvis, twisted ankle and dislocated elbow. So no, you’re not going to practice every scenario. But you’re going to practice the general concepts and understand the ideas behind them. You want an effective fighting force, you put them in the field. You have explosions, gunfire, smoke, rain, mud, etc. You don’t simply sit them in a classroom and discuss these points.
The flip side, fight as you train is important too. When the fighting or rescuing begin, you can draw upon your experience in training and will be far less panicked. I know at the few rescues I’ve been involved in, that once I’m on site, I’ve become very calm. The training clicks. You can usually tell the untrained folks at an accident because they’re either panicking or have no idea what to do. The trained folks tend to react much more calmly. Also, trained people can act with a sense of urgency that doesn’t look like panic. Untrained people often move quickly, but without a sense of purpose. Don’t confuse moving quickly with moving urgently.
And all this applies to IT. I’ve said again and again that IT departments need to exercise their disaster recovery plans. It’s great to discuss them in a meeting and have a senior manager sign off on them. It’s another thing to actual practice mock disasters. This is when you realize that “oh Shelly is out on Wednesdays afternoons and only her computer has the phone numbers of the building manager.” Or “Oh, we were sure that the batteries were in good shape, but turns out they’re getting old and we only had 1/2 the runtime we expected.” Or, as has happened too many times, “oh we thought we had good backups, until we went to restore them.”
And practicing your DR plans means you’ll be far less pressured when you execute them and as a result will make far fewer mistakes.
Today’s take-away: practice until it becomes second nature so that when you need to act for real it is second nature.