FORT LEE, Va. – To ensure community protection, the Fort Lee garrison support staff engaged in a full-scale emergency response exercise July 29. They were faced with a fictitious active-shooter scenario in which a gunman killed or seriously wounded 20 individuals before being shot during a standoff with law enforcement officers.
Key agencies participating included Kenner Army Health Clinic, the directorates of Public Works and Human Resources, Public Affairs and others. They worked in conjunction with emergency services personnel, communicating in tandem from the initial call for assistance to the after action discussion of lessons learned.
The Installation Management Command requires its assigned Army garrisons to conduct full-scale active assailant exercises to test and measure preparedness. While law enforcement professionals routinely train for such responses, full-scale/post-wide run-throughs are a rare but vital opportunity to measure an installation’s ability to act jointly and synchronously.
“An internal evaluation allows us to test our capabilities, building off of standard operating guides and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) that we have in place,” observed DA Civilian Police Chief Brian Harness, Fort Lee Fire and Emergency Services Division. “It allows us to possibly implement new procedures that we can build on.”
DES leaders viewed the scenario as a testing ground for their personnel, who neutralized the mock threat and delivered on-site medical care.
“We’re going to continue working on [search and rescue] and evolve because things have evolved,” Harness said. “As we’ve seen play out in large-scale mass shootings going all the way back to Columbine, medics need to get in faster. This exercise helped us implement our rescue task force teams, working directly with the police department, and jointly come together on the ground tactically and test all that out.”
Exercise evaluators did find that installation personnel successfully contained the event, shortened the situation’s duration and recovered quickly.
“I am confident we can respond quickly [if] a real-world incident occurs, and that we can keep the community safe,” confirmed Lt. Col. Robin Pinckney, DES director and Fort Lee Provost Marshal.
One obviously important element to any successful emergency response exercise with many moving parts is effective, efficient organizational communication. Making that happen is the key role of the installation’s Emergency Operations Center that leverages the capabilities of WebEOC, a web-based emergency management information system used by many government agencies to streamline communications and document routine and emergency events/incidents.
“All stakeholders are given accounts, and they can send in information,” said DACP Capt. Louis Ostmann, head of operations for the Provost Marshal Division. “Users can ask questions, and it’s monitored by the EOC for tracking purposes through the entire event.”
Also key for this joint exercise was the insertion of a temporary, base-wide gate closure, which demonstrated the installation’s ability to create a controlled security bubble that, among other things, keeps unaware community members out of danger and post roadways cleared for emergency response vehicles. Sgt. Maj. Alain Nadeau, DES SGM, credited his DA Security Guards with successful performance of the “slam shut” element.
“That exercised procedures for the guards, so they were able to observe second and third-order effects of how that impacts traffic outside and inside the installation,” Nadeau said. “They were able to work through management of that traffic, and [they demonstrated quick thinking because] we had emergency vehicles literally going on and off post for real-life calls that were not part of the exercise.”
Overall, leaders expressed confidence in Fort Lee’s emergency response capabilities and feel the installation is now even better prepared to handle an active assailant or similar terrorist or violent extremist incident. As demonstrated during the exercise, Fort Lee’s emergency services team is ready to work hand-in-hand with their civilian counterparts off base.
Harness said the skills and knowledge acquired from this exercise will be shared with mutual aid partners in nearby communities “where a good chunk” of military personnel and retirees live. That exchange expands the benefits of the exercise “from the inside to the outside.”