Active Shooter Exercise Delivers Hard Lessons
April 23, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Redstone Arsenal went on a simulated high alert April 16 to allow emergency personnel to practice their response to an active shooter incident.
The simulated Dagger Strike emergency operations began about 9:15 a.m., with loud speaker systems throughout the Arsenal using the words "Exercise … Exercise … Exercise" to remind employees that the incident unfolding at Army Materiel Command headquarters, building 4400, was simulated by emergency personnel. The announcements were followed with mass emails and Facebook postings to again remind employees of the simulated exercise.
But if it had been real world, much of what unfolded would have actually happened.
Dagger Strike began when a simulated disgruntled employee entered the AMC building and scanned through the security system as though he was routinely arriving for work. He then entered the Villar Conference Room on the first floor and, using a fake handgun, simulated a shooting of eight employees.
The simulation continued with emergency personnel arriving from the Directorate of Emergency Services and HEMSI. Redstone police neutralized the shooter, and emergency personnel entered the building to treat victims and then transport them to local hospitals. The Criminal Investigation Division worked with police to secure the area and then began an investigation of the attack.
The entire scene unfolded as the Installation Emergency Operations Center established communications with an on-site command post, and Garrison personnel and tenant representatives gathered at the IEOC to set up the Garrison's Crisis Management Team. The team tracked the situation, coordinated response and recovery efforts, and communicated with employees, families, local media and Installation Management Command leadership concerning the situation.
"Realistically, our inside threats are our tougher threats. Chances of an adversary getting in there to do something like this are minimal. But a vetted employee who has credentials, that can be pretty tough," said Dan Huber, a member of the Plans and Operations Division of the Garrison's Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security who works in the IEOC.
"We always learn from these experiences. They bring into focus what we need to concentrate on so that if something like this does happen we know how to respond. This is part of our continuous process of evaluating our procedures."
On April 16, Garrison commander Col. Bill Marks was joined by Garrison supervisors and emergency operations managers as well as representatives from AMC, Fox Army Health Center, NEC-R and the Logistics Resource Center in the IEOC to monitor the simulation as it unfolded, and to respond to conditions in relation to employee awareness and safety.
"Everyone did a great job," Marks told the group during a meeting Thursday to begin the after action review process. "We still have a lot of work to do and we always will. There are process improvements that are continuous, that always need to be made. We have lots of things to think about."
He said one of the main things the IEOC team and the emergency response team learned is that how Team Redstone responds to emergencies -- whether natural or manmade -- has a lot to do with relationships.
"We are very dependent on relationships in responding to these type situations," he said. "How we create and establish those relationships is very important. We need to know who's bringing what to the fight."
Those who are part of the IEOC team during an emergency saw how those relationships evolved during the exercise, he said.
"You saw what mindset you need to bring when you come into this situation. You saw how the process worked and how we get information out," Marks said.
"We have to able to come together, and support and help each other. We are all relying on everyone in this room to get it right."
With an active shooter simulation, IEOC personnel had to manage through an automatic lockdown throughout the installation that made it difficult for required personnel to report to the IEOC as members of the Crisis Management Team. Once the IEOC was fully operational, the simulation was monitored and then, once it was contained and neutralized, decisions had to be made as to how to manage the situation after the emergency, i.e. how to achieve accountability for all employees, who should respond to the hospital to be with families, when should employees be released, how and when should unaffected buildings be reopened, how long does the attack scene need to be on lockdown, how to care for witnesses who must be detained at the scene, among others.
"You were able to work through it all the way to the point where we neutralized the shooter," Marks said. "The hard part is, with the post locked down, how do you open it back up? We need to reopen post and how do we do that? We've got to agree on a way ahead.
"There is no perfect answer. The answer is the one we all agree with, that we can work with and understand. There is not a perfect plan, but we need a baseline plan that we can refer to because every situation is different. "
The active shooter simulation was not in response to the recent shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. It has been in the planning stages for months as part of the Garrison's overall training for all hazard emergency contingencies.
"We looked at the objective for the exercise and incorporated it in the overall development plan and execution," Huber said.
The simulated exercise included observer controllers, such as Huber and volunteers from the Garrison at Fort Rucker, and IEOC Blue Cell members, who actually participated in the exercise by supporting and assisting the Crisis Management Team.
"We have to be able to determine if we adequately respond to real world situations," Huber said. "We have to evaluate the plans we have in place for a terrorist event or a natural event. If we have to respond, we hope it's a natural event. But we have to be prepared. We have to plan for the worst and exercise for the worst so that when a real-world event occurs we know how to respond."
The last full-scale simulated active shooter event took place in 2012 at the Sparkman Center. The Directorate of Emergency Services also conducts numerous emergency and active shooter events throughout the year as part of its normal training program.
In addition, each facility should exercise their own emergency response plans so that every employee at Redstone Arsenal knows the procedures they should follow in the event of an emergency. And employees should make it their responsibility to know basic lifesaving skills in case they are involved in an emergency, Huber said.
"If you understand basic lifesaving skills, the little bit of what you do to try to stop bleeding in a victim could give them the additional 30 to 40 minutes they need for emergency personnel to respond," he said.
The April 16 simulation was a balance between the need to practice emergency responses without overtasking limited resources and the need to continue Redstone's daily mission. For that reason, the simulated active shooter attack was planned to have minimal impact on the daily business of the Arsenal, i.e. having the attack occur on the first floor rather than on an upper story or having only a few victims involved rather than a full conference room of up to 60 victims.
"An effective exercise challenges everyone on the installation in a situation that is as realistic as it can be while maintaining safety," Huber said.
"We want everyone to participate as much as they can without affecting the mission. We wanted to do just enough so that our emergency personnel could be tested and trained within a certain time frame. We wanted a simulation that would at least give us a snapshot of our strengths and the corrective actions we need to take to be better prepared. We wanted something that would provide us with a good self-assessment."
Besides providing support for the participants in the simulation, the IEOC's second priority is to communicate with non-affected areas of post.
"We try to help reduce chaos on the installation," Huber said. "You can't stop the chaos, but you can control it and mitigate it through communication."
Each of the members of the IEOC Blue Cell team treated the simulation as if it were a real situation, committing their energies and expertise to the task.
"What we learn here with this could mean the difference for my wife or another close family member," team member Anthony Jones said. "The importance of it could be that if it were a real situation it could involve my wife or a family member, and I want to give 110 percent of what I've got to make sure it all goes well. We know how important this is, even though it's training."