- By Bradley Hicks
- AEDC Public Affairs
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
Like others in their line of work, those in the Arnold Air Force Base Office of the Inspector General heed this advice. It is their adherence to this adage that led them to coordinate an active shooter exercise on Sept. 28 at Arnold AFB, headquarters of Arnold Engineering Development Complex.
The primary purpose of the exercise was to partner Arnold AFB emergency response staff with local off-base agencies such as the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department, Vanderbilt LifeFlight and LIFE FORCE Air Medical in response to a mass casualty active shooter event occurring on the base.
“One of the key objectives of this exercise was to test interoperability of forces between off-base and on-base responders prior to the occurrence of a real-world event,” said Arnold AFB Director of Inspections Brad Godwin. “The last thing we need is to test our systems on the day an event occurs.”
The exercise scenario involved an active shooter entering a building on base and opening fire, killing one and wounding three.
Initiation of the exercise began with a 911 call reporting the incident to the Coffee County 911 Communication Center. This call was transferred to simultaneously notify both the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department and the Base Defense Operations Center at Arnold.
The exercise helped gauge how quickly off-base responders, such as the CCSD, could access the installation in response to an active shooter event. While the team from the sheriff’s department was en route, Arnold AFB Security Forces officers responded to the scene of the shooting in order to secure it.
Incident command was established near the scene. There, officers completed a “blue gun exchange.” This involves collecting and securing all live weapons and providing officers blue plastic guns to simulate actual firearms. The exchange ensures that there are no actual firearms in the exercise area.
Some officers were outfitted with a new training tool called a StressVest. Similar to laser tag, these vests contain devices that emit shocks and vibrations if a wearer is in the line of fire or has taken rounds from a special training gun that fires lasers that trigger the vest sensors.
“It provides stress inoculation for responding officers that they’re receiving fire as well as a physical response that simulates being wounded,” Godwin said.
Upon arrival, the CCSD Tactical Response Team swept the building. In this scenario, the active shooter threat was neutralized by responding officers. After the building sweep, officers immediately began administering first aid medical care to survivors while requesting EMS support through Arnold AFB Fire and Emergency Services.
As this was occurring, LifeFlight was placed on standby while EMS evaluated and triaged patients. LIFE FORCE was also placed on standby. However, the responders with LIFE FORCE were pulled away from the exercise due to a real-world emergency.
After loading the exercise patients into the medical helicopter, personnel from LifeFlight performed familiarization training with Arnold FES responders, providing information on how they approach patients, how they load patients into helicopters and showing FES staff the capabilities of the helicopters. This was done to help prepare Arnold FES personnel in the event of a real-world transfer.
“Throughout the exercise, Arnold’s Wing Inspection Team members evaluated multiple buildings’ responses to determine effectiveness on whether people were taking the appropriate actions or were aware of what actions to take during an active shooter event,” Godwin said.
Godwin referred to the WIT as “invaluable” for their efforts in the planning and execution of the exercise. Arnold AFB Inspector General Brian Stacy expressed his appreciation for the WIT members and the vital role they play in supporting the Commander’s Inspection Program.
“Members of the team evaluate various processes across the base during these exercises, and the WIT is key to providing feedback on actions that were taken,” Stacy said.
The Arnold Installation Notification and Warning System used to alert Arnold team members in the event of a real-world emergency was also tested during the exercise.
Within 1 minute of receiving the 911 notification, base personnel were instructed to lockdown via the base “Giant Voice,” the verbal announcement system used to communicate emergency instructions, safety directives related to testing and other important messages across the installation.
Immediately following the notification, the Arnold Operations Center sent out a message to personnel who had provided their contact information in the AtHoc emergency alert system. Within 2 minutes, this emergency message was received on AtHoc-registered cellphones.
Godwin said the exercise demonstrated the importance of registering for AtHoc emergency alerts, as vital information can be quickly provided to base personnel in the event of an actual emergency. He added those who have not registered to receive AtHoc notifications may speak with their supervisor or contact the Arnold AFB Emergency Management Office to register and receive future emergency notifications.
Godwin also said all involved treated the scenario with the seriousness it deserved.
“Everyone who was responding had an extreme sense of urgency,” Godwin said. “Coffee County first responders haven’t been able to participate in this type of exercise on the base since my arrival at Arnold eight years ago and, according to one of the responding officers, it’s been over 15 years since they were able to actually come on base and participate at this level during one of our exercises.
“One of our objectives in the IG office for future exercises is to incorporate other surrounding local law enforcement agencies and first responders to test our interoperability gaps so when we do have a real-world event, we can communicate without delay. Communication is key in any emergency situation and is usually the first point of failure. Ensuring our teams can work together ahead of time has the potential to save lives during a real-world event when time is of the essence.”
Arnold Emergency Management personnel will continue making a concerted effort on interdepartmental coordination. Godwin said AEDC Commander Col. Randel Gordon has expressed a desire to involve off-base agencies in emergency exercises, as Arnold depends on organizations such as the CCSD and LifeFlight for mutual aid.
“We really appreciate their willingness to participate in the exercise,” Stacy said. “Both the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department and Vanderbilt LifeFlight were eager to team with us in making this successful.”
Godwin said all who participated saw the value in the active shooter exercise.
“We look forward to working with local agencies in developing exercises in the future, as it provides a holistic value and level of realism,” he said.