Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Tunnel Vision, Tunnel Hearing, and Stress

Sometimes during a dangerous or life-threatening situation it simply becomes impossible for you to attend to all the stimuli coming at you simultaneously. A temporary blindness or deafness effect can take place as a result. A variety of factors that include high levels of adrenaline in the body from stress or anger cause inattentional blindness--a temporary loss of peripheral vision, also referred to as temporary tunnel vision. Inattentional blindness is a psychological lack of visual perception that is not associated with any vision defects or deficits. Inattentional deafness is a similar phenomenon that affects hearing and is not associated with any hearing defects or deficits.

Everyone’s reaction to a life-threatening situation will be somewhat unpredictable. Although many accounts of traumatic incidents have similarities, no two are the same. People working in the military, police, fire, or medical fields have experienced numerous sensory distortions including tunnel vision while under stress. If you are not aware that you could experience the world in such a bizarre way, it could add to your stress levels.

“I told the SWAT team that the suspect was firing at me from down a long dark hallway about 40 feet long. When I went back to the scene the next day, I was shocked to discover that he had actually been only about 5 feet in front of me in an open room. There was no dark hallway.”

Tunnel Vision: Tunnel vision can result from the combination of a fear-induced adrenaline dump associated with a specific, dangerous threat. Because kind of danger you have to be in to experience a fear-induced adrenaline rush isn’t something we can practice in a safe training environment, it is important to study the symptoms so we can recognize them when they occur.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University ran a series of tests on human subjects with a goal of measuring the loss of visual acuity while engaging them in activities designed to narrow attention. The experiment was designed to cause tunnel vision—and it did. However, while the subjects experienced tunneled vision, they also experienced decreased auditory attention (tunnel hearing?).

Researchers discovered that visually focusing on something intently led the audio cortex to turn down the volume as well. According to Drs. Yantis and Shomstein: "Our findings support several conclusions. First attention affects early visual and auditory sensory responses. The “push-pull” effect of switching attention between vision and hearing suggests that focusing attention on auditory input (e.g., a cellular telephone conversation) can impair the ability to detect important visual events (e.g., driving an automobile). When attention is directed to the visual system the strength of audial attention is compromised (and vice versa) leading to potentially significant behavioral impairments." In other words, a person intently focused on something visual could have diminished hearing. Conversely, a person intently listening to audible cues such as a radio or cell phone could have diminished visual performance.

In this article, I focus on these sensory distortions--tunnel vision and tunnel hearing.

Look at the sequence of pictures below. In this incident, three armed individuals invade a home. As they are searching through the house, they awaken a woman who steps into a doorway. One of the home invaders (white hat & jacket) notices the woman, points his pistol at her, and begins moving toward her. She opens fire with her pistol. Surprise!

Invaders #1 & #2 immediately begin scrambling to escape through the door they kicked in to gain entry. The woman advances toward the escaping home invaders and fires another shot. As she does this, home invader #3 comes running out of a hallway to the woman’s left with his pistol pointed toward her (see movement 1). As he careens past, at one point his pistol is pointed toward her head while her pistol is simultaneously pointed at him (movement 2). Their arms collide as invader #3 continues running—deflecting both pistols—neither fire (movement 3).

Invader #3 continues running toward the back door (movement 4) while she continues advancing and shooting at invaders #1 & #2 who are firing back at her without even glancing at invader #3 (movement 5).

Based on the video, I believe the woman and invader #3 were both experiencing tunnel vision. I doubt they even noticed each other at all. She was focusing on the two invaders to her front who were also shooting at her and invader #3 was fixated on escaping (he ran through the glass door at the rear of the kitchen). The video is available here: Home Invasion

Tunnel Hearing or Audio Exclusion: Tunnel hearing is like tunnel vision. In October 2021, Mr. Prince Riley and a colleague had advertised dirt bikes for sale. Two men approached Riley at his home and indicated they were interested in purchasing the bikes and Riley invited them into his garage to view the bikes. One of the men indicated that he wished to purchase the dirt bikes and that he needed to return to his car to obtain cash. The man returned and brandishing a pistol, announced a robbery. The perpetrator moved to close the garage door when he stated his intent to kill everyone.

As Prince Riley reacted to this announcement and began drawing a concealed handgun, the perpetrator fired at Riley six times missing him with all six. Riley fired once, ending the attack. Riley later stated that he thought the attacker shot at him three times. Audio from Riley’s surveillance system made it clear that the perpetrator had fired six distinct shots. Riley had experienced auditory exclusion.

So, are we are stuck with a genetic predisposition that prevents us from dealing with dangerous modern emergencies? No, because we can learn, remember, adopt and practice a plan to deal with emergencies. Look at the video at the link below. The gentleman in the black shirt with a white stripe on the shoulder is an off-duty police officer who chooses to engage a robbery team at a supermarket. The wisdom of engaging in a gunfight with numerous children in the vicinity notwithstanding, the officer does not become so fixated on the bad guys to his front that he fails to notice shots coming from behind him. In other words, he does not succumb to tunnel vision nor tunnel hearing. He immediately moves to a cover position and confronts the threat behind him in response to the unexpected sound of shots to his rear (at the 24 second mark in the video). An example of good training. Supermarket video: Supermarket

These psychological and physiological reactions to dangerous events have worked very well to ensure the survival of our species. Maintaining an intense and narrow visual focus on a cave lion spotted in the brush may have been a very good survival mechanism for the early modern human. Individuals with these traits survived encounters with wild animals and their families benefited from the increased safety in the immediate environment and more protein available in their diet. This increased their chance of passing their genes onto modern humans.

Going through any simple series of motions causes the neurons in your brain that control that movement to fire in a particular sequence. The more often you repeat a physical sequence, the more “automatic” the sequence becomes. Just thinking about making those movements stimulates both the neurons in the brain that control those movements as well as the neural pathways in the muscles that command the muscles to move. Research has shown that visualizing emergency procedures is almost as good as actually performing them.

The first step in dealing with narrowing attention is understanding that it can happen as your stress level rises and your body does an adrenaline dump in response. Being able to control your stress is one of the best ways to combat the ill-effects of the hormonal chemical dump that changes your psychological, cognitive, and physical performance. Breathing techniques are very effective if you have time. If you find you are fixating on one sound or one task, make a conscious effort to unlock your senses from it and force yourself to scan your environment. It may also help combat the effects of tunneled senses if you ask yourself: What am I missing?

Practicing reactions to emergencies increases our confidence and increased confidence lowers the stress response of our bodies when we actually face dangerous situations. Our field of vision is not as narrow as it might be otherwise and our tendency to fixate on a “fear object” diminishes. Because our brain is in a more relaxed state, it is more able to dedicate resources to creatively addressing new challenges (for example, incoming gunfire from an unexpected direction). If we practice the right thing instead of simply allowing our natural reactions to rule the situation we are better able to successfully manage our behavior.

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1 Anecdotal statement from a Law Enforcement Officer. Perceptual and Memory Distortion During Officer-Involved Shootings by Alexis Artwohl, Ph.D. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 2002/18

2 Control of Attention Shifts between Vision and Audition in Human Cortex, Sarah Shomstein and Steven Yantis Journal of Neuroscience 24 November 2004, 24 (47) 10702-10706

3 Stay Ready So You Don't Have to Get Ready -- The Prince Riley Story, Concealed Carry Magazine, January 2024, Vol 21, Issue 1, pages 70-75

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Ed Monk’s Active Shooter Instructor Class -- An After Class Review

I recently attended Ed Monk’s Active Shooter Instructor class at Karl Rehn’s KR Training facility. The counter Active Shooter Instructor class is a two-day course for firearm instructors structured to provide an outline for experienced firearms instructors to develop and teach citizens, law enforcement, churches, schools, and businesses an effective active shooter response program. The classroom training provided extensive coverage of trends, lessons-learned, and valuable insight into the reality of an active shooter attack.

The Federal Government defines an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” In addition to the term “active shooter,” several other terms to describe someone committing these atrocities are in use in the United States including mass murderer, active killer, mass shooter, active mass murderer, and probably others. Many within the firearms community decry the use of “active shooter” because a first responder deploying a firearm is in fact an active shooter as well. Ed stated that he uses the term “active shooter” because that term is the one most used in the United States.

Time and math. While it is theoretically possible to stop an active shooter before he causes any casualties, it is statistically unlikely. The question then becomes “How many casualties are acceptable?” This number is a function of time and math. Ed’s research indicates that the typical active shooter will shoot someone every ten seconds. Therefore in 30 seconds, on average the shooter will shoot three people.

I live in the small city of Garden Ridge, TX. Occasionally the Garden Ridge Police Department hosts short, private-citizen  active shooter response classes. In an announcement for a class, the Garden Ridge PD stated that: “Once notified, law enforcement will respond as quickly as possible with an average response time of three minutes.” Few would argue that three minutes is a good response time; however, in three minutes, the average shooter will have shot eighteen people. Some active shooters shoot many more than one every ten seconds in the initial moments of the attack so the casualty numbers in three minutes could be much higher.

Ed discusses the skills, tactics, techniques, and mindset necessary to stop an active shooter. Per Ed: “The best way to save the most lives once an active shooter attack starts . . . is to stop the shooter quickly!” The most successful technique is to attack the shooter and shoot him down. Other techniques include causing him to commit suicide and/or disabling the shooter or his weapon. Ed also discusses the unfortunate fact facing those who choose to be or are forced to be unarmed: you can fight (unarmed) or watch him shoot people.

Ed provides detailed data and analysis of all varieties of active shooter incidents and locations. He then provides an overview showing how to design and manage training specifically for the different types of locations where active shooter events typically occur.

Since this was an instructor class, the range training focused on live-fire drills and scenarios that train and assess skills critical to stopping this threat. The range training discussed how to run scenarios using both 3D and photo targets and how to manage these decision-based scenarios.

Hunting an Active Shooter


Found Him

I have taken enough training over the years that I consider the class a success if I walk away with one or two new concepts or instructional techniques. Ed Monk’s Active Shooter Instructor class was worth the time and effort to attend—I learned a lot and walked away with a wealth of new material.

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Monday, March 18, 2024

My Friend Could Not Stop the Bleed

A close friend of mine died recently—he shot himself in the left femoral artery and bled to death. It may have been an accident or it may have been intentional, the totality of recent circumstances in his life leave me and his other friends in doubt. We will never know with certainty; however, we do know that regardless of the original intent, he did try to apply a tourniquet but was not successful.

This prompted some reflection on my part. I consulted a friend of mine (Troy M.), a retired emergency room physician and my wife (also a former ER physician) and asked that given a “worst case scenario” how fast could you bleed out from a cut femoral artery? They both stated that worse case would be 60 – 90 seconds depending upon where and how the artery was damaged.

If the worst case is that you are by yourself (as my friend was), dealing with the shock and trauma from a gunshot, and with a 60 second clock ticking, digging through boxes to find the tourniquet you need to save your life is probably not going to work.

I tend to handle firearms in only two places in my home – the master bedroom and my workroom. The master bedroom is where I don and remove my every day carry pistol and my workroom is where I dry practice, clean, and maintain firearms.

Our master bedroom doubles as our safe room, so we have a complete trauma kit with tourniquets properly staged and other medical supplies ready to treat gunshot wounds and to stop the bleed.

That was not the case in my workroom. Although I do store medical supplies in my workroom, I did not have anything properly staged and ready for immediate use. I have corrected that oversight. Rest in peace my friend.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Gunfight Anatomy: The Bruce Lua Incident

This is the first in a series of articles and accompanying videos demonstrating just how fast deadly encounters can evolve. I have heard people say, “there is no timer in a gunfight.” The statement is obviously silly – the timing of your opponent’s actions dictates how fast your reaction (your timer if you will) must be in a gunfight.

One of the challenges anyone faces in a reactive gunfight is their perception-reaction time. The time required to respond to a given stimulus varies greatly across different tasks and even within the same task under different conditions. It can range from less than 0.15 seconds to many seconds depending upon the type of stimulus, the observer’s circumstances, the environment, and the stimulus complexity.

In the discussion below, I analyze the actions of three individuals involved in a gunfight. Two were Chicago Police Officers and one was a run of the mill violent criminal actor.

The Background:

On 16 May 2021, Chicago Police began to receive 911 calls concerning shots being fired in a North Lawndale suburb of Chicago, IL. Simultaneously, the Chicago ShotSpotter system began registering gunfire (see note #1 below). Chicago police responded to the area and a bystander indicated that Bruce L. Lua might have been the shooter. The police (in a marked patrol car and on foot) followed Lua for several blocks; however, Lua did not acknowledge the officers and did not follow their instructions to stop.

Other officers arrived and encountered Lua walking down an alley toward their marked patrol SUV that was stopped in and partially blocking the alley exit facing Lua. Officers Garcia and Nakayama exited their marked SUV and ordered Lua to stop and show his hands. Lua ignored their commands to stop and continued walking toward the officers with his hands concealed in his hoodie pockets.

The Gunfight:

As Officer Garcia exited the passenger side, he drew his Glock 19 to a low ready with his right hand and continued to order Lua to stop as he approached him--Lua ignored his command and continued to walk forward. Officer Nakayama exited the SUV driver’s side and began moving to his left away from the vehicle into Lua's likely path but did not draw his pistol.

When he was within three yards of Officer Garcia, Lua began withdrawing both hands from his hoodie pockets just like the officers had commanded. Lua used his left hand to shield the fact that he had a pistol in his right hand as he fired one shot at Officer Garcia striking Garcia’s pistol and hand. Lua then turned to Officer Nakayama and fired five shots, shooting him in the right shoulder and left hip respectively with the first three rounds.

Gunfight Analysis:

Lua drew and fired his pistol at Officer Garcia in 0.60 seconds; however, Lua’s pistol was only visible to Officer Garcia for 0.52 seconds before Lua fired (see red arrow below).

The Moment Lua's Pistol Becomes Visible
Based upon a review of the body worn camera (BOC) videos and police reporting, I believe the bullet Lua fired at Officer Garcia struck the trigger guard of Officer Garcia’s Glock 19 pistol. The bullet then entered the pistol grip, damaging several rounds in the pistol’s magazine (and partially ejecting the magazine) before entering Officer Garcia’s right palm and exiting the back of his hand. 

Officer Garcia’s pistol fired when Lua’s bullet struck it and this bullet impacted the concrete at Lua’s feet (see red arrow below). In an instant, Officer Garcia’s primary pistol was rendered inoperable. If he had a backup pistol, Officer Garcia never attempted to draw it.

Officer Garcia's Pistol Fires the Moment Lua's Bullet Strikes It

Lua turned and fired his first shot at Officer Nakayama 1.28 seconds into the gunfight and within 0.68 seconds of shooting Officer Garcia striking Officer Nakayama’s right shoulder on his bullet resistant vest. Lua fired a second shot at Officer Nakayama 0.50 seconds after the first which likely missed. Lua fires a third shot 0.33 seconds later likely striking Officer Nakayama in the left hip which caused the officer to stumble backwards and ultimately fall. Lua fires fourth shot 0.25 seconds later and a final shot, both of which miss Officer Nakayama. Lua's fifth shot hits the ground. In the image below left, you can see LUA firing his first shot at Officer Nakayama in the below right, Lua is firing his third shot.  Notice, Lua continued to aggressively advance toward Officer Nakayama as this exchange of gunfire unfolded.

Officer Nakayama drew his pistol and fired his first shot one handed 1.74 seconds after Lua initiated the gunfight and 0.66 seconds after Lua’s first shot had struck him. Officer Nakayama’s first shot appears to have struck the ground—not surprising since he had just taken a hit to his primary shoulder. Even though it was on the vest, the hit likely disrupted his draw to a degree. Nakayama point shoots a second shot with two hands 0.38 seconds later which likely struck Lua in the shin because Lua begins to fall.

Within 1.70 seconds of initiating the gunfight, Lua had shot at and hit two police officers with the first four rounds he fired. The entire gunfight lasted 2.62 seconds. (see note #3)

Perception and Reaction -- Is There a Lesson Here?

Events happen very fast in deadly force encounters. Quickly recognizing what is happening and then rapidly executing a pre-programed response is the key to prevailing in a deadly force encounter.

The person who takes the initiative gets to start the fight—all they require is decisiveness. Lua initiated the gunfight which gave him a significant time-advantage over the police officers.

Although Officer Garcia had drawn his pistol, he had no indication that Lua was going to use unlawful deadly force until an instant before Lua shot him. It is unlikely that Officer Garcia could have successfully engaged Lua before he was hit.

Lua’s first shot transition to Officer Nakayama was likely much faster than Officer Nakayama could have drawn his pistol from a retention holster. Nakayama was in the process of drawing his pistol when Lua’s shot struck him.

If we look at this incident using Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) decision cycle from the officer’s and the Lua’s perspective, Lua has already passed through a full OODA cycle. He Observed the officers approaching, Oriented when they parked the car, Decided to engage them, and began Acting while the officers were still in the Observe stage.

The quicker the defender (in this case the officers) perceives what is happening (observe), the quicker the defender can act (i.e. execute a response) (see notes #3 and #4).

The defender is typically behind in the decision cycle because the violent criminal actor is usually in the act stage while the defender is still observing. This is true of police and the private citizen.

Mental awareness and mindset is a critical component to surviving any defensive encounter involving deadly force. However, mindset alone is insufficient. It must be coupled with awareness, proper training, and a willingness to act. The solution to this challenge is to develop mental models of if “X” observation, then “Y” reaction. This allows one to skip the intervening steps in the OODA cycle.

In this example, Chicago Police policy (G03-02-05) permits the use of OC spray against “active resisters.” I am not going to second guess these officers and I recognize the difficulties all officers face in today’s politically charged environment. However, Lua was clearly an active resister and the immediate use of oleoresin capsicum spray may have precluded his ability to effectively engage the officers with deadly force.

The same holds true for the private citizen. If an unknown contact is approaching and attempting to engage you, there are several immediate actions you can take depending upon the totality of the circumstances. The key is to have a set of pre-planned actions to execute in response to a given stimulus.

For example, if I am pulling into my driveway and a car stops at the driveway entrance with young men exiting, I have several options. If I am still in the car, I can simply drive away. If I have exited the car, I can take cover and covertly draw my pistol and challenge them. Going through “what if” scenarios based upon your daily activities and deciding what your action would be in each scenario will significantly speed up your reaction if you are suddenly facing unlawful deadly force.

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(1) ShotSpotter uses a series of microphones and sensors to detect and geolocate gunfire. 

(2) I base my time analysis on the FPS or frames per second of the videos the Chicago PD released which provides data to the 100ths of a second accuracy assuming the frame rates have not been altered.

(3) "Understanding that the simple elements of an officer’s response such as perceiving, deciding, and reacting take time, and understanding how much time is critical in assessing train-ing tactics and in investigating the dynamics of officer-involved use-of-force scenarios." Police Officer Reaction Time to Start and Stop Shooting: The Influence of Decision-Making and Pattern Recognition, William J. Lewinski, PhD; et al.; Law Enforcement Executive Forum, Vol. 14, No. 2 • June 2014

 (4) For an in-depth discussion of Boy’s concepts: https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/behavior/ooda-loop/