Those in the area of Arizona and Cushing Streets earlier this week might have seen some unusual sights.
Fort Huachuca conducted a Force Protection Exercise on Tuesday and Wednesday which lasted approximately 30 hours over the two days. The exercise included a car explosion scenario near the power substation across from Greely Hall on Tuesday and a staged active shooter event in Greely Hall on Wednesday.
Both events impacted the fort and allowed installation personnel to react in what could be a real-life emergency situation.
Some of the events that occurred after the first incident were a notional power outage for the entire installation. After the car stuck the substation and exploded twice, the entire fort lost power for more than 15 hours.
Heightened gate security led to vehicle screenings as well as the “lock-down” of schools and other fort facilities. The FBI was called in to investigate if the “crash” was an accident or terrorist attack.
The Fort Huachuca garrison commander held two press conferences on Tuesday to update media about the event.
“I’d like to start [the press conference] by expressing that our thoughts and prayers go out to those involved [in the simulated event] and to the entire Fort Huachuca team. I think it is very important that people know that we have chaplains and counselors available in the community for anybody that may be affected,” said Col. Dan McFarland during the second press conference during the exercise, lending a feel of realism to Tuesday’s staged event.
McFarland explained the reason Fort Huachuca holds periodic force protection exercises.
“I think more than anything else it is just so people get comfortable with the process [of responding to an emergency]; just because we restricted the flow of traffic, we have patrols out and about or the routine may not be the norm, to not think the worst case. As you do this, the more you do this, the more comfortable you become with it and the most important thing is don’t assume anything,” McFarland said.
The investigation into the car incident was still ongoing at the time of the second and final mock press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Some Fort Huachuca personnel were also relocated to other areas on post due to the “power outage.”
Tucson Electric Power stepped in to help the installation “regain” power, and all was back to normal Wednesday morning.
The next scenario on Wednesday was an active shooter in Greely Hall.
The shooter was “shot and killed” after killing or wounding 13 to 18 people during the staged exercise. Some Greely Hall workers were evacuated during the exercise to lend the scenario a real-life feel.
The gates and schools were locked down during the exercise in response to the active shooter. The family assistance center was set up at the Army Community Service building to assist family members in coping with the shooting.
Fire trucks, ambulances, police squad cars and three medevac helicopters lined the lawn outside Greely Hall during the exercise to assist during the scenario. The FBI, Sierra Vista SWAT team, Sierra Vista and Fry Fire and ambulance and Lifeflight worked alongside Fort Huachuca’s fire department, police and other emergency workers to respond to the incident.
The force protection exercise is held annually and is used to exercise emergency response teams on Fort Huachuca.
“Real life, the bottom line is when something like this occurs there are some things that need to occur on almost a routine basis. Decisions occur quickly; they need to occur quickly. There is a lot of confusion. Whenever you can reduce the amount of confusion through standard operating procedures and the way you engage the media, the way people react to the incidents, when the real situation comes, it is just one last thing you have to concern yourself with,” McFarland said.
“Most importantly what we want to do is exercise those things that aren’t exercised on a routine basis. For example: What are the processes if power goes out? Where do we look? and What is the timeline? So this is almost expectation management,” he added. “If that substation goes out people need to know that it is probably going to be 12 hours before it comes back online. He explained that it is better that people know it during a non-emergency situation so they can prepare for it, than to find out afterwards and they don’t have emergency rations on hand in the event it actually happens.
“From what I have seen, it has gone fairly well,” McFarland stated. “Now I will be very candid. I think next year we’re going to stretch the envelope a little bit more. I would like to see more of the processes exercised, where we actually bring the power down to bring it back up, because short of that, you don’t know. There may be diesel sitting in the bottom of one of these generators that has been there for three years and it is contaminated, you don’t know that unless you exercise that. That is the whole point of exercising when it is not an emergency,” McFarland said.
“I appreciate everybody’s patience. I know it was an inconvenience coming through the gate. Believe it or not, we tried to minimize the inconvenience but it’s better to learn it now then if it is a real-world scenario,” he added.