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Urban Shield Tactical Exercise

Q: Take 4,000 people, put them in 26 scenarios in 48 hours, mix them into a large geographic area with everything from college campuses and businesses to neighborhoods and airports, and what do you get?

A: The adrenaline, excitement and fatigue of America's largest tactical exercise: Urban Shield.

The event is a non-stop, large-scale tactical exercise that tests capabilities through performance-based field tactical incidents, staged with the help of dozens of volunteer role players who make each scenario as real as possible.

Now in its fourth year, Urban Shield is also by far the most impressive SWAT competition in the country. For 48 continuous hours, 29 eight-man teams competed in this grueling full-scale exercise that challenged the most experienced operators. The Urban Shield exercise spans more than 700 miles through four counties and 30 locations in the San Francisco Bay area.

Such tactical training takes time, equipment, personnel—and money. But with the help of the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative and contributions from sponsors, the Alameda County, Calif., Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) hosts Urban Shield to provide a means to test and evaluate not only people, but equipment in homeland security situations. The Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative states that its goal is “enhancing regional capabilities through collaboration,” and that would certainly describe Urban Shield, one of its key projects.

This year, teams competed in 26 realistic exercise scenarios including three fire scenarios and one EOD, and four medical checkpoints. Exercise scenarios were diverse, and included the need to integrate with outside agencies, private security, and other on-site personnel critical to the execution of a team’s plan and response. Several scenarios required an integrated multi-agency response in which several teams were required to work together, including fire personnel.

Among the agencies and teams participating in Urban Shield 2010 with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office were University of California Police Department, Berkeley; California Department of Corrections; California Highway Patrol; the County Sheriff’s Offices / Departments of Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma.

The police departments included Berkeley, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Newark, Oakland, Palo Alto, Redwood City, Richmond, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Leandro, Sunnyvale and Union City, in addition to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Coast Guard (USCG), FEMA, CalEMA, the National Guard and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. International participants included the Israeli Special Police Force, the Jordanian Special Police Force and the Kingdom of Bahrain National Police.

For such a large-scale event, safety is a priority for all participants. Prior to the competition, teams checked in at the Alameda County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Services in the city of Dublin, where they completed required documentation and sat through a thorough briefing on the rules of the exercise, safety, equipment check, training on all new equipment and technology utilized in the exercises, a complete weapons familiarization and qualification, and a pre-exercise medical assessment.

Regional Collaboration

According to Alameda County, Calif., Sheriff Gregory J. Ahern, “In an ever-changing world of uncertainty, it is critical that we continue to expand regional collaboration and preparation levels for all first responders. By testing our abilities over a broad spectrum of disciplines and scenarios within the confines of a coordinated training venue, we will be better prepared to add strategic, operational, technical and tactical changes.”

He explained that Urban Shield is designed to “challenge the skills and physical capabilities, along with testing knowledge and abilities, of all who participate” using Tier 1 critical infrastructure sites, high-value targets, and other sites and scenarios that may be involved in future threats.

The 2010 Urban Shield exercise set five main goals to provide a means to test and validate leadership and preparedness levels, incorporating guiding principles from The National Preparedness Guidelines. Tactical teams and first responder entities prepared for and provided a unified response to the Urban Shield disasters and emergencies using multi-discipline and multi-jurisdictional first responder agencies. Delivery of service, efficiency and coordination efforts among local, state and federal entities, as well as private security, were tried and tested.

The first goal of Urban Shield 2010 was to test overall communication and management capabilities. The special focus was the city and county Emergency Operation Centers in the five-county core area of most of the participating agencies. The second goal was to integrate critical infrastructure and any onsite private security personnel into a collaborative response framework, testing public and private sector response plans and unified response to disasters and emergencies.

The third goal was to evaluate regional fire, search and rescue, and HAZMAT response, with a focus on core competencies. The fourth goal was to evaluate regional Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams and their core competencies and response capabilities. The fifth goal was to evaluate regional capabilities to identify, integrate and manage volunteers who would respond to large-scale disasters.

Law enforcement must cope with major scale disasters and incidents. Sound leadership during such crises is vital. Personnel must have the ability, training and skill to handle crises, because on-the-job, play-it-by-ear tactics will no longer work—if they ever did. Instead, every agency must learn how to use time, energy, talent and money wisely to respond to crises before an incident occurs.

And that is the objective of Urban Shield, which provided scenarios for practice and evaluation of critical skills in tactics, equipment and resources use, information sharing, communications capabilities, and emergency operations. The challenges posed by Urban Shield not only train, but also strengthen teams preparing for effective and appropriate responses to disasters and emergencies. Of course, Urban Shield involves many people beyond the participants including planners, role players, observers and even visiting dignitaries.

Realistic Tactical Scenarios

Among the 26 scenarios were mock incidents involving: weapons of mass destruction, airplane assaults, bank robbery, attack on a school, chemical/radiological contamination, bombs, active shooters, search and rescue, linear assault, high-risk service of warrants, ascending, rappelling, leadership reaction techniques, maritime operations, domestic and international terrorism threats and incidents, navigation on land, maritime and train interdiction, water operations, explosive ordnance K-9 detection, and hostage rescue.

The scenarios are made as realistic as possible, complete with role players and volunteers taking on roles of victims, bystanders and criminals. Cameras filmed from various vantage points at each of the scenarios, and some footage was also obtained from cameras emplaced on some of the participants’ helmets, all with the goal of recording what happened and identifying where improvements might be needed.

To increase the reality of the situations, participants responded in real time using nearly all of the 48 hours of the event. Two 45-minute naps were allowed each participant during the 48 hours, but that was all. Throughout the 48 hours, monitoring stations checked participants’ vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure and reaction time.

Anxiety, excitement, sleep deprivation and fatigue took their toll on participants, but the test helped them hone their emotional and psychological skills. It is only by bringing a sense of realism to an exercise that it gets the energy and challenge needed to make the scenarios effective tests, something Urban Shield has demonstrated in its four-year history.

Participants push themselves, of course, but they also test—and push—the equipment they have been issued. Exercises such as those in Urban Shield get equipment afield and determine whether it does the job it is supposed to do. An added benefit is actually post-event, when procurement decisions are made about what equipment is worth purchasing and what is not.

Multiple Agency Coordination

A “Unified Command” was utilized so multi-discipline responses could be planned, executed and evaluated. Interoperable communications were activated to evaluate the effectiveness of the communications and to determine if, in fact, they were truly interoperable. Events required a multi-discipline response, using a variety of training and logistical elements in the exercises. Many exercises involved sustained response to challenge the participants both physically and mentally.

Not only did the exercises implement National Response Plan elements, but they also involved operations planning; operations center management; incident management; teamwork; regional collaboration; information sharing; interoperable communications; response to chemical, biological, radiological and high-yield explosive weapons detection; and tactical operations.

Three Teams – One Location

One example of the kind of activity occuring at Urban Shield took place at the NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.) Plant in Fremont. Triage and victim extrication were practiced in the setting of a hostile environment. In this exercise, SWAT and fire personnel were required to work together for a large-scale hostage rescue under the management of one command post. Although a unified response was required, teams performed separate tactical and rescue operations.

Three challenges were presented to three groups all at the same time, plus a surprise incident that was added into the mix at the end of the “expected” incident. The surprise required simultaneous response by all three groups.

The first group had to perform hostage rescue under a unified command post and give protective support to emergency responders, testing the Tactical Emergency Medical Support. The second group combined responders from fire, police and emergency medical services (EMS) with SWAT in a search and rescue in a “warm” zone, mixing in exterior distraction and hostage rescue. The third group had to show its ability to support the warm zone search and rescue, provide security for the fire team, and do a rope rescue of an officer down in an active shooter environment.

Team 1 was assigned Crisis Entry, which tested its ability to work covertly, create a contingency plan, breach, and use Noise Flash Diversionary Devices, as well as the overall success of the rescue operation. Team 2 was assigned the primary search and rescue operations inside a designated “warm zone.” This team was evaluated on its tactics and ability to move, conduct search and rescue operations, and transition to a hostage-rescue support position.

Team 3 was evaluated on its ability to support the “warm-zone” search and rescue efforts, and on performance of a “break & rake” in support of the planned hostage rescue. In addition, Team 3 was required to provide security for fire personnel, which required them to clear an area of high concern before a downed officer could be rescued.

Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks

Other scenarios included a hostile takeover of a government facility, which took place at the San Francisco City Hall; a critical infrastructure/corporate security integration at the Pyramid Center (Transamerica Building in San Francisco); a SWAT & K9 Integration at Moffett Federal Air Field with a search for suspect(s) who kidnapped and shot a motorist during a vehicle theft; Dignitary Protection at Oracle Headquarters; and a WMD/CBRNE threat at the Century 12 Theaters.

Additional scenarios included the theft of precious metals and radiological material from the Department of Energy’s Stanford Linear Accelerator Center; water source contamination at the Pulgas Water Treatment Facility; a commercial train rescue operation at the Oakland Amtrak Rail Yard; artificial intelligence at the Novartis Pharmaceuticals facility; and a stadium CBRNE response at the UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium.

Each of the participating tactical teams is supported by a team liaison. The liaisons are responsible for transporting teams to each scenario safely and on time. They assist with team logistics and provide pre-exercise briefings as they travel from scenario to scenario. It is the liaison’s responsibility to report into area command regarding the transportation status of his team throughout each exercise.

Emergency Medicine Training

In addition to the scenarios, Urban Shield includes four medical checkpoints. At these checkpoints, tactical medical training is provided to increase survivability. Training is based on the latest approved guidelines from Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC). This year, training was overseen by Dr. David Callaway (ER Physician – Operational Medicine Institute, Harvard University – CoTCCC member) and Sean McKay (TLE EMT-P). Training focused on uncontrolled hemorrhage from isolated penetrating extremity wounds.

Teams were provided valuable skills to address these wounds in the field. As with tactical equipment, instructors demonstrated a variety of field medical kits and supplies that could be used in the aid and treatment of injuries. Kits were also given to each of the participating teams. In addition, these medical checkpoints provided triage and treatment of injuries as necessary.

Evaluators Score the Competitors

Scoring for each of the scenarios was conducted by tactical evaluators. These evaluators were experienced tactical operators and trainers from agencies throughout the state. Prior to participation, they must go through an extensive review of scoring criteria and the site operations plan. Urban Shield judging criteria includes: leadership, intelligence gathering, planning, deployment, team movement and teamwork.

The tactical evaluator records the scores for each listed criterion, completes the scorecard, and then reviews the evaluation with team participants during the scenario debrief. During this time, teams are provided valuable feedback regarding execution of plans, display of leadership, and other insight into how they performed as a team.

After all the scores were tallied and the evaluations were complete, the top teams were announced. This year, the State of Israel’s tactical team was judged to be first overall in this rigorous test of skill and ability. Taking a close second place was the team from the Oakland Police Department. The FBI and the San Francisco Police Department were tied for third place.

Vendor Show and After-Action Debrief

After the formal tactical exercises were concluded, the Urban Shield event continued with an entire day of conference-style educational sessions and a vendor show. Topics included EMS Response to Suicide Terrorism; Lessons Learned from Terrorist Attacks in Jakarta and Mumbai; Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response; and Middle Eastern Cultures – Mindsets.

Although the purpose of Urban Shield is far greater in its scope than the competition, this unparalleled event in the tactical law enforcement community is a standard by which other tactical communities should strive to achieve and duplicate. Special thanks go to Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Assistant Sheriff James L. Baker for his assistance in preparing Tactical Response

coverage of this exercise.

Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., J.D., writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at

Julie Iguchi Banz is the national sales director for Tactical Response magazine and can be reached at

Photos courtesy of Ken Carbone, Dolphin Graphics.



The Metro Boston Homeland Security Region (MBHSR) is pleased to announce it will be conducting the Urban Shield Full-Scale Exercise May 20-22, 2011. This exercise will assess the region’s ability to successfully respond to and manage multiple terrorist events and other emergencies occurring simultaneously throughout the Boston area.

The overarching goal of Urban Shield Boston will be to provide a multi-layered training exercise to enhance the skills and abilities of regional first responders, as well as those responsible for coordinating and managing large-scale events. Involved personnel will include regional emergency managers, law enforcement, emergency medical services (EMS), fire, local military, as well as related government and corporate partner personnel.

This exercise will identify and stretch regional resources to their limits while expanding collaboration and building positive relationships. In addition, this exercise will provide increased local business and critical infrastructure collaboration. The Urban Shield exercise is intended to provide the Metro Boston Homeland Security Region with critical gap analysis information by identifying the existing level of preparedness and capabilities and comparing that information to related desired levels.



By Asst. Sheriff James Baker

The day following the main exercise, an in-depth “After-Action Report and Gap Analysis” was prepared for use in future training and evaluation within the region served by most of the participating agencies. Strengths and areas for improvement are identified, corrected as needed, and shared as appropriate.


Emergency Operation Centers were utilized as area commands to test their individual levels of preparedness, as well as the regional ability to manage a large-scale disaster encompassing multiple counties. The EOCs demonstrated the ability to successfully execute operations throughout the exercise, maintaining communication and successfully coordinating the scenarios under their direct command and control.

One goal was to test the ability to shift from the primary to secondary, or backup, EOC sites to ensure not only that they are in a functional state of readiness, but that continuity of command and control could be maintained while the transition occurred. Three of the EOCs operated from their backup sites and determined they were functional and operationally sound.

The Silver Area Command was asked to move operations during the early hours of the Urban Shield FSE, simulating a critical failure to their primary EOC facility. The Silver Area planned to temporarily hand over command, control and communications to the Black Area Command during the transition process. However, the Silver Area Command was so successful, that during the move they were able to transition utilizing technology and redundant communication systems without the need to rely on any assistance.

Tactical evaluators noticed the tactical teams displayed an increased proficiency in their ability to assess the incident and develop an initial action plan when compared to prior years. Teams utilized scouts to gather intelligence, improved communications and cohesiveness among team members, and conducted more thorough rehearsals.

One scenario required emergency medical services (EMS) personnel to respond to a potentially hostile environment (warm zone) while law enforcement tactical teams provided them with force protection, pushing both disciplines into an overlapping role that is not typically performed in real world emergencies. Successful planning and coordination between medical and tactical personnel resulted in achieving a successful resolution for the coordinated response. Medical teams were able to effectively perform triage, provide medical treatment, and evacuate patients from the incident site.

Regional Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams were successful as a result of their prior training and their task- specific equipment being in a functional state of readiness. Participating teams did a good job establishing and working within the ICS framework, and were very well organized during operations. Teams specializing in weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and hazardous materials worked within the timeframes specified for response.

Participating law enforcement tactical teams vastly improved their ability to assess critical incidents and develop immediate action plans. Teams also demonstrated they could identify suspects and properly address threats as they were presented.

For successful response to a critical incident involving public and private entities, it is imperative that they train together to identify roles, responsibilities and procedures in order to overcome barriers that often arise. During this exercise, public and private entities strengthened their relationships and gained valuable experience working together.

Areas for Improvement

Law enforcement tactical teams performed extremely well during Urban Shield 2010; however, tactical evaluators observed a few areas for improvement.

While responding to scenarios involving secondary devices or booby traps, Tactical and Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams displayed various levels of ability to recognize and avoid such devices. Law enforcement first responders must be able to recognize the increasing threat of secondary devices and booby traps and take appropriate action to mitigate or avoid these devices.

Some tactical teams were moving too fast through the scenarios, neglecting certain basic special response principles (not properly clearing an area, not thoroughly searching or questioning role players, etc.). When confronted with increased real-world stimuli built into some of the scenarios, some teams occasionally lost focus and neglected basic tactical movement (standing in front of large windows, doors, etc.).

Identified tactical teams neglected to provide consistent 360-degree coverage in the various types of environments to which they responded, causing increased risk to the team. In addition, identified teams formed together in a linear stack, and in too close proximity to one another, while moving through open areas.



SWAT Fitness Assessment

– including a 3- mile run, 14-station confidence course and muscular strength-endurance evaluation.

Medical Checkpoint

– provided TEMS training involving uncontrolled hemorrhage from isolated penetrating wounds.

Integrated Assault Lane

– tested the ability to conduct a high-risk, time-sensitive warrant operation, based on the New York Times Square vehicle-borne IED.

Contamination of Water Supply

– challenged the abilities of gathering intelligence, decision making, team movements and armed confrontations.

Assessment of New Technology

– provided hands-on training with L3 CyTerra Range-R Handheld Through-Wall Sensor and QinetiQ Robotic Controller Kit.

Multi-agency Integrated Assault

– involving SWAT and fire in a crisis entry drill involving breaching and rescue (SWAT) and then TEMS (fire).

Multi-agency Integrated Assault

– involving SWAT and fire in a search and rescue, hostage rescue operation followed by triage.

Multi-agency Integrated Assault

– involving SWAT and fire involving break & rake entry, hostage rescue and rope rescue of downed officer.

Bomb Squad Response

– tested ability to search multiple structures and open areas in varying light conditions to find and identify IEDs.

SWAT and K9 Deployment

– this SKIDDs drill involved a search of multiple structures with SWAT and K9 effectively integrated into one unit.

Medical Checkpoint

– provided TEMS training involving uncontrolled hemorrhage from isolated penetrating wounds.

Dignitary Protection

– tested the ability of tactical teams to effectively interact with the U.S. Secret Service to respond to a sniper attack on a motorcade.


– tested the ability to respond, secure scene, locate and render harmless the suspect and mitigate the release of WMD.

Theft of Radiological Materials

– tested the ability to properly function in a research facility to gather intel and perform a hostage rescue.

Water Source Contamination

– tested the ability to take into custody environmental extremists in the process of contaminating a major water supply.

Mass Transportation Attack

– tested the ability of tactical teams to function in a CBRNE environment similar to Japanese subway attack.

Takeover of Government Facility

– tested the ability to interact in confused environment after takeover by gang known for using extreme violence.

Corporate Security Integration

– tested the ability of tactical teams to interact with private security personnel in active shooter scenario at Transamerica Building.

Medical Checkpoint

– provided TEMS training involving uncontrolled hemorrhage from isolated penetrating wounds.

Maritime Interdiction

– tested the ability of tactical teams to integrate with U.S. Coast Guard to neutralize a threat aboard a commercial passenger ferry.

Artificial Intelligence

– tested the ability of scene management, plume modeling, evacuations and injury assessment based on Alpha Act computer technology.

Stadium CBRNE Response

– tested the ability of tactical teams to seize multiple suspects in possession of dirty bomb, also involving sniper-observer teams.

Commercial Train Rescue

– tested the ability to conduct a hostage rescue on a passenger train, including dynamic assault on the train.

Courtroom Takeover

– tested the ability to respond to an active shooter in a court setting using robotics for recon of hostages, followed by hostage rescue.

Dispersal of Mass Prophylaxis

– tested the ability of tactical teams to integrate with National Guard, initiate security measures, and provide force protection.

Medical Checkpoint

– provided TEMS training involving uncontrolled hemorrhage from isolated penetrating wounds.

Mass Casualty EMS Response

– tested the ability of tactical teams to integrate with and provide protection before and during the EMS response.

Beslan School Takeover

– tested the ability to gather intel, make plans, successfully breach and eliminate threats in Beslan-style takeover.

Open Field Assault

– tested the ability to protect interop infrastructure including proper perimeter, crime scene containment and suspect apprehension.

Hostile Force Immobilization

– tested ability of tactical teams to re-take a major 9-1-1 comm center including building entry and VIP force protection.

Published in Tactical Response, Jan/Feb 2011

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