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The Tactical Training Book

With today’s increasingly complex training requirements, many police departments and law enforcement agencies are upgrading or replacing their shooting ranges. We asked three leading architecture firms to provide guidance on how to plan and build a successful Tactical Training Facility.

Planning the project

Q. When is the best time to bring an architecture firm on board?

A. Sooner, not later! Michael Stilwell and Danny Walker (an architect) with Clark Nexsen Public Safety (CN) recommend that you “Talk with a group like CN far enough in advance to let them help you design within your budget, and not get locked into a solution that doesn’t meet your needs.” Raymond Lee with FGM Architects seconds that motion: “Many range builders try to do it alone, but eventually they call us.” This thought was echoed by Walker.

Q. Who else can we use as a sounding board as we begin our discussions?

A. Hold neighborhood meetings to get public input and generate support for the project. It also helps to visit other nearby police departments to learn from their experiences. Additionally, be sure to involve your own end users -- your staff who will serve as instructors on the range.

Q. What questions should we raise?

A. Lee starts by asking PD’s: “What types of firearms training would you like to accommodate? What types of firearms will be used (handguns/rifles)? Are there other types of munitions that we need to accommodate such as smoke or flash bangs? How often will training take place? By estimating the number of rounds fired helps us to determine the type of bullet traps that are needed.”

Lee’s list also covers Support Requirements: “Do you need a staging area for instruction and preparation prior to entering the range? Are weapons cleaning areas required? Is an armory for weapons and ammunition storage required? Is a work area for an armorer required? What are storage requirements for targets, backers, props, brass casings, and range maintenance equipment?”

Q. What things do many PDs overlook that later come back to haunt them?

A. Matt Veasman, an architect with Police Facility Design Group, notes that “People sometimes fail to build what they truly need. For example, your PD may need a $5 million range but there's only $3.5 million in the budget. Don't resort to a substandard range! Don’t leave things out that you'll later regret not having.”

CN’s Stilwell and Walker concur: “Design around the ways people will use the range. Don’t build a fixed range only to discover later that your users need to shoot tactical.”

FGM’s Raymond Lee points to several other areas of concern that many people overlook:

· Noise control – Where do you place the range to minimize noise issues to the rest of the building?

· Decontamination – Provide enough space for a walk-off area when exiting the range. A single sticky-pad outside the range is often insufficient to remove lead from the shoes of an officer who has been all over the range in a tactical training scenario.

· Storage – Be sure to provide sufficient space for weapons and props. Leaving items on a table in the back of a range can interfere with the laminar flow of the ventilation system.

· Maintenance – Range ventilation equipment requires routine filter changes. Access needs to be carefully considered as HEPA filters are heavy and need to be handled carefully to prevent lead exposure and contamination.

Building to meet the threats of today … and tomorrow

“Law enforcement is a dynamic endeavor,” says CN architect Danny Walker, “Don't base design solely on the particular type of threat you're encountering today. Instead, incorporate flexibility for changes as future threats emerge.”

Q. Why build a Tactical Facility rather than a Fixed Range?

A. It’s unanimous. According to CN, “The only people doing fixed position ranges these days are commercial range owners. It's been years since we designed a non-tactical or fixed firing position law enforcement range.” Lee concurs. “We haven't worked on a fixed position range since the 1980's! Use-of-force scenarios have become more sophisticated today, requiring tactical training, for example, to practice ‘shoot/no-shoot’ scenarios. Matt Veasman adds that “In law enforcement, you're never standing 25' away with a wall to lean on! And, you can also line people up for standard fire drills.”

Q. What types of training scenarios should we plan for?

A. More from Veasman: “Plan for an extremely flexible range so you can create different situations. For example, you may need to react to a threat at less than 3 yards, so, practice 1-2 yards away. Begin well out of range and charge with cover. This allows you to train for, ‘what is safe cover’? A car door may not stop a bullet; you need to use the engine block.”

Q. What special design considerations should be taken for a Tactical Range?

A. “A lot more ballistic-resistant steel is required on a tactical range,” according to CN, “You don't want to worry about the shooter moving down-range and putting a shot through the roof or walls of the range.” And, by way of comparison, “In a tactical range, you need to put envelope above the baffles; close off baffles to assure laminar air flow down the range. The whole envelope is sealed up so the air stays laminar. For fixed firing, on the other hand, you only need this provision in shooter's respiratory-zone.”

Q. Since we already have a fixed range, can we simply convert it to tactical?

A. Yes you can, but be careful! Lee explains, “Training staff and range masters need to talk first: ‘What things could you do different/better once the range is safer?’ Avoid the temptation to ‘self-convert’ a fixed range. This typically results in inadequate ventilation.” CN concurs, “We’ve seen people supply air behind the shooter and extract it behind the bullet trap (as it should be), but I've seen some static ranges where air is exhausted only part way down the range to save on ductwork. This approach is not appropriate for a tactical range.”

Size matters

Yes, size matters…at least when it comes to Tactical Training Facilities. Here are some guidelines.

Q. What are the optimum dimensions for law enforcement?

A. Experts agree that a Tactical Training Facility should be:

· 25 yards long (at a bare minimum -- 50 to 100 yards is better).

· At least 20 feet wide -- or a 5’ width per lane. This is the minimum. Consider 30' wide or even 42' wide, which is ideal but costly in terms of baffles and Range Ventilation required. This allows more room to go side to side during training exercises. Clark Nexsen Public Safety also recommends the side walls be ballistic for the potential of 180 degree shooting in more realistic training scenarios.

CN points out that “The main driver for size of range is the sweet spot in the ventilation system, especially in today's world where you're not doing a lot of overhead target runners. In a modular range, size is driven by the HVAC equipment.”

Q. What other considerations should enter into decisions on range dimensions?

A. A few ideas from Clark Nexsen:

· Design may need to allow for a tactical vehicle (patrol car) to be placed on the range. This is becoming more difficult now that everyone's making the shift towards SUVs!

· Height – Free-standing range best at 14' or more since there is a cost advantage to running ductwork. Ceiling is typically 10-12' high (in a 25-yard range), though can be as low as 8'.

· Width – CN interviews the end-user with a list of 100 questions: ‘How many people do you train per year? What are you going to shoot on the range?’ The sweet spot is around 42' wide per range bay, especially for the HVAC costs. Anything larger than that requires putting in another ventilation unit, which we try to avoid.

Let’s get the job done

We’ve got the plan laid down, now let’s get the team together to make it happen.

Q. Who should we recruit to be on the project team?

A. International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recommends combing your community for subcontractors who can help with windows, landscaping, and other aspects of the project. Hiring locally helps assure that contractors will put forth their best effort, and promotes a sense of ownership that pays off in a multitude of ways.

Q. How will your architecture firm work with Carey’s to provide the ventilation system?

A. Architecture firms, including the three we spoke with for this Answer Book, collaborate with a range ventilation firm like Carey’s in order to train users and design, engineer, install, balance, and test the Range Ventilation system. Projects vary; there are a number of ways this relationship can work.

Clark Nexsen’s experts explain that “Because we are a full service design firm, we can design the ventilation system and Carey's bids on it, or Carey's will provide a design-build ventilation solution e.g., for a design-build military project. In the case of a design-build job, Carey's will look at it from day one and, in effect, Carey's will be part of our in-house design team.”

FGM’s Raymond Lee details that, “When the range ventilation systems are provided on a design-build basis, Carey's provide us with preliminary information that we can utilize in our designs. The information includes size and weight of equipment, size of ducts and radial diffusers, intake/exhaust louver sizing, and power requirements. We then prepare drawings and performance specifications based on input from Carey's. After that, the project can be put out to bid.”

Q. How does Carey's add value in the working relationship?

A. Regardless of how the job is structured, there are good reasons to bring Carey’s to the table. “Anyone can provide a system exactly as designed and specified, but Carey's can add value,” says Lee. “When we design the range ventilation systems, they may come back with, ‘hey you might want to look at this; you can save some money here’.” Moreover, “a lot can take place over the phone or by e-mail, but it’s good to know clients will be served properly when Carey’s is involved.”

Q. Any more questions?

A. Call Carey’s today at (708) 532-2449 for a free consultation. And visit for helpful links to resources provided by IACP and architecture firms.

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