For the fourth consecutive year, I will be participating in the annual Urban Shield training exercise and competition (this is actually the fifth year of Urban Shield, but I wasn’t on the job here at PoliceOne when that occurred). For those who may be unfamiliar, Urban Shield is a Homeland Security training exercise organized and executed by the outstanding team at Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), with the support of the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), and more than 150 local, state, federal, international, and private sector partners. In all, there are 30 stations/scenarios, and if past is prologue, there will be an equal number of SWAT / SRT / ESU teams from around the country matriculating through each one in a 48-hour test of tactical skills and physical endurance.
“Urban Shield 2011 is designed to strengthen each agency’s preparedness to respond to threats and domestic terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies,” states the Urban Shield website. “This year we will continue to incorporate Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, and Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) teams geared toward developing mechanisms for improved delivery of service to our communities.”
At the conclusion of Urban Shield 2010, I had the opportunity to sit down with Alameda Country Sheriff Gregory Ahern for a videotaped interview (we released that on PoliceOne this week, and you can see it in full below). During that discussion Ahern said, in part, “Our concept of operation has continued to grow from our fist year to our fourth year, and we were very successful in accomplishing our goals that we set in our initial planning phase...”
Urban Shield is designed to strengthen our preparedness to respond to terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. (PoliceOne Image)
Already one of the top SWAT exercises in the world, Urban Shield has become a national template to evaluate regional public safety preparedness.
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Choosing the Challenges “We try to examine all of the important infrastructure sites that have already been identified by experts in the field that have said they could possibly be potential targets for terrorists,” Ahern said. “So we send our teams to train at the actual venues where the experts have claimed could be a potential target.”
Site selection is an important issue for three principal reasons. First and foremost, the teams participating are given the opportunity to have training experience at the very sites which are the most appealing targets for terrorists. This provides an invaluable insight into how they might plan and perform should something actually happen there.
Secondly, during the past 12 months, the planners of Urban Shield have used this site selection process to do a truly comprehensive threat assessment — this being the fifth such assessment. The incredible wealth of knowledge amassed over time gives the San Francisco Bay Area a real strategic advantage over those who would wish to do area citizens harm.
Finally, following the conclusion of the exercise, Urban Shield planners will produce an in-depth After Action Report — what the folks at ACSO consistently call a Gap Analysis — that will assist the region in making equipment purchases for many years to come.
“Our scenarios are based on real live events that have happened throughout our country and throughout out the world,” Ahern told me during our interview last year.
I have an advance copy of the document which summarizes the challenges awaiting the participating teams, but will not divulge any details about the exercise in this space (I’ll recap the entire thing on Monday when all is said and done). Suffice it to say, if these teams have been reading news headlines here on PoliceOne, they will almost certainly recognize the real-world incidents which have occurred over the past several years, and upon which several of these challenges have been based. Others, thankfully, are not based on events in the past — they’re horrific, to say the least — but rather upon serious threats we may face if foreign terrorists or anti-government ‘citizens’ are successful in carrying out the ‘worst of the worst’ attacks.
All Disciplines, All Areas Participate Urban Shield is not limited to Bay Area tactical teams, nor is it limited to local area police agencies. Each year, I’ve observed new elements in the exercise to create better pre-incident planning and collaboration (and thus, better cooperation once an event actually does happen) between multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional first responder agencies.
“We try to bring together first responders from all of the different elements — police, fire, EMS — into the exercise so that they can train together,” Ahern said during our videotaped talk at the conclusion of the 2010 Urban Shield. “This year’s new exercise involved the explosive ordinance disposal teams, where we evaluated them on a side venue of one of the scenarios.”
Without letting any cats out of any bags, I can safely say that the role of fire and EMS, as well as the EOD teams, is enhanced again this year.
Further, as I reported last year, there is an ever-expanding roster of participating law enforcement agencies from across the country and around the globe in the competition. For example, in 2009 the French National Police’s Research, Assistance, Intervention, and Dissuasion (R.A.I.D.) team participated, and last year, I personally got to meet and talk with the teams from Israel, Bahrain, and Jordan (Israel took the top spot last year actually, with Oakland PD in second place, and a third-place tie between San Francisco (Calif.) PD and the FBI).
One of the rarely-mentioned elements is the incredible number of private citizens who volunteer in support of this thing. Thousands — quite literally — of ordinary people give their time to fulfill myriad supporting roles, from handing out bottles of water to role-playing as victims of disasters. For their efforts, they get possibly the very best look at how skilled and capable their first responders are. I’d bet a waist-high stack of green money that they then go back to work on Monday morning, with the water cooler conversation being, “You’ll never believe what I got to see this weekend...”
You simply can’t buy PR like that.
In year’s past, I’ve been able to “follow the stack” through some scenarios, and serve as a role player in others. I truly don’t know what awaits me this weekend, but I can say that for weeks now, I’ve been amped up for whatever my role ends up being.
The Model for Preparedness Training “Our goal,” said Ahern in the below video, “is to make sure all the first responders are ... adequately equipped and have the proper training to make sure they’re successful in any type of an event in our region. What we think is important is that other regions take this type of training and bring it back to their jurisdiction so their first responders have the same opportunities that our responders in the Bay Area have. Our hope is that they’ll duplicate what we’re doing, and that my personnel and my staff that have been successful in previous years will go and assist [other areas] in their own program based on their infrastructure studies.”
Already an Urban Shield has taken place in Boston (earlier this year), and as I have said in the past, it’s my belief that Urban Shield could very well be the model program for measuring the enhanced preparedness capabilities of any region in the United States.
My on-site work for Urban Shield 2011 begins tomorrow morning at around 0600 Pacific Time, ending around 0800 on Sunday, during which time I intend to observe a minimum of nine scenarios at six locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. For now, check out my interview with Sheriff Ahern, and watch this space for updates on this year’s exercise.
About the author
Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 750 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.
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