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This Little Light of Mine

Tactical_flashlightThe other night, I was able to follow along with the SWAT team once again.  My role has evolved a little with them, and in addition to researching my next book, I am now their volunteer photographer.  (As volunteer community service goes, I scored the jackpot!  These guys are great!)

Rather than following specific scenarios as they had the last two times I've tagged along, the guys spent most of their time on basic drills:  room entries, searches, Lincoln drills, stairways, stacks, night vision, and corner advancement (using mirrors).  After dark, they were given some basics on flashlight safety and technique.

Huh?  Police SWAT guys need to learn how to use a flashlight?

There is actually a lot more to the art and science of flashlight usage than meets the eye, especially for the tactical officer.  A SWAT operator needs to be able to search a room quickly.  If that room is dark, he needs to use his flashlight in a way that's not going to make him a walking target.  Some of the techniques discussed included strobing (turning your light and off quickly so you can advance a few feet at a time) and rotating the flashlight with your wrist to make it difficult for the "bad guys" to pinpoint the light source.  The instructor was a wealth of knowledge on do's and don't's to keep everyone safe.

While listening to the very knowledgeable SWAT instructor, I started thinking about some of the parallels with communication.  Sometimes, it becomes difficult to pinpoint the source of a message as well.  When there is "big news on the grapevine" or the "office gossip is running rampant," the source of their information can be challenging to determine.  The media and pollsters in New Hampshire figured that one out this week as well, with Obama's 10 point lead becoming a 3 point loss to Clinton.  Where did they get their data?  Who knows?  But it turned out to be very inaccurate.

So what do you do when somebody is strobing and rotating a piece of "communication light" in front of you?  How can you get to the source to determine where the light is really coming from?  A few ideas:

  • Don't act on the information too quickly - if you can, sit on it overnight or for a few days.  Some rumors are simply a "flash in the pan" and fizzle out quickly.  The more sensational the rumor, the faster it seems to fizzle.
  • Find multiple, independent sources - if you hear people from different departments and functions who are saying pretty much the same thing, there may be a little more validity to the information.  Don't be afraid to do a little independent investigative research yourself.
  • Consider the source - what is the credibility of the individual who is speaking?  If they are nothing more than the office tabloid mongerer, then it's probably a case of "boy crying wolf."
  • Challenge the source - using phrases like "Wow, that's serious information, where did you hear that?" or "I bet the boss will go on a witch-hunt over that news" may get the person to back-pedal a little and tone down the message.

The last thing about flashlight safety also applies to communication:  don't allow yourself to get blinded unexpectedly.  For SWAT operators, it could mean their life.  For you, it could mean your career.

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