By Brandon BieltzMay 23, 2013
Two days of "controlled chaos" transformed Argonne Hills Chapel Center into a Family Assistance Center and the Pavilion into a triage area to treat the "injured."
Fort Meade prepared for worst-case scenarios on May 14 and May 15 with two full-scale exercises, testing the responses to a natural disaster and an active-shooter situation with multiple casualties.
The exercises provided several post organizations and services with insight into how to better handle the challenging situations.
"It was controlled chaos," said Pia Morales, Mobilization and Deployment Program manager at Army Community Service. "It's a great way to learn what to do."
During the first exercise on May 14, members of ACS turned Argonne Hills Chapel Center into a Family Assistance Center in response to the theoretical scenario of a tornado destroying several homes in Heritage Park, causing injuries and deaths.
The center, which is set up in emergency situations, provides a one-stop location for service members and their families to receive assistance from several organizations ranging from the Directorate of Public Works to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.
Volunteer role players entered the Family Assistance Center with various scenarios such as requesting a loan from Army Emergency Relief to speaking with Corvias Military Living after their house was destroyed by the natural disaster.
Staff members processed the role players, who were often distraught or emotional, and made sure they were helped by the proper organization.
"We wrote the scenarios with something for everybody," Morales said. "We tested our staff and we tested our affiliates."
Morales said the goal of the exercise was to examine how the process works and help staff members become familiar with the situation.
"We wanted to see if [staff members] could triage the people coming through the door," she said. "We wanted to see if people knew their resources and could think on their feet.
"It really wasn't a test because we didn't want people to feel pressure, but that's why we do it. If it really was an emergency, we need to quickly help people in the best way."
Morales said the staff worked well as a team and showed the ability to shift gears quickly when needed. The exercise also proved beneficial for the various affiliate organizations set up in the Family Assistance Center, she said.
"It was also a good test for the affiliates themselves to say, 'OK. If I have to leave my office, leave my CAC card and come over here and work on paper, can I do that?' " Morales said. "People realized, 'I should have brought these forms.' It was just eye-opening."
The following day, it was the police and emergency services' turn to prepare for one of their worst-case scenarios -- an active shooter.
"It is kind of in line with the Fort Hood incident [in Texas], where you have a random gunman that comes to work, a disgruntled employee comes through and starts firing shots," said Fort Meade Police Capt. Thomas Russell, operations and administrative captain.
Held at the Defense/Military Department Adjudication Activities facility, the exercise consisted of law enforcement agencies and emergency services responding to an active-shooter, which resulted in injuries and casualties. The scenario included volunteers from ACS playing causalities and using makeup that "gave off the real appearance of gunshot wounds," Russell said.
The exercise started with the security operations center at the facility reporting shots fired in the building.
"That started our response," Russell said. "Patrols were dispatched out, our partners to the west [the National Security Agency] were dispatched out to the scene."
The first group, which including patrols and an Emergency Response Team, entered the building and responded to the threat.
"We wanted to see initial patrol response and how the patrols would handle the stress of the active shooter because they were unaware of it," Russell said. "They just knew an exercise was going to occur. They didn't know what."
Emergency services teams then worked to remove the injured from the building and move them to a triage at the Pavilion. Russell said all the injured were at the triage within 20 minutes.
In addition to testing the initial response to an active shooter, the exercise examined briefings and the transition of command, which would happen when Russell arrives at the scene.
"We wanted to see that piece of it, how we're progressing because it's still relatively new to police departments," Russell said.
Russell said the exercise was beneficial for the law enforcement and emergency services and it showed possible obstacles that teams could run into during the response.
"I think we did well," he said. "I think out of every exercise you learn, it gives you the ability to grow. Nothing's ever going to be perfect, but every obstacle we faced we worked around. ... You learn little lessons and you live on those lessons and you learn to grow."