The threat of an active shooter is one that is all too real. In Naval Support Activity Washington personnel are training diligently to make sure that should it happen, they’ll be ready to actively counter that threat.
Such was the scene in a historic office building at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., Feb. 8 when the mid-morning quiet was shattered by the sights and sounds of an attack. Naval District Washington police officers quickly responded to the scene, sweeping through the building looking for the shooter. Within minutes he was found and subdued, and the participants were debriefed and preparing to run the scenario again.
The scenario may seem to go quickly, but much training and retraining is necessary to prepare officers for such an emergency. And evaluators are on hand at every point to critique the performance of all involved and find room for improvement.
“This exercise is an evaluation of our officers’ response to an active shooter, so we evaluate their response times, room clearing times, and use-of-force techniques,” said Audrey Champagne, NSAW training officer. “At the same time, we’re also evaluating the building occupants and their response as well. There are certain things that building occupants must do in that situation, such as determining whether to evacuate, shelter in place, or stay and fight if they’re able to.”
Champagne said that the attention paid by exercise participants and evaluators alike can save lives in the event of an actual active shooter event, so care is made to ensure that all walk away from the exercise knowing exactly what they have to do.
“Some of the things we do in the exercise are notional, but the officers involved have to know each of the steps required in the event of such an emergency, so we look for self-assessment during the exercise as well,” said Champagne.
In the case of the NSAW active shooter drill, the exercise was run and then broken down step-by-step by evaluators for the benefit of NDW police officers to see how well they performed in some areas and others where they could improve.
This attention to detail also extends to the realism of the exercise itself. To simulate the high-stress environment of an active shooter scenario, role players, sound effects, and dummy weapons are used to make the exercise as real as possible while still maintaining the safety of all involved.
“We use role players and props to simulate the event, but we do not ever perform an active shooter exercise with real weapons,” said Champagne. “It is a very controlled event.”
The importance of these drills is not lost on anyone, added Champagne.
“Every year that we run our active shooter drills our personnel get better and better,” said Champagne. “We also have seen tenants getting more involved in the process, and many are quite willing to be the host site of an exercise. So we’re getting tenant buy-in, and that speaks volumes to the importance of these exercises – everyone, including tenant commands, understands the seriousness of the exercise.”
That sentiment was echoed by one of the officer evaluators on scene.
“These exercises can mean the difference between life and death,” said Lt. Mark Jefferson, NDW Police officer. “That’s why we do them.”
SC-CS is the largest anti-terrorism exercise conducted by any service branch and affects all Navy installations, units, tenants, activities, general flag officer residents, and Sailors in the U.S. Northern Command area of responsibility. Under the direction of U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Commander, Navy Installations Command, Naval District Washington's participation in SC-CS 16 will test the region's ability to respond to a variety of impacting events while also meeting the Department of Defense's requirement to exercise all aspects of their respective anti-terrorism plan, including escalation of the force protection conditions.
For more information about NSAW and its Solid Curtain-Citadel Shield exercise, visit the NSAW facebook page www.facebook.com/NavalSupportActivityWashington or the NSAW website, www.cnic.navy.mil/regions/ndw/installations/nsa_washington.html.