Eustis prepares for emergency during active shooter exercise
July 7, 2014
A man in a green uniform stalks the halls of an elementary school, weapon in hand, as police sirens are heard approaching in the distance.
That was the scene portrayed during Fort Eustis' active shooter exercise June 27, which was conducted to practice and evaluate installation emergency management procedures.
The exercise took place at General Stanford Elementary School, which is a Newport News public school located on the post. The scenario involved an active shooter making his way inside the school and injuring role-players who acted as teachers and students, while Fort Eustis and local first responders rushed to the scene.
As part of the installations' force protection preparation program, training for school violence incidents is critical to provide the needed emergency response in the event of a real-world incident, said Benjamin Blackmore, Fort Eustis antiterrorism officer.
"Fort Eustis has a great relationship with our community partners, and in emergency situations local cities would come provide support," he said. "That is such a huge benefit because an installation has finite resources, so the more help we can get, the better."
Blackmore was the lead observer for the exercise and also had a large hand in its planning, which took several months and involved multiple emergency support agencies, including the 733rd Security Forces Squadron, Fort Eustis Emergency Medical Services, the Fort Eustis Fire Department, McDonald Army Health Center and Newport News Fire Department.
"It is such a necessity to work as a team," said Blackmore. "Security forces and the fire department [execute their roles] well, but if they don't work together, they don't make the end goal."
First responders from both Fort Eustis and Newport News arrived on scene to provide security measures and casualty treatment. U.S. Army Pfc. Michael Martinez, a military working dog handler assigned to the 3rd Military Police Detachment at Fort Eustis, provided search capabilities with MWD Chek, a patrol explosives detector dog also assigned to the 3rd MP Detachment.
"This was my first time participating in an exercise like this, and it really prepares us for an active shooter incident, or anything similar that may happen," said Martinez. "It's great to see the functionality of the agencies working together, which also helps reassure the community that we are trained to respond."
In the scenario of this exercise, that response involved neutralizing the threat of the active shooter through rapid security measures. Michael Feckner, 633rd Air Base Wing Inspection Team Manager, played the role of the shooter, which he said added to the realism of the training.
"I was surprised at the speed of the security forces members in how quickly they responded to me as the shooter," he said. "When you look back at recent incidents, situations like this move so fast, and if first responders aren't fully prepared, it could go bad. Since this isn't a DOD school, an event like this could quickly overwhelm any one installation, so outside support is critical."
Blackmore agreed that the support of local agencies plays a crucial role in the success of an operation, whether an exercise or a real-world situation.
"It's a huge opportunity to train with organizations other than your own, because it expands the scope of the exercise, and creates a more intense and realistic training environment," he said. "The hope is that we pass the message and communicate we are doing these things to reassure the community that we are prepared if an event like this should take place."