Monday, January 24, 2005

Stage Construction and Fault Lines

This past weekend I competed in an IPSC match which was very well designed. The stages were designed to for competitors to move from one side of the bay to the other in order to even see, let alone engage, targets. This not only helped ensure that round-count per shooting position was easily kept within the 9-round limit (USPSA rule 1.2.1) but also competitors were unable to bypass shooting positions in non-compliance with USPSA rules and

However, the match featured one stage which required the competitor to engage some targets inconveniently placed 'around the corner' of a vision barrier. The construction team had placed a 12' two-by-four from the corner of the vision barrier extending back toward the starting box, in an apparent effort to ensure that competitors not move too far laterally to engage the targets. I'm not sure how this 'fault line' improved the stage, but it was there and was obviously intended to be observed.

The problem was that this legal fault-line was short. It was arguably advantageous for the competitor to engage this target array from an area which was not bounded by the fault line ... say, from 20 feet away from the vision barrier.

While I was serving as Range Officer, one competitor did engage these targets from this 'grey area'. The Match Director of this club match happened to be a member of this squad, and took exception to my failure to penalize the competitor for failing to observe this fault line. the competitor was, in fact, standing several feet beyond (to the "rearward") of the end of the physical fault line.

The Match Director's objections were that:
  1. Fault Lines "... are deemed to extend rearwards to infinity [] and
  2. The competitor was obviously (to the observing Match Director) standing in a place where the extended fault line would not have allowed him to engage the targets.
I refused, as Range Officer, to assign a procedural penalty to the competitor; on the grounds of faulty stage construction.

My reasoning was based upon current IPSC rules:
[2.2.1] ... fault lines should be constructed of wooden boards or other suitable material and should rise at least 2 centimeters ... above ground level. This will provide both physical and visible reference to competitors to prevent inadvertent faulting.

I judged that he, the competitor, couldn't have discerned by "physical and visible reference" that he was or was not beyond the boundries of the hypothetically extended fault line.

The competitor might arguable have been able to look down and see that the board was pointing somewhere to the north of his southern-most foot, but who among us (as competitors) will allow ourselves to be distracted by this petty activity, at the cost of losing our focus and taking valuable time? Competitors have the reasonable expectation that stage designers will establish a fulat line which conforms with the definition established by the current rules. It is perhaps reasonable to assume that if the stage designer, and the stage construction team, wished to enforce this fault line ... they would have taken the time and trouble to construct a fault line which was in accordance with the guidelines defined in the rule book.

A "Fault Line" (or "Charge Line", in different circumstances) is not 'a line in the sand'. The competitor is focusing on targets. The Range Officer is focusing on the gun. The Assistant Range Officer (often the score-keeper) is usually charged with observing foot faults ... which in this specific instance did NOT happen.

(UPDATE: I am reminded by the gentleman who was score-keeper that he DID observe the 'foot fault', and he did bring it to my attention. Thanx for keeping me honest.)

The "line in the sand" concept is not in accordance with IPSC rules, and is in fact unenforceable. when there is no obvious fault line for reference, the Range Officer AND the competitor are placed in the unenviable position of having to judge foot position by subjective means.

The rule [2.2.1] is clear about the definition of a fault line. If the stage construction team fails, through lack of materials or for other reasons, to construct a legal fault line, then the competitor is not liable to penalty by virtue of THEIR lapse.

And the Range Officer is placed in the uncomfortable position of either proliferating the 'assumed' intend of the stage designer, or allowing the competitor a great degree of leeway in deciding for himself whether he is standing to the left, or to the right, of the' extended' fault line.

(There's an implied contract here. The stage designer will decide that a fault line will exist. The stage construction team will build the fault line, which will conform by rules & guidelines universally recognized within all IPSC regions. The competitor will observe a legal fault line, and the Range Officer will enforce the observance. When one member of this contract fails to abide by the implied contract, the contract is rendered invalid.)

The moral of the story is: if you are the Range Master (or, in a club match, Match Director), you are required to evaluate all stages for potential problem areas before the match begins. If a stage construction 'malfunction' causes an unexpected controversial approach to shooting the stage, then you have no recourse but to either allow 'unintended consequences', correct the problem and have everyone affected by the change reshoot it, or to throw the stage out of the match.

Folks, we (competitors and Range Officers) do the best we can with the shooting problem we're given. Match Directors and stage construction teams have MUCH more time to de-bug the stage than the competitors have to evaluate it and decide on a reasonable solution.

(Disclaimer: I realize that when you're in charge of a match and you're trying to build a half-dozen stages on match-day morning, you don't really have as much time as you would like to find all of the problems that might arise. It helps when the competitors look for these oversights and draw them to your attention during the walk-through.)

The Range Officer ... just calls 'em as he sees 'em.

(updated 1-24-05 to correct mis-statement, add the 'disclaimer', and reword some phrases)