Lifelike scenario puts first responders to the test

  • Published
  • By Caroline Clauson
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio—Airmen across the installation stepped away from their everyday duties Feb. 23 to rehearse response against internal threats during the year’s first base-wide active-shooter exercise.

“Overall, I feel the exercise did what exercises are intended to do, allowing those areas identified as subpar, lacking or requiring more training to surface,” said Roxanne Viney, director of exercises at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “If there is ever a real instance, everyone is prepared. We strive to make exercises more complex and challenging to add value and improve our readiness.”

A simulated 911 call reporting shots fired in Bldg. 600 on Area B initiated the exercise at about 9 a.m., prompting 88th Security Forces Squadron personnel to the scene and sending the entire installation into lockdown.

While most followed basic guidance to barricade in a safe, hidden place, first responders applied their specific series of actions refined for an active-shooter event to the particular scenario. The 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department was immediately notified, 88 SFS Defenders halted all traffic on and off the installation, and 88th Medical Group personnel assisted the “wounded.”

Personnel from the Air Force Research Laboratory, the scenario center, played hurt and traumatized victims to test responder performance under authentic stress.

“Volunteers are extremely valuable to any exercise as they add realism that you cannot get from mannequins,” Viney said. “We use mannequins when needed but prefer volunteers as they can add real-time reactions to scenarios.”

Planners threw curveballs into the exercise to measure personnel ability to adapt, too, instigating the simulation in a building with multiple restricted entrances and creating a scenario in which the “shooter” was one of the 88th Air Base Wing’s own SFS Defenders.

Defenders were able to find, neutralize and take the shooter into custody with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound. In the exercise, five “victims” were confirmed dead, and seven wounded were transported to the hospital for medical care. Once responders had secured the scene, the exercise ended.

During the scenario, wing inspection team members were staged in work areas across the base to observe and assess personnel response.

While the event tested wing readiness, it also maximized opportunities for improvement, officials said.

After an exercise ends, the evaluators and Inspector General’s Office coalesce and synthesize their observations into a published report. Each office tracks and manages their listed deficiencies until they’re addressed closed out.

“All those involved strive to improve for each exercise,” Viney said. “Identifying areas that need improvement is not seen as negative but rather an opportunity to get better and stronger. Active shooters are a real part of our society. We hope this never happens, but we must be prepared.”