FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker put its emergency response personnel and operational procedures to the test during a force protection exercise July 1 held in and around the primary school.
All training objectives were met and personnel gained valuable experience in a realistic training environment, said Lt. Col. Phillip R. Lenz, director of the Directorate of Public Safety, adding that the exercise also included Lyster Army Health Clinic and Army Air Ambulance Detachment “Flatiron” personnel and equipment.
Training objectives included assessing dispatch management of the Emergency 911 center by stressing the system with numerous phone calls, assessing law enforcement’s tactical response to an active shooter threat, assessing the DPS Rescue Task Force on their medical response and victim triage, and assessing integration of external medical assets into the response, the provost marshal said.
He said this exercise was special for a couple of reasons, including exposing personnel to a realistic environment that included roleplaying victims with simulated injuries, responders operating in an actual school and navigating through the furniture, and working closely with Fort Rucker Schools and principal Dr. Vicki Gilmer.
“A general rule in our profession is that you never want to conduct any type of training like this with real school-aged children, especially younger children,” Lenz said. “They may not be able to fully understand and process the event as training and not real world. Based on our exceptional relationship we have with Dr. Gilmer, we know that she and her team take security and emergency action planning very seriously, and we know that the school will execute their requirements perfectly."
While Lenz has no shortage of confidence in his team’s ability to handle any emergency response required of it on post, he said regular exercises like this one are critical to keeping everyone’s skills finely honed.
"I wanted to train and challenge our first responders and medical community with a realistic active shooter scenario that would allow us to identify gaps and seams within our planning and operations, so that we can be ready for any similar events or mass casualty situations that occur on the installation,” he said. “The DPS motto is Ready and Responsive, and, in order to live up to this simple statement, we need to not only train, but to train together with all key organizations and agencies."
Mission accomplished, he added.
"This exercise did exactly what it was intended to do – all participants and organizations gleaned lessons identified that will be quickly turned into lessons learned to support future real-world responses," Lenz said. "The biggest takeaway from this exercise hinged on communication amongst the various organizations. Everyone needs to have the same common operating picture and must understand how each other’s emergency action plans integrate and mutually support each other."
After law enforcement, responding to 911 dispatches, entered the building, assessed the situation, neutralized the assailant and cleared the building, rescue crews and medical personnel proceeded to triaging victims and arranging for aeromedical evacuation.
"The culminating event for this exercise was having the LAHC medical professionals respond and establish the casualty collection point to assist with triage medical actions, accountability and, of course, the aeromedical evacuation of two civilian role players with the always-ready Flatiron team,” Lenz said. “They physically flew these role playing patients to Flowers Medical Center in Dothan and continued the application of medical support during the flight."
The provost marshal was also impressed to see command presence at the exercise, including Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Brian N. Hauke, Aviation Branch command sergeant major.
"There is never a doubt that the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence command team cares about and is passionate about force protection,” he said. “Having the CSM’s representation and receiving his valued observations are an investment in future first responder readiness, and solidified the engaged leadership that we have seen from our leaders during the COVID-19 epidemic."
Hauke said he was impressed with the exercise, adding he thought it was “world-class first responder training.”
“This type of training is necessary,” Hauke said. “We all hope we never have to execute anything like this for real, but it is good to know that we’ve prepared for it, we’ve run through it, we’ve rehearsed it and that everybody understands it. Thank you to all of the role players and our professionals – thank you for what you do every day.”
While this exercise was deemed a success, Lenz and the DPS team realize this is no time to sit on their laurels, as they are already planning future exercises to keep their skills finely honed.
"Based on our lessons learned during this exercise and with several new organizational leaders having assumed their new roles, we will be conducting an installation-level active shooter table top exercise in the fall,” he said. “We’ll revisit these lessons learned and focus on the larger installation response."