By Brandon BieltzJune 26, 2014
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (June 26, 2014) -- It took just seconds for "armed terrorists" to storm Murphy Field House and take control of the facility and the dozens of patrons inside.
But through partnerships with a plethora of local emergency services and law enforcement agencies, the installation defused the staged hostage-taking scenario on June 17.
The "crisis" was part of the garrison's annual full-scale training exercise, which tests Fort Meade's response force in the event of a real-life attack.
"It was pretty realistic," said Doug Wise, chief of plans and operations with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. "It was a very good training exercise. The fact that we worked with all those folks from off post -- we don't do that a lot. It was a real good training experience."
Each year, the installation is mandated to conduct a full-scale training exercise. While organizers try to change the scenario from year-to-year, events such as business-place and school shooters have placed an emphasis on preparing for a shooter situation.
"What we're looking at is the threat -- what is the most likely thing that could happen?" Wise said. "For the past couple years, we've been focusing on the active-shooter scenario."
Last week's daylong exercise began with a "homegrown, extremist movement group" taking control of Murphy Field House and taking hostages.
When negotiations broke down between the group and law enforcement, the terrorists began to "shoot" hostages. Local law enforcement then made entry.
For the exercise, Fort Meade's Directorate of Emergency Services was joined by Anne Arundel County Fire and Emergency Services, the FBI, the National Security Agency, Military District of Washington's Special Response Team, Maryland Emergency Management Agency, Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, the Baltimore-Washington Medical Center and Howard County General Hospital.
Lt. Col. Jeffery Winegar, provost marshal and director of DES, said the exercise provided an opportunity for all the various agencies to work together -- as they would in a real situation.
"The purpose of the Fort Meade full-scale exercise is not to evaluate the emergency responder's ability to respond. It is an opportunity to rehearse the cooperative relationships established between Fort Meade assets and those of the surrounding community --local, state and federal," Winegar said. "Just like a muscle group, those cooperative relationships will atrophy if not regularly exercised.
"No agency by themselves has the resources to appropriately respond to serious incidents such as the ones simulated in the exercise. It is only through a collaborative and unified effort across multiple agencies can such dynamic incidents be contained and resolved."
Although the exercise followed a general timeline, Wise said the hostage takers -- played by Asymmetric Warfare Group volunteers -- were given the freedom to run with their own script.
"We wanted to keep it as much free play on the scene as possible," Wise said.
After law enforcement cleared the area, hostages were taken to a triage established by McGill Training Center. Patients were then sent to local hospitals for treatment.
During the events at Murphy and McGill, military and civilian garrison officials gathered at the Emergency Operations Center to monitor the situation and call in necessary resources.
"Their purpose is to support the incident command," Wise said.
Later in the day, a press conference with Garrison Commander Col. Brian P. Foley, Winegar and FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Scott Hinckley was held at the Fort Meade Public Affairs Office to face role-playing reporters.
Throughout the exercise, observers from Installation Management Command and experts from other installations evaluated the emergency response.
"It's very important," Wise said of the evaluation. "It points out some of the weakness, the gaps that we need to work on and make sure that we get corrected."
After the exercise, Wise said the partnerships with local law enforcement and emergency services allows Fort Meade to be ready for an emergency situation.
"We have limited assets here on the installation," he said. "But with the support of the local community and other agencies like the FBI -- and that we can work together -- shows that we are prepared to handle most any situation."