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ALERT: A regional task force of SWAT operators

Wisconsin's undaunted ALERT Team is equipped and prepared to respond to and mitigate terrorist, WMD, or other catastrophic events

Colonel Ardant du Picq, a noted military theorist who lived in the middle of the nineteenth century, is widely credited with saying, “Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare attack a lion. Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability, and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely.” This is the essence of a system being put together in Wisconsin that will deliver enhanced tactical capability through specialized critical equipment, advanced tactics, and a highly coordinated response plan in the event of major incident.

On October 23, 2002, in Moscow men and women anxiously awaited a concert at the Nord-Ost Theatre, when men armed with automatic weapons along with females, who were wired to detonate, crashed the gate and took 850 hostages. After a protracted siege, with an impending dead-line, an elite group of Russian police gassed the theatre and shot it out with the hostage takers.

After an apparent initial success lives were lost, because of length of time it took the rescuers to carry the unconscious hostages away from the noxious gas used in the rescue. 170 people died in the Nord-Ost siege.

On September 1, 2004, children in their new clothes, with school supplies in hand were being led nervously to meet their new teachers by loving parents on the first day of school. Suddenly a ruthless horde of terrorists, armed with automatic weapons and explosives turned the picturesque scene at the elementary school in Beslan Russia into bloody chaos. They took 1,100 men, women, and mostly children hostage and a three-day siege began. During the stand-off the hostage takers denied food, water and any creature comforts to the condemned as they busied themselves wiring the gym for the mass murder they planned.

On September 3, as time was running out for the helpless victims, the security forces, who were summoned to the scene and cobbled together into a fighting unit, attempted a rescue. In the ferocious ensuing battle 334 died.

Mumbai, India
On November 26, 2008 a team of terrorists struck multiple locations, attacking from land and sea in coordinated multiple assaults. The police were out gunned and it took days instead of hours for an elite force of commandos to arrive and slowly take the city back. 179 died in the three day running gun battle. The terrorists were armed with automatic weapons and grenades.

New York, Washington, Pennsylvania
September 11, 2001...nothing else needs to be said. Sadly, the list could go on and on.

Words and Action
While some still argue on the most politically correct terms for these murderers and what term should be used to identify this life and death struggle there are some leaders, who prepare. In Wisconsin, like other states, funds were received from Homeland Security to help meet and deal with this threat. The Office of Justice Assistance was selected to oversee the use of these funds through a statewide strategic plan that hardens Wisconsin as a terrorist target. This plan included development of a law enforcement specialty team task force equipped and prepared to respond to and mitigate terrorist, WMD, or other catastrophic events.

A comprehensive security plan has been developed and will be implemented within the next year. This initiative has been labeled ALERT — Aligned Law Enforcement Response Team.

Tony Peterson, who is the OJA Law Enforcement Program Manager says, “ALERT’s primary mission is to deliver enhanced tactical capability through specialized critical equipment, advanced tactics, and a highly coordinated response plan when activated as a statewide asset.”

ALERT is a regional law enforcement task force made up of existing SWAT teams that include 11 separate agencies and six separate existing bomb units. These teams were selected with a geographic emphasis to ensure the most effective statewide coverage and emergency response. ALERT assets will have the ability to respond to the vast majority of the State of Wisconsin within approximately one hour. These teams will be equipped and trained to deliver a highly coordinated response to threats posed by firearms, explosives and or hazardous materials.

Roadmap for Success
ALERT’s development has included a strong local resource involvement. SWAT and Bomb Squad workgroups and an executive committee consisting of three Sheriffs, three Chiefs and three state agencies (Division of Criminal Investigation, Wisconsin Emergency Management, and Office of Justice Assistance) have established minimum equipment inventories, a Standard Operating Procedure, Response Plan, and call-out criteria. Team members were sent to Israel to train and observe their combined emergency response capability and returned to share and apply what was learned into the ALERT initiative.

A good example of how Homeland Security grant funding has already benefited Wisconsin law enforcement was the notable stand-off begun by Robert Bayliss, who occupied a reinforced bunker-like shack on a hill top in rural Wisconsin. Due to the availability and use of Lenco Bearcat armored vehicles, no police officers or civilians were injured and Bayliss was apprehended after more than 500 rounds were fired.

Call-out Procedure
A call-out matrix has been developed to assist in the decision to activate ALERT assets. Wisconsin’s Emergency Police Service System, respective Emergency Police Service Directors will make the determination if there will be an ALERT call out. In reality it may take more time for an originating agency to decide to call for help than for the help to arrive. Many factors could lead an agency, who may have their own tactical team, to decide to call on the ALERT Team.

These factors include the fact that there are multiple suspects at multiple locations endangering multiple victims. The situation might stretch on for days rather than hours, the suspects may be identified as terrorists, utilizing automatic weapons and explosives or even hazardous materials.

Just the Equipment Please
Peterson says that there may be a time that an agency does not need an entire ALERT unit to respond to an incident, but they do critically need some of its equipment. Tony explained that in cases like this, “ALERT’s secondary mission is for teams that comprise the task force to make available their specialized/critical equipment and/or advanced tactics through mutual aid requests for incidents that do not meet an activation threshold.”

Therefore, a mechanism has been created to allow any agency in a region to be able to call for a Bearcat in a critical incident.

Bomb Squad
Six Wisconsin local agency bomb squads participate in the ALERT initiative. Homeland Security grant funding — through the Office of Justice Assistance — has allowed them to significantly increase their ability to respond to and render safe hazardous devices. And, as mentioned earlier, ALERT’s tactical plan integrates bomb squad elements into the traditional SWAT team.

Through the Israeli research conducted this year, ALERT will utilize the Israeli Model for deployment, since in Israel the dual threat, which might be described as “bullets and bombs” are frequently faced.

Working Together
“ALERT’s role when activated is to support and collaborate with the local Incident Command and/or Tactical Command to deliver the most effective and expeditious mitigation possible,” Peterson said.

All agencies participating in the ALERT initiative are committed to sharing specialized/critical equipment and training with their law enforcement partners to ensure Wisconsin is as prepared as it can be. The goal is to prepare together.”

Preparing For the Worst
Most people live their life going through each day hoping for the best. Hope is a luxury for the unprepared but well protected. There are some whose calling it is to protect the hopeful masses as these guardians prepare for the worst. In Wisconsin there are multiple units of well equipped, well trained officers, strategically located so that that one or more of their units can respond as a single team to confront a severe threat. These units have been trained and equipped, to locate, contain, negotiate, neutralize — and if need be, attack resolutely — persons who threaten those that the teams are sworn to protect.

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