By Mr. Eric Kowal (RDECOM)October 17, 2013
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (Oct. 17, 2013) -- The sounds of gunfire, bombs and screams created a scenario that could only be described with one word: chaos.
Work cubicles and common areas turned into staged crime scenes as a possible real-world scenario unfolded in the headquarters building of the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal.
Headed by the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, the annual installation All Hazards Exercise focused on a common threat in both civilian and military environments: the threat of an active shooter.
Just weeks after the Washington Navy Yard saw a shooter kill 12 people and wound several others, the staged scenario at Picatinny on Oct. 15 was a training exercise for law enforcement, first responders, and the staff of the installation's Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
"Our officers did exactly what they were supposed to do," said Picatinny Arsenal Police Chief Robert Frutchey. "In fact they did it so well that we actually had to restart the scenario because they simulated a kill on the shooter within minutes of walking through the rear entrance of the building. We had to restart it so that we could walk through the entire scenario of responding to casualties and a hostage situation."
As part of the scripted exercise scenario, responders found a car packed with explosives in a packed parking lot and used bomb-sniffing dogs to locate any other items that may detonate.
When the shooter entered the building, receptionist Geraldine Wood was designated with hitting the panic button that would alert the Picatinny Arsenal Police Department of an emergency in the building. The shooter combed the floors of the headquarters, seeking out as many targets as he could, also taking hostages in the process and killing one of them. Responders also found an explosive device attached to a vest laying in another part of the building.
The entire scenario, both in preparation and response, was made possible through mutual aid with many supporting organizations, including the Morris County Office of Emergency Management, Morris County Sheriff's Emergency Response Team, Morris County Sheriff's Bomb Squad, St. Clair's Hospital -- Denville and Dover, St. Claire's Emergency Medical Services and Paramedics.
Other participants included the Rockaway Township Fire Department EMS, Florham Park First Aid Squad, and the Cedar Knolls Fire Department EMS.
Before the scenario began, the Morris County emergency management office provided make-up to the persons portraying victims of gunshots and explosions so that the exercise had the look and feel of the trauma that could result from such an attack.
Shock and Awe
For the first time, a staged clip of a media newscast was shown at the Picatinny emergency operations center as personnel there sought to gather through information and account for all employees.
"Attention in the EOC," the speaker announced.
As everyone looked up to the jumbo screen in the front of the room as the "Breaking News" alert flashed, two Picatinny Arsenal public affairs employees portrayed media members from the local New York affiliate positioned at the arsenal front gate trying to access the installation to cover the unfolding tragedy.
"I thought the news video was 'spot on'.... I was really impressed, very professionally done, so much so that I thought it was live," said Anthony Jones, Director of Human Resources.
Jones was one of about 100 people at the center who watched the staged news segment.
"It really put everything into perspective, and gave those of us working there the impression that this tragedy was really taking place," Jones said.
Train with realism
One thing that can almost always be learned in the aftermath of such an exercise is that preparation for an actual, real-world situation must closely mimic the exercise activities and application of lessons learned.
Recently, personnel from Picatinny Arsenal played a key role in a large-scale active shooter scenario at a West Orange, N.J., middle school.
The scenario was described as the largest collaboration of the military, as well as both local and federal law enforcement officials, during an active shooter exercise.
"It is exercises like these that stress fighting as you are, and working with the agencies that we have mutual aid agreements with, that help us prepare for the worst when it comes," said Lt. Col. Jason Mackay, Picatinny Arsenal Garrison Commander.