Exercise prepares Sill for chem threat, mass casualties
September 26, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- The frantic call came in about an hour after the workday had started. An employee hiding under her desk called 9-1-1 on her cell phone with shocking news. She had heard numerous gunshots coming from the Fort Sill Garrison commander's office at Taylor Hall, and she had seen casualties. As the dispatcher listened he could hear screams and more gunfire.
An active-shooter with numerous victims was the scenario on Day 2 of the postwide annual anti-terrorism exercise.
The full-scale exercise Sept. 17-18, tested the garrison's emergency services response as well as the communication flow between the incident commander, emergency operations center and garrison commander, said exercise director Steve Sayer, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security's Plans Branch chief. The exercise was part of the Installation Protection Program, which assesses resource management and critical decision making in a timed, stressful environment.
On Day 1, mailhandlers in Building 4700, the Welcome Center, discovered a package with an oily substance on it. Fort Sill Police patrolmen were first on scene and evacuated not only the mailroom but also the basement. Had this been a real event the entire building would have been cleared, said Sayer.
Pfcs. Andy Lopes and Justin Whitehead, Fort Sill Military Police K-9 unit, and their dog Dag, did a sweep of the offices near the mailroom for possible explosives.
Incident Commander Jeremy Thomas, Fort Sill Fire and Emergency Services assistant fire chief, contacted the 761st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company here who sent a team.
EOD Soldiers used a robotic device that located the parcel, and they X-rayed it remotely. The Soldiers determined that it was not an improvised explosive device.
Thomas then gave the green light for a two-man team of firefighters in hazardous material suits to go into the mailroom for further investigation. Everything looked normal to them until exercise controller Steve Gluck, Fort Sill emergency manager, threw in an exercise inject, or monkey wrench, that the players had to deal with.
In their hot suits with condensation forming inside, the firefighters looked at their narcotics, toxic chemical and explosive detection device. The device displayed: Tabun GA.
Radios cackled as the firefighters relayed this information to Thomas. Virtually instant research by Thomas and his waiting crew revealed Tabun to be a household pesticide, however, it can also be used a chemical warfare agent.
The firefighters were told to double-pack the parcel in cellophane bags and a sealed plastic bucket, and to come out and proceed to a decontamination station.
At the height of the chemical threat, 18 firefighters from two fire engine companies, half a dozen police officers and several Soldiers from the EOD were at Building 4700, Thomas said.
During the two days, many injects were thrown at the players that they had to respond to as part of the exercise.
The scenarios included a vehicle accident at 52nd Street Gate, an alarm going off in the Armed Forces Reserve Center armory and someone trying to bring weapons and IEDs through Apache Gate, said exercise player Darren Doyle, Fort Sill Police officer.
"Those are things we respond to everyday," he said.
Although this exercise involved a chemical threat and a shooting, the principles and techniques used to respond to these emergencies can be applied to any crisis on post, such as a major fire, Sayer said.
Jared Burks, Fort Huachuca (Ariz.) Fire Station captain, participated as an evaluator of the incident command post.
"I was looking at the command post communications, how clear their 'size up' was of the incident and how well they reported it to units arriving on scene," said Burks. "I also evaluated their resource managment how they requested additional units, either on post or off post."
Sayer said he was looking at how well the exercise participants worked together. At the end of each event there was an after action review with the players. And, at the completion of the exercise there was an AAR with upper level commanders to evaluate how the units functioned as a team.
After the chemical threat exercise, Thomas said he was pleased with his firefighters response.
"I thought they did very well. It was a textbook response following our standard operating guidelines," Thomas said. "The exercise provided us with a great training opportunity to get some real-world skills to hone our craft."