DAHLGREN, Va. (NNS) -- The words of Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) Chief of Police Bob Brooks were still fresh in the minds of exercise participants at Wednesday's Solid Curtain/Citadel Shield security exercise at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head, Feb. 3.
"We have a number of different commands [that] are very active in supporting the warfighters," Brooks said. "It's a well-known fact that they operate within our fence line and any faction that considers the United States a potential enemy will be looking at us as a target."
That is how Brooks summed up why annual training with an exercise like Solid Curtain-Citadel Shield 2016 is so vital to the security of the command.
Solid Curtain is designed to test the emergency management skills and abilities of the NSASP first responders and ensure they are prepared for any situation. A Navywide annual event, the Solid Curtain-Citadel Shield exercise is designed to not only "test the mettle" of the emergency responders, but also to refine the installations' crisis management practices and enhance the security measures in place. The exercise is important to ensure that NSASP and all service members and civilians are prepared and protected and that Navy property is secure in a crisis event.
Even as the exercise was underway, a pre-brief held the week before ensured that those who would be taking an active role in the exercise were prepared for the event.
"It adds realism to the fact that 'hey, I have to lock a door or go through a window' and now I am in a situation where I actually have to do that it helps to identify any shortcomings or issues," Brooks said.
With Brooks' training guidance of, "Run, hide, fight," it becomes important for the participants to work out concerns they might encounter with contingencies they might have planned ahead of an event.
"We see shortcomings in plans, for instance if an office has planned to shelter in a particular room and during the exercise they discover that perhaps the door doesn't lock or realize the room is too small or even if they can't get to the room because the shooter is in between," Brooks said. "There are a lot of things that come out during these training evolutions that really highlight the ability of those inside the structures to learn what they should do in the event of an active shooter."
Brooks held rapt attention from participants at the pre-brief as he traced the historical evolution of "active shooter" events in the United States. As those types of events increased, law enforcement tactics evolved to meet the threat and Brooks explained how the role of police officers is often the difference between life and death.
"It's all well and good to have a plan," Brooks explained. "But if you don't take it out and exercise it, it's not worth the paper it's written on. Doing this kinetic work of actively and physically going through to identify the weaknesses and initiating that muscle memory of what we are actually going to do is critical."
The active exercise began at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head with an active shooter drill that took place in Building 1558. The premise of the scenario could have been taken straight from the headlines: a disgruntled employee decides to lash out violently. Portrayed by Gunner's Mate 1st Class Josef Muench for the training, the employee gained entrance into the secure building and systematically swept through the building in search of fellow co-workers with whom he had issue as well as taking aim at "collateral targets", individuals who happened to cross his path while on his way to his intended target.
Even though employees from Bldg. 1558 participated in the pre-brief and were prepared for the day's events, the view from the inside taken from a "victim's" perspective was tense and apprehensive. From the starting "shot" that began the exercise, the employees proceeded per their training, preparing to meet at a rally point at a nearby building. Left behind however, several employees who were unable to retreat took their training to heart and sought safety in offices, barricading themselves inside to wait out the "active shooter."
The acrid sulfur smell lingered in the hall from the starter pistol that alerted the workers that the exercise was actively underway. Life-sized dummies represented the victims who were unable to move out of the way of the gunman before he could reach them. As Muench moved through the building in search of his prey, he tested doors throughout the halls, finding some
securely locked and others open but empty.
Outside of the facility, the NSASP Police Special Response Force (SRF) was already on the move, calculating the safest entry in to the building. NSASP sent in relatively new staff to ensure that everyone on the NSASP SRF had the opportunity to experience this sort of event first hand. The team members worked in unison methodically sweeping through the building, checking the same doors that just moments before the gunman had rattled, in search of the perpetrator.
Following a brief "exchange of fire," the officers apprehended and cuffed the gunman. His victims were rapidly assessed and the information relayed back to dispatch and the Emergency Response Team (ERT) who were standing by for the all clear. Once the reported single gunman was neutralized, NSASP SRF began clearing the building, searching for potential other shooters and clearing the rooms of remaining staff trapped inside during the ordeal.
On this second sweep, responding to the alert from the officers, doors began to crack and the remaining employees nervously peered out to ensure that it was safe to exit their secured location. Workers streamed out with arms up, filed out, and made their way to the safe location in an adjacent building. As employees made their way to safety, they assessed their numbers and began to question the location of others who were co-workers.
"It was terrifying," Jonelle Walters said. "I knew it was a drill but it was still terrifying. It was pretty effective I think, better than I had expected."
Walters shared that prior to the event, she and her co-workers questioned the extensive preparations and briefings they had received, all agreeing it seemed very calculated.
"I don't think we could have handled it if it had not been as calculated," Walters said. "It would have seemed too real, now I understand." Walters went on to share how a phone call just minutes before the event brought home the seriousness of the event."
"Just literally two minutes before the exercise started I got a call from my husband," Walters said. "I told him I couldn't talk and that I had to go and as I hung up I thought, what if that was the last conversation we had?"
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