Search and Assess – a thinking man’s guide.

Search and Assess, a thinking man’s guide.

Now before we go any farther let me preface this by saying my only claim here is that I am capable of critical thought. I can look at the various pros and cons of a recommended action and decide for myself if I think its suitable for me to adopt. I’m an engineer by trade so generally speaking I have a rather logical approach to things and a general disdain for ambiguity.

One of the things I have always been intrigued with is people’s desire, no…NEED to comment on the way they see people performing a post engagement “Search and Assess”. For the sake of this article when I use the phrase “search and assess” I am simply referring to the process of immediately searching and assessing your surroundings after engaging a threat.

Some of the comments are clearly made from a position of unconscious incompetence or in other words, they don’t know what they don’t know and they think it just looks stupid. If it wasn't for their by and large negative comments, I would give them a pass. Then you have the people who simply think they know better because they were taught a method by someone with a big resume and never actually employed any critical thought of their own, commenting in absolutes and name dropping as if that is somehow supposed to change my mind.

The biggest specific gripe I see when they watch one of our videos and see a student perform a Search and Assess at IDS is that we draw the firearm back into a high ready position and then we pivot our heads one way then the next. The detractors claim that the firearm should continue to be held in full presentation so they are ready to use if need be. This may or may not include slightly dipping the firearm, or following the assailant down to the ground. They also claim the firearm should be turning with you as you search and assess and you should completely turn 360 degrees. Now I am not going to sit here and state the above is wrong and what we do is correct, instead what I am going to do is simply try and explain why we do things the way we do.

To start I think it’s important to understand the context. At IDS our goal is self-defense, pure and simple. This involves the use of bare hands, striking, grappling, and ground fighting WITH the addition of a firearm and possibly a knife.

Keeping your firearm at full presentation while you turn 360 degrees may work perfectly fine and even be advisable on the battlefield where your opponents are at a distance and your teammates have your 6 or you have just worked your way to your current position and are fairly certain your 6 is clear. It may even be acceptable for LEO where they can get away with pointing a loaded firearm at someone without worrying about legal recourse.

However, in the context of a civilian defensive engagement, we have different criteria and expectations. For starters, we know that a large portion of violent encounters happen within 9 feet. We also know that approx. 50% of them involve more than 1 attacker. We also know that it takes approx. 1.5 seconds for a person to cover the distance of 21 feet and that an average response time is ~.25 seconds.

Let’s start by outlining the typical approach (#1) and the IDS approach (#2).

  • After engaging and stopping your visible/known threat, turn in a complete circle with firearm pressed out at full presentation so you are ready to use the firearm should another threat appear. This may or may not involve following the initial threat to the ground or perhaps just dropping the fully extended weapon slightly so you can get a better view of your initial threat.
  • After engaging and stopping your visible/known threat, pull the gun back into a high compressed ready position. Turn your head quickly in one direction attempting to get as much of a view behind you as possible, then proceed to scan the opposite direction doing the same. After the initial quick assessment take a more thorough look around turning your body with the firearm in a compressed high ready position, dipping the muzzle if needed (ie sul position) to prevent sweeping innocents.

Both of the above will work to break any sort of tunnel vision you may have. Both will allow you to view your environment and look for any additional attackers, identify an escape route, potential witnesses and/or any additional threats.

The main benefit #1 has is that as you turn to assess the environment for any additional threats you are in a much stronger position for getting accurate shots on target. The question everyone seems to ignore however is at what cost?

Once again, in the context of a civilian defending themselves from attack we know that they often occur within 9 feet and approx. half involve more than one attacker, that’s one step away from grabbing a firearm held at full presentation.

So as you turn to assess with your firearm at full presentation, as in #1 above, just how beneficial is having the gun at full presentation going to be? What if there is a secondary attacker? Do you think they are simply going to wait to close on you until their partner is on the ground? Or, is it more likely they will close on you while you are engaged, meaning that as you turn with the firearm in full presentation you will actually just be handing them your firearm?

What if there isn’t a secondary or tertiary attacker, are you just going to spin around in full presentation sweeping your companions and any other witnesses that may be present?

On the flip side we have #2 above where the firearm is drawn back into a compressed high ready position, granted not as strong of a shooting platform as full presentation, but at the same time if your attacker is within grapping distance you’re not going to be able to shoot from full presentation anyway. Any sound curriculum should include teaching students to fire from nearly any position outside the holster up through raising the firearm to the line of sight and all the way out to full presentation. We don’t have the luxury of having every assailant at 20+ feet, on the contrary we know a majority of them take place within a much closer distance so why not train for it? When we turn into the unknown we want to make sure that our firearm is protected as much as possible while still being accessible. This high compressed ready position is a compromise between weapon retention and usability.

Lastly, we have training artificialities that get introduced when using live weapons, and searching and assessing is one area where we see this. On many of the videos IDS posts from the range there will be students doing just a head or head shoulder turn to search and assess while their firearm remains pointed down range. We realize this is not ideal but for safety reasons we would rather not have people turning a complete circle with a live weapon, even if they are properly assuming a temporary sul position as to not sweep people. To account for the potential damage caused by this we do ample dry fire work in the classroom with inert training aids like the SIRT pistol where a much more dynamic and complete Search and Assess is done.

Larry H.