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Members of the station’s military police special response team move through the halls of the headquarters building during Exercise Desert Fire, Sept. 21, 2010. The exercise was designed to assess the station’s response to a workplace shooting. The team made its way through the building before coming into the contact with the shooter, who had taken several hostages in the building.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Diamant

Exercise tests Yuma air station response

23 Sep 2010 | Lance Cpl. Aaron Diamant

In order to prepare for a shooting similar to the events at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, the station held an exercise to assess its response to a workplace shooting here Sept. 21, 2010.

Station emergency and support personnel, as well as personnel from local law enforcement, took part in Exercise Desert Fire and helped evaluate the exercise, which occurred mainly in the station headquarters building.

The simulated shooter entered the building early in the workday and immediately began firing blanks at staged role players to simulate the killing and wounding of several people, while also taking hostages before a military police special response team stormed the building and subdued him.

An additional threat of an explosive-laden vehicle near the flight line, also part of the scenario, gave station explosive ordnance disposal technicians an opportunity to practice their response to such an incident.

Requirements to prepare for such an event enacted by the secretary of defense, and are now also required by Marine Corps order.

“This is in response to the ongoing threat to any installation,” said Col. Mark Werth, station commanding officer. “We needed to determine if our capabilities are able to respond to an active shooter. At the forefront of anything is the safety of the base and the people in it.”

The exercise’s creators strived to create the most realistic scenario possible.

“This training was based on a disgruntled employee taking up arms, which is very realistic,” said Yuma County Sheriff’s Deputy James Waddell, special response team instructor, who served as an evaluator for the exercise.

The exercise tested not only the station’s first responders but also various other personnel that would be affected by such an incident.

“This kind of practice is good for everybody because it’s not just a PMO issue. There are several entities on base that come together, as well as civilian law enforcement and fire departments that also respond to an event like this,” said Sgt. Jeff Ruby, a YPD SRT member who served as a evaluator for the exercise. “It also builds Marines’ trust in PMO to be able to handle this kind of event and let those other Marines help out in other ways.”

While the station’s military policemen responded to the shooter, simulated media members flooded the public affairs office with call for information on the event. The public affairs office disseminated information over the phone and via the station’s website, as well as held a press conference.

Even the Marine selected to act as the shooter saw the learning experiences of the scenario.

“I think everybody learned a lot from this training. They know what they need to improve and what they did decently,” said Cpl. David Reames, station armorer.

“An important part of training for an active shooter event is not only training those that respond to the threat, but also training the unarmed potential victims,” said Bill Tait, station emergency manager.

The station’s mission assurance department spent several weeks prior to the exercise training participants about the various aspects of reacting and surviving to such an attack.

The scenarios allowed the station’s emergency responders to determine what they did well and what they need to improve upon.

“We saw some things that we need to take care of, but situational awareness was established very rapidly,” said Tait.

Training for emergency situations will continue to be a part of the station’s training scenarios.

“There are a lot of scenarios that we train for, whether it be a chemical spill in town that has a cloud heading our way, and aircraft crash or a shooting, we need to train for all of them,” said Werth. “There will be another exercise like this down the road.”

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Marine Corps Air Station Yuma