Crime scene: Post tests emergency plans
December 8, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The scene looked as if it could have been taken from the TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation -- a group of crime scene investigators, one donning a full-body protective suit and carrying a camera, most others wearing paper booties to protect the scene from contamination, entered a building as special response team members secured the perimeter. Carrying their special kits, the small team surveyed the scene; shell casings littered the floor, an assault rifle lay nearby. Blood was spattered on the floor and the walls.
A scene like this, said one member of the group, a special agent with Fort Jackson's Criminal Investigation Division, would take at least a week, and a lot more manpower, to process. But as part of Tuesday's mass casualty exercise, in which the group was participating, CID agents would have only a couple of hours. Fort Jackson's CID was one of more than a dozen agencies that worked as a team to simulate a postwide active shooter scenario.
Mark Mallach, anti-terrorism officer, said the scenario involved a shooter who opened fire on a group of Soldiers in one of the post's buildings. The shooter wounded 30 Soldiers before killing himself, making him among the 10 declared dead at the scene.
"We wanted to test emergency response... crisis management...and communication," Mallach said. "It's pretty much a comprehensive postwide exercise."
Though much of the action took place at the site of the mock shooting, Mallach said that was actually just a small part of the procedures being tested during Tuesday's exercise.
Representatives from many of the post's agencies manned phones at the Emergency Operations Center, and a Family Assistance Center was established to help take phone calls and provide information to concerned family members. This year's exercise also added a Mortuary Affairs component, calling in help from the Richland County Coroner's Office to help take care of those who were killed.
"We actually went further than we have since I've been here," Mallach said.
Additionally, post employees were alerted through a mass email notification system, which apprised them of the situation and urged them to stay in their buildings. The red "ring-down" phones located in offices passed along the same message. During a real emergency, the gates would also be closed and the mass notification system speakers located throughout the post would also be used, Mallach said.
John Coynor, force protection officer, said it is important for the installation to conduct such exercises.
"A plan is just a large piece of paper until you exercise it," he said. "You have to practice it. The main emphasis of yesterday was ... 'What do you do after something happens?' What we have to practice is what to do after the fact."
In Tuesday's exercise, this included calling in both on and off-post law enforcement to clear the scene. Both on and off-post emergency services staff also aided in removing victims from the site of the shooting, assessing their injuries and ensuring their transport to one of four local hospitals alerted to receive them.
The exercise went as far as having "dead bodies" processed and taken to special trucks for transporting. Coynor said it was important that the Soldiers were treated just like any other Soldier killed during duty.
"There's no difference in being wounded at Fort Jackson and being wounded in Afghanistan," he said.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Barry Young, detachment commander and special agent in charge of Fort Jackson's CID, led the team who processed the "crime scene" after it was declared safe to do so by special response teams. His team used the exercise as a training opportunity, as well, he said.
"We try to capitalize on these types of events. The more training we do, the more proficient we get," he said. "I think it went well.
Working with other agencies also gave everyone a chance to learn each others' tactics and procedures, and make sure they were "on the same sheet of music," Young said.
Young's team, like the other agencies, took a multifaceted approach. They not only had to process the scene, but also had to stay on alert after receiving reports of a threatening phone call and a sighting of a suspicious person in the area.
"It was great. Good team work," Young said. We never know when something like this will happen (so) this is key and essential training we do.
"I think we can never be prepared enough for these types of situations."