FORT McCOY, Wis. -- Reports of a hostage-taking incident in the South Post area kicked off the postwide Emergency Management exercise, Vigilant Triad 2014. Police forces reacted swiftly, implementing increased security and accountability measures and soon all of Fort McCoy was taking part.

The Feb. 12 exercise tested Phase II (respond) and Phase III (recover) of the post's Installation Emergency Management Plan (IEMP). Additionally, Vigilant Triad is part of a continuing effort by the Department of Defense to refine and improve emergency response to natural and man-made incidents. The exercise also completes the Installation Management Command (IMCOM) annual requirement to conduct a full-scale exercise to refine and improve emergency responses to natural and man-made incidents.

Fort McCoy Chief of Police Robert Stapel III said the day went from a quiet mid-February morning to a bustle of activity throughout the rest of the day where his forces were steadily tested.

The exercise's first major scenario began in the South Post housing area with a role player being taken as a hostage. It grew from there to an active-shooter scenario at one of the post's training areas and eventually a hostage-barricade scenario. It all ended with the role-playing hostages being freed and the hostage taker being taken into custody.

Through each scenario, Stapel said post law enforcement officers acted quickly and decisively.

"Overall, the objectives we set out to accomplish were completed," Stapel said. "I'm very pleased with our department's ability to respond to the incidents we were tested on during this exercise."

On the law enforcement side of the exercise, Stapel said they had 13 objectives they wanted to test and successfully addressed all of them. This included response efforts by the initial responding officers, testing the post's Special Reaction Team (SRT) and working with hostage negotiators from the Army's Criminal Investigation Service from Fort Campbell, Ky.

"Right from the beginning, we had an excellent response by our forces to the incident in South Post housing," Stapel said. "A proper cordon area was established, and we were able to test our different force-protection levels within the housing area. We also were able to test, postwide, our accountability measures that are part of the Installation Emergency Management Plan."

The scenarios also required the establishment of command-and-control elements in three different areas by law enforcement that allowed for postwide coverage, Stapel said.

"During a set of scenarios like we faced, you can have chaos in communications, but we were successful in establishing a good communication network," Stapel said.

According to Brad Stewart, Fort McCoy director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, the exercise tested all of the post's communications systems. It demonstrated how quickly the information flowed between on-scene forces and the garrison commander in the Installation Emergency Operations Center.

Stewart explained the IEMP also defines roles for the garrison directorates, special staff, tenant units and others. Those agencies provide logistics, planning and support in situations like those followed in Vigilant Triad 2014. Because of everyone's successful and collaborative efforts to fulfill those roles, it meant the exercise went "extremely well."

"It was a complex and comprehensive exercise because it did stress all the areas of our emergency management forces," Stewart said. "It tested all the different systems we have and exercised our SRT successfully. We showed that our law enforcement, fire and emergency services and everyone here can respond to any natural or man-made crises at Fort McCoy."

In any active shooter or hostage incident, the SRT "stands ready to react at any time," added Lt. Brian Bomstein, SRT commander.

Having the hostage negotiators from Fort Campbell participate in the exercise was extremely helpful as well, Stewart said.

"That integration with the hostage negotiators took us to another level of involvement," Stewart said. "Having that participation with off-post agencies helps us gain a better understanding of our planning execution and helps us improve."

All garrison and tenant organizations participated in the exercise, particularly in the relay of communication and personnel accountability measures. The three previous Vigilant Triad exercises have tested the IEMP in different ways, providing a maximum amount of readiness coverage and planning execution, Stewart said.

"I think this exercise was a textbook execution of some successful planning by all our folks throughout Fort McCoy," Stewart said.

"Everyone should realize we have very capable people at Fort McCoy to handle the very type of scenarios we practiced in this exercise."

In addition to having support from the Fort Campbell hostage negotiators, observer-controllers from other installations supported the exercise. Participating installations included: (IMCOM Headquarters) Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Fort Hunter-Liggett, Calif.; Fort Meade, Md.; and West Point and Fort Hamilton, N.Y.

"We had a very professional team of observer-controllers," Stewart said. "They shared many of their own exercise lessons learned and took several of our techniques and processes back to their organizations. As we all work together and improve, military installations benefit from this form of information sharing to enhance security, response procedures and processes."

Although the exercise went very well, both Stewart and Stapel said there always is room for improvement.

Whether it is "fine tuning" or looking for gaps in any of the planning and execution process, continuous process improvement is sought.

"For me, everything is an educational lesson," Stapel said. "We know we can do this well, but we can also keep improving on our processes."

Page last updated Fri February 28th, 2014 at 00:00