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Urban Shield Preparedness Exercise

  • Written by O'Brien, Bob, Mickey Davis, Jim Weiss

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 California.

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




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 Competition

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


. 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



, over the controversial




shooting death of a 13-year-old boy who was carrying a very realistic airsoft AK-47 replica.


The third incident, in Roseville, Calif. (a suburb of


), 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 (1-GSW, 4-shrapnel).

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.


Gruelathon Begins

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.

Scenario #8

–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 responding LEOs.

Exercise # 19

– Fremont Fire Department Academy. Active terrorist shooter, with Fire and


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




. 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.

Confidence Course (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 challenges.

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.


The Results

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 Rescue competitions.

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


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


is currently underway, and will continue right up to its start. California’s Urban Shield for 2014 will be Sept. 4–8.


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


. Mickey Davis is a California-based writer and author.


Published in Law and Order, Jul 2014

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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