What exactly is Urban Shield? And why is it widely
considered the ultimate, most realistic, demanding, challenging SWAT training
anywhere? Let’s take a look at Urban Shield – California 2013, now in its sixth
highly successful year. Host agency Alameda, Calif. Sheriff’s Office (ACSO)
plans, prepares, and administers the program. A condensed description of Urban
Shield, per ACSO excerpts, is: Urban Shield is a four-day, full-scale,
multi-discipline, regional preparedness exercise to assess regional response,
capabilities … and enhance skills and abilities … and stretch regional
resources to their limits.
Urban Shield entails elements from Law Enforcement (LE),
SWAT, EOD, K-9, Fire, EMS, Haz-Mat, Urban Search and Rescue, and Water Rescue
from numerous agencies/departments throughout Northern
California, over a wide swath of five counties of the Bay Area. An
astounding 5,600 participants, including role players, support staff,
evaluators, etc., take part.
There are now Urban Shields in Boston, Mass.; Austin, Texas;
and North-Central Texas, with plans for more Urban Shields in the future. Each
new Urban Shield is slightly different from the original Urban Shield
Four days of no sleep for participants like SWAT and a lot
of physically taxing events—the worse perhaps being the obstacle course—make
this more than a tactical competition; it has been referred to as an ultimate SWAT
“Gruelathon.” This is because the SWAT competition element is 48
continuous/sustained hours involving 36 challenging, demanding and realistic
exercises. These exercises are designed and developed by a variety of local,
state and federal LE agencies/SWAT teams; many/most of them based on real-world
terrorist incidents in that have occurred in the U.S. and throughout the world.
Urban Shield Begins
For each of the 35 eight-member competing SWAT teams, 2013
Urban Shield began innocuously enough. While most participants attended
riveting debriefs of the Boston Marathon Bombing and the Sandy Hook Elementary
School massacre in Newtown, Conn., SWAT competitors attended an
all-encompassing orientation/briefing describing the Urban Shield exercise,
objectives, rules, safety, weapons, equipment, etc.
All SWAT competitors also underwent a thorough medical test
to establish their baseline such as blood pressure to establish if there were
medical concerns, such as certain injuries or high blood pressure that might be
aggravated by the stress levels of the events. Participants were monitored at
mandatory checkpoints throughout the 48-hour exercise. At this kick-off
orientation, the competitors also got to size up the competition for the first
and the last time until the awards banquet on the last day.
After the orientation and Boston/Newtown briefings, all
participants/attendees were invited to see the latest, cutting-edge technology
at the vendor show. This included two Armored Rescue Vehicles (Bearcat and
BATT) displaying the latest features (multiple gun ports, recessed hydraulic
rams, and roof turrets). Of equal interest were the latest QuikClot®
wound compresses, which
rapidly stop blood loss even in large wounds. Other items included a
wide array of body armor, equipment, uniforms and training aids.
Threats Outside the
While this was taking place, three real-world situations of
potential impact to Urban Shield were underway in Northern
California. The first situation was a growing radical protest
outside the Urban Shield headquarters hotel in downtown Oakland. Activists were protesting the event
on the second anniversary of the police raid on Occupy Oakland. Similar past
protests had frequently erupted in violence, vandalism and rampaging.
However, this time, ACSO was equal to the task. A full
contingent of riot-clad deputies faced off against the protesters, who
ultimately decided not to take on riot-ready ACSO. Instead, the protesters went
to their ‘plan B’, a “pig roast” at a nearby park where Oakland Police took
over for ACSO.
The second situation was another, much larger protest in Santa Rosa, California,
over the controversial Sonoma
shooting death of a 13-year-old boy who was carrying a very realistic airsoft
The third incident, in Roseville, Calif. (a suburb of Sacramento), was the
shooting/wounding of a federal ICE agent by a wanted parole violator/gang
member. The suspect then broke into an occupied home and held the occupants
hostage. A massive LE manhunt ensued, resulting in the suspect firing multiple
rounds at officers and wounding five Roseville Police Department officers
The suspect fled once more, and broke into yet another home.
This sparked an hours-long barricade standoff with a number of area SWAT teams.
Ultimately, the suspect was apprehended, shortly after a SWAT robot was
introduced into the home.
Amidst these real-world LE situations, Urban Shield
continued without interruption, in large part due to the dedicated
professionalism of the LEOs who handled these three real-world situations.
On the second day at 0530 hours, all 35 eight-member SWAT
teams met with their assigned ACSO liaison drivers, and headed out to their
first Urban Shield exercise. This was the beginning of their 48
continuous-hour, 36-exercise gruelathon.
Each of the 36 exercises were developed, administered, and
evaluated by support elements that include exercise and tactical evaluators,
safety officers, area commanders/staff, site captains, media coordinators, PIO,
and medical support staff (including four mandatory, fully staffed medical
checkpoints distributed throughout the 48 hours). Safety and medical were
primary concerns for all involved in Urban Shield, and thus, safety and medical
standards were strictly enforced at all times.
A sampling of the exercises, with an emphasis upon three in
particular, shows just how challenging and demanding Urban Shield was.
–Castro Valley HS outdoor football stadium. Conducted by US Secret Service (USSS)
Dignitary Protection. Scenario began with a USSS-protected dignitary speech.
Terrorists attacked with IEDs and automatic weapons, resulting in multiple
casualties. SWAT responded, provided protection for USSS dignitary evacuation,
and located, engaged, neutralized the terrorists, while providing protection
for EMS treating the casualties.
Scenario #15 – Bay
Bridge Terror Attack (San Francisco/Oak Bay Bridge – old span). Terrorist
Attack with improvised explosive devices (IED) and a shootout with the first
Exercise # 19 –
Fremont Fire Department Academy. Active terrorist shooter, with Fire and EMS integration. Technology: Fremont FD command post,
multi-split screen, real-time screen, cameras, Armored Rescue Vehicle. Fire/EMS
vehicles. SWAT’s mission was to respond, employ an ARV, locate, engage, and
neutralize the terrorist(s), while providing protection and ARV escort for Fire
and EMS treating the casualties.
There was also a Confidence Course at the ACSO Training
Center. This purpose-built,
challenging, 14-station obstacle course can be daunting enough by itself. But
during Urban Shield, after completing the Confidence Course, participants had
to do a 2.6-mile run up and down (mostly up) steep hills. This was followed by five
additional individual physical challenges.
Other scenarios took place at the Oakland International
Airport (ticking bomb on plane, terrorist improvised radiation/nuclear device);
Children’s Hospital Oakland (terrorist attack with hostages); Palomares
Elementary School (school active shooter); Federal Air Marshall Field Office
(terror attack, hostage situation/rescue on a realistic simulator of a jet
airliner); Muni Metro Maintenance Facility (Terrorists attack and take over a
Muni Light Rail train); UC Berkeley, Richmond satellite (a Lone Wolf Terrorist
takes hostages at a university, and other locations.
(ACSO Training Center): This purpose-built, exceptionally challenging,
14-station obstacle course is daunting enough by itself. But there’s more—after
the Confidence Course, participants must do a 2.6 mile run—up/down (mostly up)
steep hills. This is followed by five additional individual physical
Upon the completion of every SWAT scenario, tactical
evaluators conducted a point-by-point tactical, interactive debriefing, with
teams encouraged to ask questions. Each team went through this same
travel-brief-exercise-debrief-travel cycle 36 times over the course of Urban
Shield’s 48 sustained-hour duration. In all, Urban Shield 2013 consisted of a
total of 60 different exercises.
Here are the top three SWAT competition winners: 1st place –
Berkeley, Calif. PD SWAT; 2nd place—Alameda County, Calif. Sheriff’s Office
SWAT; 3rd place – San Francisco, Calif. Police Department SWAT. Awards were
also handed out to the Top Three winners in separate EOD, Haz-Mat, USAR, Water
While it may be a cliché, it’s true that each and every
participating team and individual are winners. Everyone, including
participants, evaluators, observers, support staff, each LE, Fire, EMS agency,
and others all came away with more tactical knowledge, training, and
professionalism than they came in with before Urban Shield 2013 officially
began. This translates into becoming even better LEOs.
Urban Shield is hallmarked by “repeat customers,” including
SWAT teams that participate in Urban Shield every year. For those either
planning to, or thinking about, competing in future Urban Shields, it is
recommended that they first participate as observers. They will get an
insider’s look at the inner workings, tactics, and techniques of Urban Shield.
Another valuable, intended benefit of Urban Shield is that
the entire region profits. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and manhunt
employed and taxed LE, Fire, EMS, EOD, etc., resources in the Boston area to their maximum. Yet despite the
magnitude and horror of this devastating terror attack, response was
impressively rapid, professional, and highly effective. This was thanks in a
large part to Urban Shield–Boston and California.
Planning for the next Urban Shield in California is currently underway, and will
continue right up to its start. California’s Urban Shield for 2014 will be Sept.
Bob O’Brien is a
retired Cleveland, Ohio Police SWAT Sergeant and the co-founder of Cleveland
SWAT. Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the
Brook Park, Ohio Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey
Davis is a California-based writer and author.