Fort Jackson stages realistic 'active shooter' exercise
December 10, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- There wasn't much color in the building to begin with, but the gunsmoke coated everything in a cataract haze. Specks of gunpowder floated in the air and screams echoed through the halls. A woman's voice on the public address system warned that an active shooter was on the premises. The sounds of gunfire punctuated her warnings.
Two men had entered the MG John A. Renner Building Tuesday morning, loaded for bear with grudges and automatic weapons. The location of the Army's Substance Abuse Program, the Soldier Family Assistance Center, American Red Cross and Warrior Transition Unit, the men opened fire, shooting 69 people. Within an hour, 22 people were dead, including the two shooters.
Thankfully, that scenario was not real, but a scheduled training exercise, designed to feel as real as possible for the authorities participating. Soldiers and civilians were dressed in prosthetics and painted with red corn syrup to simulate injuries, but nothing was left to chance. Each had a specific injury to portray, ranging from casual to mortal wounds. When security forces arrived, they subdued the two shooters, but there was more being tested Tuesday than the ability to deal with rogue gunmen.
"This could happen anywhere," said Mark Mallach, program manager for the installation anti-terrorism program. "We hope it never happens, but hope's not an option. There are families here, folks that visit here every week for graduation and other events, and we want them to know they're safe and coming into a secure environment."
The two "shooters" were Department of Emergency Services volunteers. Dressed in fatigues and carrying replica guns that fired caps that approximated the volume of actual gunfire, they entered the building through an open door and began their "assault." Moving room to room, they checked doors to see if they were locked, sometimes pretending to be a wounded victim to get those inside to let them inside.
On Tuesday, nobody took the bait.
Security arrived within minutes and began to track the subjects through the building. Both were marked "killed" during the incident, leaving authorities to identify and deal with the wounded.
But, the two "shooters" weren't finished. Dago and Segal, two of Fort Jackson's military working dogs, searched the building and located two faux exploding devices planted earlier in the day.
"We're constantly running drills," Mallach said. "They're not usually drills of this nature, but we're always running training exercises. This was a full-scale exercise focused on protecting the population of Fort Jackson and working with first responders in the local community."
Once security had removed the threat, emergency personnel from on and off post arrived to treat the wounded. Some suffered "injuries" so serious they had to be carried out of the building by stretcher. Full-scale triage units were established outside to indentify the seriousness of each injury and treat victims accordingly.
For several hours, the parking lot was lit up by the emergency lights of ambulances, fire trucks and law enforcement vehicles from around Richland and Lexington counties. Mallach said it's difficult to create an artificial emergency on post, because the exercise can't interfere with daily training activities.
The organizers are also faced with the challenge of integrating outside assistance from law, fire and medical services for the event, all of which operate on their own schedules when emergencies aren't a factor.
"There's a lot of moving pieces out there," he said. "In a real world event, everything would stop. All training would stop, all access to the post would stop, except for support and response units. Trying to do it while we're trying to maintain a vibrant training environment can be a challenge."
The participation of outside agencies was an important component to Tuesday's drill, Mallach said.