Before FBI officers are allowed on the line of duty, they are trained using stimulated films that anticipate the possible outcomes of various situations based on how students respond.

The former chief of the FBI crisis negotiation unit, Gary Noesner, says the training system employs a software-based teaching assistant, WILL Interactive's “The Incident.” The Incident is a CD-ROM that allows law enforcement negotiators to train in a realistic hostage situation. In the simulation, negotiators communicate responses to a desperate hostage taker holding an innocent victim.

“It is basically a film of a fictional hostage-taking event wherein the student negotiator comes to various junctures where he or she must provide a verbal reply to the hostage taker,” Noesner says. “Each response, depending on whether it is appropriate or not, then leads the student negotiator to a different point in the scenario. If the student negotiator communicates appropriately, the response from the hostage taker is positive, or conversely negative for using poor communication skills.”

This training tool engages the student negotiators emotionally and cognitively, says Sharon Sloane, co-founder, president and CEO of WILL Interactive Inc., Potomac, Md. “We created a methodology to design a cross between a feature film and computer game,” she says.

Noesner says he walked his classes through pros and cons of responses before allowing a student to respond to the hostage taker. “I felt the CD helped make the training more realistic for the students and brought out many good learning points,” he says.

He says there are positive benefits of using this form of training.

“Even when the student uses poor skills and gets a negative response from the hostage taker, he or she learns why not to negotiate that way,” he says. “It enforces good decision-making.”

Noesner says the lessons learned for police negotiators are numerous.

“Among the most important is that a good negotiator must first and foremost be a good listener,” he says. “A successful negotiator first demonstrates understanding and appreciation of the ‘crisis’ the individual is undergoing. Only after demonstrating that appreciation can a relationship of trust be developed that almost always leads to a peaceful resolution.”

Noesner served as chief for the last 12 years of his 30-year service with the FBI, and he says during that time, this training tool was distributed to law enforcement officers throughout the United States and the world.

“Dissemination of this training tool provided several benefits,” he says. “It helped to create a consistent and standard training product. When instructors train their students, there can be variations in their teachings. Therefore there was a need for increased uniformity around the country.”

This tool was developed for the FBI by WILL Interactive Inc.'s training CDs.

Noesner added that the WILL Interactive team worked closely with FBI negotiation instructors to collaborate on the subject matter of the film to better serve the training process.

“WILL Interactive had the skilled technicians and the FBI had the subject matter expertise,” he says. “It was important to link up these different skill-sets.”

Some of WILL Interactive technicians attended the FBI academy training classes and had discussions with the negotiators.

“The FBI needed to immerse the negotiators in a virtual experience or as close as possible to real situations they approach,” Sloane says. “Therefore when they face a situation on the job, they have had practice before dealing with it.”

After the research, an interactive movie script was developed, and the story was filmed, edited and programmed for use.

“Success to us is defined as changing behavior in a positive way,” Sloane says. “We tend to work in the gray areas of human interaction such as crisis management and ethnics where there is not a clear-cut answer. The shortcoming of the training process is creating ideal worlds, but we work to simulate actual situations for them to make the high-stress life-or-death situations.”

Noesner retired in January of 2003 and now works in private business for Control Risks Group, a crisis management consulting company. His company is exploring ways to partner with WILL Interactive to provide services to clients. During his FBI career, he trained police negotiators throughout the United States and abroad. With the success of “The Incident,” Sloane says the company is creating a sequel on suicide intervention.

WILL Interactive was incorporated in 1994 and developed Interactive Behavior Modification System methodology for creating computer-based full-screen, full-motion interactive movie virtual experiences to combine education, training and entertainment. They serve military, law enforcement and private organizations.