NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. –
As soon as you step into the empty section of Building 54 on the Defense Distribution Center Susquehanna, Pennsylvania installation, an eerie calm awaits you. This part of the building hasn’t been used since the occupants moved out in early May. There are empty offices and cubicles, and some of the left-behind furniture and equipment is in disarray – haphazardly laying here and there. The air inside is stagnant, very warm, and very humid.
A perfect setting for an active shooter exercise.
“Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!” is heard in the room, followed with, “Shots fired!”
And so it begins.
The exercise scenario unfolds as a husband and wife team come from the credit union located in the same building, guns drawn, and firing simulation rounds (blanks) as they walk down a nearly empty corridor. They encounter a man walking down the hallway and shoot him. The role-paying couple then move on to their next location, a large office room with cubicles and inside offices.
The couple split up and begin shooting their way through the maze of cubicles. Run/hide role players are doing their best to not get caught or shot. Victims, role players made up with realistic wounds, are on the floor, awaiting medical attention.
Loud sirens signal that the police are near.
The installation police force respond within minutes of notification and take in the scene. They see one of the suspects, the wife, run between cubicles and pursue her. She is shot, apprehended and handcuffed.
While she is taken outside the building, information is relayed that the husband is holed up in an inner office with two hostages. A police officer attempts to negotiate with the husband, asking if he needs anything, trying to convince him to give up the hostages and himself.
The husband is not budging and adamantly requests to see if his wife. He informs that he’ll begin shooting his hostages if he doesn’t see his wife soon. He then asks for a pizza.
The police are doing their best to buy time by talking with the husband until the Dauphin County Crisis Response Team arrives and can get into the area and diffuse the situation.
While negotiations are happening, the building is cleared of injured personnel and those in hiding have been moved to safety. The injured personnel are triaged by emergency personnel and moved to emergency vehicles for transport to the nearest emergency facility.
While the police continue to negotiate with the husband, the CRT arrives and assesses the situation quickly. They bum rush the husband, apprehend him and take him into custody. His hostages were released unharmed.
The exercise is over. In all, everything happened within an hour time-frame.
According to Installation Emergency Manager, Wayne Rhodes, this type of exercise happens every other year. This is probably the fourth or fifth in the nine years DDSP’s been holding them, so nearly half of the exercises have been active shooter exercises. The Installation also conducts exercises for weather and hazardous materials events.
Building 54 provided the perfect area for this type of exercise due its myriad of cubes, inner offices, and maze-like cubicle build,” said Rhodes.
“We’ve never had a space that big and we wanted a chaotic layout, so it fits perfect with the scenario we were going for. The more realistic we can make it, the more effective it is,” Rhodes stated.
It takes a lot of manpower – nearly 30 personnel – to stage and work the event. Credit Union workers, Air Force recruiters, Marines, and DDSP employees stepped in as role players who were runners, hiders, or posed as victims.
U.S. Army Col. Brad J. Eungard, former commander, DDSP, is thankful for having a local police force that can respond with incredible capability to immediately try to neutralize a threat, as well as having a relationship through a memorandum of agreement to bring on a Crisis Response Team from Dauphin County enabling an additional capability.
He watched as the exercise took place. “As an installation commander, I feel so much safer and secure through these relationships that we have – a professional police force, and an exceptional CRT that can come on from Dauphin County. As I saw them go through the operation, I thought they did well. It is not a pleasant situation but they have the courage to exercise this. We never want to have anything like this happen here, but we have to practice for it and these exercises help us to do that.”
Marine Cpl. Kassandra Miller, legal chief and security clerk for the 4th Marine Corps District, Recruiting Headquarters District, New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, volunteered as a role player. She played the part of a wife, who, along with her husband (another role player and not her real husband), were active shooters in the staged exercise.
Miller believes it’s important to exercise the active shooter scenario because you never know what could happen. “Even on such a small base like DDSP, anything can happen, and if it does happen, you want the DLA Police and emergency personnel to be properly trained to handle the situation.”
Rhodes shared the importance of holding active shooter exercises.
“The reason we do them so often is that the Department of Defense is a huge target, so it’s basically mandated from DoD on down that we be more prepared to handle large scale casualty events – specifically mass shooter exercises. Bottom line is we need to exercise to our hazards.”
“We get a lot of professional satisfaction from these exercises. It enables us and the fire and police departments to perform a realistic assessment of where we are in terms of preparedness for this kind of event,” said Rhodes.