Hostage/Crisis Negotiations

For Hostage/Crisis Negotiation Team Conferences

This advanced training is offered for hostage negotiation conferences and other training venue. Ellis Amdur creates, often on site, a training scenario, specific to a mental illness or other pathological behavior. One negotiation team volunteers to move to another area and work as crisis negotiators. The negotiators are provided with the basics of the scenario, just as they would in a real situation.

Mr. Amdur presents to the audience the basics of communication with individuals with certain pathological styles. Then, using a phone with open mic capacity, the call is initiated. As the scenario ensues, audience members function as ‘consultants,’ observing the interaction as it unfolds. Mr. Amdur will frequently break the scenario in a natural way (“I need five minutes!  Call me back!”) and cuts off the call. Audience members are expect to discuss what they perceive is going on. This includes both tactical and psychological ideas. When the audience comes up with something useful, a member is sent back as a ‘runner,’ bringing new intelligence to the team. This can be a factual report, a tactical suggestion, or even “We got the following information from a family friend.” The audience must come up with a realistic way for them to have acquired the information. “We were able to open his juvenile criminal records and . . .” This exercise (or exercises – Amdur has done three in a single conference as part of a whole day training) is time limited. The goal is absolutely to provide learning to the audience – and to the volunteer team – so Amdur sets the exercise up for success. While remaining in character, he steers the exercise towards the most productive conclusion. This can include situations where, given it is a ‘victim taking’ as opposed to a ‘hostage taking,’ SWAT must move in to neutralize the threat.

Using a speaker-phone, time-limited exercises can be presented in front of an audience, with a negotiation team realistically interacting from another location.  These presentation scenarios, suitable for large conferences, enable all participants to hone their skills in recognizing and dealing with subjects with specific diagnoses, or other aberrant mental states.

Ellis Amdur is known for his ability to take on the behaviors and emotions of a mentally ill or intoxicated individual ‘from the inside out.’ However, rather than losing himself completely in the role, he is able to monitor the interaction with the trainee(s), so that practice remains geared towards a successful outcome. Therefore, his role will be dual: to portray, as accurately as possible, the behavior and verbalizations of a particular emotional crisis and, when necessary, to guide the negotiators toward a successful resolution through subtle changes in his behavior or communication patterns.

The exercise will remain under the control of the team leader, who will, as necessary, convey instructions to most effectively challenge the negotiation team.

Mr. Amdur is a graduate of the FBI’s forty-hour basic negotiation training, so he is familiar with the standards of practice of hostage negotiation.


Ellis Amdur used to provide on-scene scenario training for single teams. He soon realized that, due to the expenses involved, it was very difficult for crisis negotiation teams to bring him (or another expert) in to organize a single exercise. Beyond this, an effective team must practice regularly, not just ‘once and done.’

Therefore, in collaboration with Former Sergeant Lisabeth Eddy, former team leader of the Seattle Police Crisis Negotiation Team, Amdur and Eddy wrote SHAPESHIFTING.  Through this book, teams can set up their own scenarios, using actors, who are properly instructed through this book how to set up thirty psychologically and tactically realistic scenario. The negotiation team leader (often in tandem with SWAT) sets up a time-limited scenario in which a properly instructed role player will play the hostage taker or suicidal individual. The team leader will designate what particular skills he or she wishes the team to practice, although the team may not be informed of this.