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MCAS tests rampage response
The Marines, law enforcement agencies and emergency medical responders at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma are now better prepared to react to a murder rampage similar to that of the Fort Hood shooting in Texas, should such an event ever unfold here.
During a training exercise Tuesday morning, a Marine, who was acting, stormed the headquarters building on base that houses the senior officers and their staff and proceeded to enact a scenario in which innocent bystanders were shot, injured or killed and others taken hostage.
The exercise was intended to test the response tactics used by the base staff to better prepare them for any unforeseen future tragedies.
“At the forefront of everything is the safety of the base and the security of the base to ensure the Marines and families and all of the critical infrastructure that we maintain for the federal government is as safe as possible so we can continue to do our mission,” said Col. Mark A. Werth, station commanding officer.
Bill Tait, MCAS Yuma installation emergency manager, explained how the events unfolded.
“The shooter entered the building and engaged a couple of occupants that he saw right off the bat,” he said, adding the shooter and the rest of the participants used blanks in their guns to add to the realism of the event.
“He then methodically walked through the building … and got to a spot where he thought he liked and set up to do hostage negotiations.”
The “victims” of the shooting, who wore bloody makeup and fake wounds, were an essential training tool, Tait said.
“That allows the EMS (Emergency Medical Services) people to go through their evacuation drills, go through their triages and determine who is the most critically injured. (However) not all the injured got out of the building, so the SRT (Strategic Response Team) had to make some decisions. They had casualties that may not have lasted through negotiations, so they made a tactical decision to go in and get the shooter so they could rescue the hostages and the people who were wounded inside the building.”
This led the SRT to infiltrate the building using SWAT Team style tactics complete with full body armor and shields. They also were using blanks in their guns.
“SRT made the decision to engage the shooter and they moved on him and took him out,” Tait said.
A second individual who had been an “accomplice” of the shooter, allowing him access to the building, was apprehended by authorities.
The “shooter” and the other participants were given training to prepare for their roles in the event, Tait said.
“It has to be real. We have to give the actors the opportunity to exercise their tactics as much as they can. We can't break things and do things we would normally do but we have measures to simulate that.”
The scenario was a powerful learning tool, Werth said.
“This was set up to take a look at an active shooter on the base, and to determine if our response capabilities are appropriate and where we need to get better at what we do.
“We had a very well put together exercise plan with a lot of scenario injects to drive that and see how we would react, how we would get our security forces on scene and how well we contain such a situation as well as being able to protect the rest of the base and the rest of the families, the Marines, the civilians, everyone else that might be on the air station at the time something would happen.”
The Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood shooting, perpetrated by Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major serving as a psychiatrist, led to the death of 13 people and wounded 30 others.
That tragedy caused the government to take a deep look into base security around the country, Werth said.
“It was an incident that led us all within the Department of Defense to take a look at this kind of scenario and build our training plans to be prepared for such an event. It gave us a head start in terms of understanding what needs to happen.”
While MCAS Yuma is prepared for the worst, Werth doesn't believe it is in immediate danger.
“I don't know that MCAS Yuma has any of a higher threat than anywhere else. This particular scenario, we had an individual who wanted to take out a certain action. It wasn't targeted or designed to be any type of terrorism event. It was just an individual event.”
Werth applauded the efforts of those involved in the exercise.
“I'm pretty proud of what everyone has been able to do out here today,” he said, adding his appreciation for all who made the event possible.
“Thanks to everyone in the city and county of Yuma, the Department of Homeland Security and all the information officers from the various places that have come out here today ... to help train us and get us better at what we do and to help us integrate and evaluate our response in here from a professional level outside of the fence line.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.