Early Tuesday morning, 412th Test Wing Headquarters was surprised by an exercise involving an active shooter. The shooter, armed with an ammo-less paintball gun, was facing a lay-off. He first targeted his supervisor then “opened fire” on rooms full of unsuspecting people.
“After he hit the supervisor, the scenario played out to where he was available to work the scenario as he found it. People running through the hallways, people not paying attention to the training security forces made, people actually making mistakes were the ones brought into the scenario that medical would have to deal with later on,” said James Gray, 412th Test Wing Inspector General Office, Exercise and Evaluation chief.
412th Security Forces Squadron defenders were the first set of emergency services on the scene. Their job is to effectively neutralize the shooter, secure the facility and establish the crime scene.
“Prior to security forces doing the initial response, we pause them and take their real weapons and hand them fake rubber weapons to allow their muscle movements and conditioning to apply to the exercise, but removing the overall accident piece of a misfire,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Rickman, 412th SFS, Standardization and Evaluation NCOIC.
Then it’s time for the fire and medical response teams to start treating victims. Each victim who had been hit received a card indicating the injuries they had sustained. The cards contained pictures, descriptions and their vitals for medical evaluation.
Throughout the exercise, members of the Edwards AFB Fire and Emergency Services Department assumed the role of Incident Commander, managing all of the resources and the Emergency Operations Center became the support line for any need that could arise.
Meanwhile, the base was in a state of lockdown. To keep the scenario as real-world as possible, the Base Exchange and Commissary shut down for a portion of the day
According to Gray, exercises are traditionally done in smaller, unit settings. Creating a base-wide exercise was intended to see how all of the functional units worked together and learn the implications of an active shooter incident to the base as a whole.
“Normally, Security Forces lends themselves out individually to help [units] train in small numbers and then an exercise like this helps them bring all of that training together with all of the other responders like medical, the fire department, the Emergency Operations Center, the Command Post, the Crisis Action Team,” said Gray. “Agencies across the entire base are now folded in so we can see the actual process in play; the Office of Special Investigations was even part of the exercise.”
In planning the exercise, 412th SFS had to choose between six different buildings on base. The final decision was based on safety and their ability to accomplish the test. The shooter was requested to target the supervisor because, statistically speaking, security forces found that to be the most realistic scenario.
Gray noted that in a real situation, outside agencies like local sheriffs and ambulances could be brought in for support.
Following the main event, the Crisis Action Team was recalled to discuss the aftermath of the event. Their job was to assess “what now?” and any practical repercussions to the staff and facilities.
“All of this is a learning curve. When the first shot goes off, human nature comes into play. People get scared, people make mistakes because they’re not able to think it through,” said Gray. “People will always make mistakes, but I think for the occupant’s side of the house, they did pretty well. It could have gone a lot worse, but people were protecting themselves and starting to look after others who were injured.”
According to Gray, one of the most important pieces of the exercise is keeping the date and time confidential, making the exercise a “true, no-notice” event.
“When people pass out the knowledge of events it does not help the learning curve of the event’s intent, like the active shooter,” said Gray. “If you pass the word of the date, time and location, it will give a false sense of participation.”
Rickman believes that the best thing to learn from this type of exercise is “situational awareness.” He encouraged people to find a happy medium between being overly involved in office “drama and gossip” and not being involved in the personal aspects of the job at all. He added that an active shooter incident may be largely influenced by a person’s level of stress.
“When an individual has the appropriate amount of support structure, at home and in the work place, then people tend to deal with stress in life a lot more easily,” said Rickman.
For those who have not found a support structure, Rickman encourages the use of agencies created for emotional and mental support.