Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) and supported commands onboard Naval Support Facilities (NSFs) Dahlgren and Indian Head joined installations across the Navy for Solid Curtain/Citadel Shield 2012 (SC/CS 12), a Mar. 19-24 security exercise designed to protect Sailors and their families, as well as Navy employees and properties. NSASP's first responders put months of training and preparation to the test in a series of scenarios that unfolded across Dahlgren and Indian Head.
"Solid Curtain/Citadel Shield 2012 was a success at Naval Support Activity South Potomac," said Capt. Peter Nette, Commanding Officer, Naval Support Activity South Potomac. "Without the support and cooperation from our supported commands and local communities, success above the tactical level would've been difficult to achieve. Our security department was able to run numerous drills and receive valuable training that will help protect our bases, their assets, their residents and their employees. We were able to meet and exceed our exercise objectives with minimal impact to our local communities."
EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE
The first challenge came on the morning of Mar. 20, when a simulated bomb threat at NSF Indian Head's library swung NSASP emergency services into action. The threat came with a tight timeline: the "bomb" would explode in only 15 minutes. First responders dealt with a myriad of challenges, including maintaining communications and evacuating library staff and patrons a safe distance away from the threat. Command staff in Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) used video teleconferencing to keep abreast of the situation and conduct a multi-installation "hotwash," during which the pros and cons of NSASP's performance were assessed. The pattern would be repeated as additional training scenarios initiated.
NSASP first responders did not have to wait long for another round of practice. This time, a suspicious package was spotted outside the Aegis Training and Readiness Center (ATRC) in Dahlgren. NSASP police and fire units arrived on the scene as ATRC personnel evacuated the building. To the casual observer, the package might not have warranted much attention. For anyone possessing a military-level of situation awareness, however, the suspicious package was anything but normal. A wire protruded from one side of the cardboard box and its misspelled addresses listed a former U.S. Congressman as the sender.
With ATRC personnel safely evacuated, the bomb disposal experts moved in, though not in the literal sense. For that dangerous task, members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Mobile Unit 12, Dahlgren Division, employed an Andros F6B robot. Slowly and surely, the 'bot' approached the package, grabbed hold of it, and tugged it a safe distance away. After a simulated blast from the robot's shotgun, the package was rendered safe.
The simulated threat that challenged NSASP on Mar. 21 was one that troubles security experts across the nation: the active shooter. For those unfamiliar with law enforcement-speak, active shooter describes the types of attacks that occurred at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and Ft. Hood. This terrifying and chaotic type of crime demands a well-trained, aggressive response from police officers. Even then, the outcome of any real-life active shooter situation is far from certain.
Training officers employed a role-playing shooter, blank ammunition and simulated casualties to add realism to the drill, which took place at the Dahlgren's Fleet and Family Support Center. The make-up on the simulated casualties, provided by Sailors from Dahlgren's Branch Medical Clinic, was "incredible" in the words of one evaluator. Within very few minutes of the first shots being fired, NSASP police officer charged to the sound of the shots and neutralized the threat. Casualties were treated and loaded into an ambulance, from which they would be moved to a helicopter medical evacuation site, were the drill the real thing.
Hector Campos, a counselor at the Fleet and Family Support branch, played a badly-wounded victim. "It was very, very real," he said. "The adrenaline was pumping and you get confused. It's good to know that [officers are] trained to know what to do."
Medical personnel "treated" Campos, placed him on a stretcher and loaded him into an ambulance. "They did pretty well," laughed Campos. "I weigh 276, so I didn't make it easy for them. They got me out of there really, really quick."
Campos relayed his observations, good and bad, to Ed Patuga, training officer for NSASP. Patuga evaluated all of the scenarios and while he thought the responses were generally good, noted several areas for improvement. "Every exercise should provide the opportunity to improve and if not, it did not serve its purpose well," he said. "Exercises are the time to make mistakes and fix them, not in a real situation because then the outcome will be a whole lot different."
Observers from Naval District Washington (NDW) were also largely impressed with what they saw at the active shooter scenario. "As a team, as an effort to work together, I think [the training scenario] went well," said Vinny Keit, arms, ammunitions and explosives manager for NDW. "The emergency responders really knew how to perform and execute this type of operation, if an [active shooter] event took place."
The NSASP police officer in charge of training, Capt. Brian Flanagan, was especially pleased by his officers' response to the active shooter scenario. "They did an excellent job," he said. "It shows that they've been continuing on with the basic training we've given them. The hard work and training has gone a long way."
"All the parts and pieces were all in play," added Robert Brooks, NSASP police chief. "Overall, it was an excellent exercise."
Standing the watch
A key part of SC/CS 12 exercises were the enhanced security measures put into place at the gates of NSFs Dahlgren and Indian Head. The measures gave a diverse group of security personnel valuable training time together. NSASP Police manned the gates with members of the Navy Reserve Naval Security Forces (NRNSFs) from Dahlgren and Indian Head, as well as members of NSASP's Auxiliary Security Force (ASF). SC/CS12 was the first large-scale exercise in the Navy career of Master at Arms Seaman Michael Johnson, assigned to NSF Indian Head. "It's awesome," he said.
While dense fog and the closure of Dahlgren Road for emergency water main repairs on the morning of Mar. 22 provided all the ingredients for a traffic headache, the expected delays did not materialize. NSASP and supported commands in Dahlgren and Indian Head successfully encouraged non-essential employees to stay home during SC/CS 12. That effort not only averted a potentially hazardous traffic situation, but also enhanced the realism of the exercise for security personnel.
To simulate a realistic security event, "non-Mission Essential Personnel were asked to stay away from the installations during this exercise, as in a real world event, so Security Forces could concentrate more on whatever threat may exist," said David Fredrickson, NSASP N3I. Security could then "more readily identify and neutralize that threat. It greatly reduces time-consuming vehicle and personnel screenings that demand officer attention and leave them more vulnerable. It also allows first responders more freedom of movement, and will minimize casualties if there is an actual incident," said Fredrickson.
"I feel personnel at Dahlgren and Indian Head did a tremendous job during this year's exercise," said Fredrickson. "Months of communication and coordination between NSASP, the Supported Commands and our civilian counterparts in the sheriff's office, state police and Department of Transportation proved to be invaluable, and was no doubt the number one contributor to the success we experienced during this year's event. This was undoubtedly the most successful exercise I've experienced in my nearly thirty years of service," said Fredrickson.
Local officials weren't the only ones pleased with the success of SC/CS12. "I could not be more pleased with the outcome of the exercise," said Rear Admiral Patrick Lorge, Commandant, Naval District Washington. "I am continually amazed at the work being done at the installation level to ensure the safety of our workforce, Sailors and their families. We simulated real-world conditions to accurately assess our strengths and limitations and I am confident that we are prepared. We will apply lessons learned as we continue to refine plans and procedures, but overall the exercise was a tremendous success."
How important is it to practice protecting Navy personnel and their families? "It directly relates to mission accomplishment," said Patuga. "Every organization in the Navy has a mission and we can only ensure accomplishment if we can protect the people who carry out the tasks to accomplish the mission."
For those whose day-to-day duties revolve around providing that security, the opportunity to practice life-saving skills was appreciated. "There's never enough training and there never will be enough training," said Brooks. "It's the whole focus of what we do."