FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Feb. 16, 2012) -- Simulated shots rang out at the Rucker-Picerne Partners building during an exercise the morning of Feb. 8. An hour and a half later, the active shooter threat was neutralized, with one assailant in custody and another "dead." The building had been cleared and the "injured" were receiving medical attention.

The exercise gave the Fort Rucker first responders a chance to practice a quick response to a potentially deadly situation. Marcus McDougald, the deputy director of public safety, said realistic exercises help make sure first responders are "highly trained and prepared to properly respond if, and when, a serious incident does occur."

If this exercise is any indication, Fort Rucker's emergency personnel are ready for just such an incident. "I think the exercise went well," said Maj. Jay Massey, the emergency management operations officer at the Installation Operations Center. "We identified our training objectives at the installation level. The Directorate of Public Safety identified their training objectives and so did the Criminal Investigation Division … I think overall, the exercise went well."

Massey emphasized the importance of post-wide exercises like this one.

"Preparedness is not an option," he said. "You get new Soldiers and new employees in your organization. You've always got to ensure that they're prepared to react accordingly to various critical incidents."

Massey also stressed the need for practice, even for the people not directly involved in the emergency. Employees should have a good exit plan, he said. They should know precisely where to go in the event they're required to evacuate their work area.

"And, that's not only for an active shooter. That's for a bomb threat or fire -- any kind of critical incident," the major said. "It's important for everyone on base to react accordingly, not just the first responders."

He said Soldiers should share information with their Families, too. If someone is at the post exchange, the bank or the Soldier Service Center, they need to know what to do in case of an emergency.

In an emergency situation, like with an active shooter, evacuating the building is the first recommended response. Get to a safe place. If that isn't possible, hiding in a locked room such as an office is the second option. Massey recommends putting a heavy object in front of the door to keep the door closed. Finally, as a last resort, confront the shooter.

"When possible," Massey said, "make your phone calls to the police. Let them know as much information as you possibly can. The number of shooters, the type of weapons, physical description, your current location and things like that."

Then, be prepared for what to expect when police arrive. Responding officers will be armed and may shout directions or push people to the ground for safety. Remember to remain calm, follow instructions and keep your hands visible, he said.

McDougald adds, "Unfortunately, we live in a world where bad things happen … everyone must prepare, to some extent, for when something terrible occurs. It is imperative that everyone take the time to learn some basic survival skills that may help protect them, their Soldiers, employees and Family members if a serious incident does happen."

Before the exercise, Lt. Col. Dale Bedsole, an operations officer in the force protection branch of the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, explained the scenario officers would face. The exercise would start with a husband and wife entering the Rucker-Picerne Partners building.

"They'll be loud and obnoxious and demand to see the director, who's not here, and eventually the wife is going to shoot the receptionist. And then they'll go throughout the building," he said.

Some of the employees made calls to military police as they evacuated. Others hid in their offices. The police and MPs were evaluated on their efforts to find the shooters and stop the shooting. Bedsole said some of the things being evaluated included how the responders entered the building, if they secured the perimeter and if they interviewed the employees.

"If things work the way we did the scenario, the police will end up shooting the husband. The wife will dump the weapon and evacuate the building with the rest of the employees. So, that's kind of a test … No known assailant should escape," he said.

Just as planned, the exercise ended with one assailant laying on the lobby floor and the other in handcuffs.

Massey said one advantage to doing a scheduled exercise like this is the feedback from off-post organizations. Evaluators from several different agencies, including Elmore County Sheriff's Department, the Montgomery Police Department, the Dothan Police Department, the Coffee County Emergency Management Agency and the Dothan FBI office, observed the exercise.

McDougald agrees. "This training opportunity with evaluators from external police agencies from our neighboring cities and counties in the Wiregrass area, plus the FBI, provided for us a unique perspective and fresh sets of eyes by some real experts who may train to different standards than us but who all share a common theme of protecting and serving the community they support."

Later in the afternoon, the group of evaluators met to identify strengths and weakness of the response in an after action review. Some evaluators had been assigned to watch specific areas of the response, so each of them were "able to discuss what they saw, what they didn't see, and what they should have seen," Massey said.

"There's always room for improvement," the major said. "Command of a critical incident can be complicated. To be proficient, you've got to practice."

Massey said quite a bit of planning went into this exercise. Last February, a similar post-wide exercise was conducted. Last week's active shooter exercise was scripted to test the weaknesses discovered in the previous exercise.

"It appears all the deficiencies that were identified (last February) have been addressed," Massey said. "That's a positive for the community and the installation as a whole."