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Urban Shield 2015

Urban Shield 2015, a SWAT and emergency response exercise, has become a staple in training, planning, collaboration and logistics in Alameda County, Calif. The event sees hundreds of personnel from local, State, Federal and tribal agencies and, often, public safety agencies from overseas. The scenarios involve prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery in various combinations, and often include testing and use of newer forms of equipment.

Urban Shield has, over the years, involved police and fire departments, emergency medical services and local resources such as school campuses, hospitals, businesses, infrastructure, and government installations in various scenarios that enhance readiness for emergency preparedness, homeland security, and natural disasters that might occur within a high-threat, high-population density urban area.  

Urban Shield 2015 involved over 55 scenarios in five counties of the Bay Area. The Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) involves ‘Yellow Command,’ which is involved with the Regional Catastrophic Planning Grant Program established by the U.S. Congress to enhance preparedness for catastrophes in certain high-risk, urban areas, with an emphasis on regional planning. 

The funding the Bay Area received as one of 10 awardees of these grants requires a full-scale exercise. First responders learn to mobilize and deploy to different exercises and scenarios that are hosted by various agencies.

Eight plans were produced involving such comprehensive, regional activities as preparedness, surveillance, crowd control, investigation, multi-discipline procedures, debris removal, mass fatalities, catastrophic events, interim housing, mass transportation, evacuation, mass shelter, hazardous materials, urban search and rescue, communications, and even management of volunteers.

The 2015 Yellow Command engaged Emergency Operations Centers within the Bay Area in a mock terrorist attack. The exercise emphasized regional coordination, resources, mutual aid, regional transit, situational awareness, communications, and critical infrastructure assessments. 

The 48-hour exercise involved 10 operational ‘Area Commands’ in 35 individual events ranging from active shooter to detection of radiological devices. Throughout the individual scenarios, the various teams were confronted with one or more hours of testing in their training, preparation and decision-making. Debriefing and evaluation followed. 

The San Jose Fire Department hosted scenarios based on hazardous materials on land and water, and search and rescue incidents with a connection to a terrorism threat. All scenario sites were within a 10-minute travel distance to make maximum use of the time spent in interaction in the scenarios. Urban search and rescue, canine teams, hazardous materials teams, and maritime fire/rescue services were involved. 

The scenarios often include testing and use of technological tools such as robots, render safe equipment, and personal protective gear, and the activities are sometimes at more unusual sites such as aboard aircraft or large vessels. 

Urban Shield has a medical branch that assists with monitoring and assessing the health of teams and individuals in the exercises. The medical branch also trains team members in trauma care, ballistic injuries, and other emergencies.   

Also a part of the 2015 event was the Regional Preparedness Seminar, which presented a variety of discussions and workshops.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were the focus of Robert Whitehurst, Multi-Jurisdictional IED Security Planning Unit Chief at the Department of Homeland Security Office for Bombing Prevention/Protective Security Coordination Division, as he presented information about the effects, trends, and tactics of IEDs in domestic and global incidents. Participants learned about device construction and effects, and were introduced to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Bombing Prevention.

Planning for response and recovery from regional catastrophes was the topic addressed by Janell Myhre, Regional Program Manager, Bay Area UASI. Her presentation involved plans for a 7.9 Bay Area earthquake and the response activities necessary for casualties, temporary shelters (including suitable premises for those displaced who have companion animals), special considerations for displaced and injured who have disabilities and/or access and function needs, transportation, distribution operations for food and other commodities, and multi-agency cooperation capabilities.

Dr. Gary Richter, an international security analyst recently with Sandia National Laboratories, presented a program on nuclear threat devices and security. He also addressed the threat of the smuggling and transporting of such devices into the U.S.

Augmenting Dr. Richter was Dr. John Sawyer, Commercialization Director and Senior Researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. 

He addressed radiological and nuclear terrorism threats in the U.S., noting that the classification level of intelligence about specific threats might prevent or deter a proper level of preparation, merely because the threat is not known to many. He suggested considering analytical tools to define who potential adversaries might be and whether they have the capability and opportunity to have, use, or transport radiological or nuclear devices.  

Large-scale event planning, and more specifically, planning for Super Bowl 50, was the top of Captain Phil Cooke, Santa Clara Police Department. He described the procedures involved in planning the security and safety of such large events, and the inter-agency cooperation needed to coordinate the many activities involved.

Chief of Police Eric Jones, Stockton Police Department, and retired Chief Rick Braziel, Sacramento Police Department, presented a description and analysis of the July 2014 bank robbery in Stockton in which three hostages were taken. The robbers led a chase of over 60 miles through residential and open areas, while firing on pursuing police vehicles. The analytical seminar also covered the Police Foundation’s review and findings.

Lt. Kelly A. Moore, Sgt. Kevin Huddle, and Det. Joe Schmidt, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, focused on the largest investigation in Santa Barbara County history—that of the May 2014 mass murder at the University of California Santa Barbara, in which six people were killed and 14 injured. The panelists said the investigation included six homicides, 20 attempted homicides, four officer-involved shootings, and 17 crime scenes. 

Division Chief James Puscian and Commander, District 2, Mike Dailey, of the Aurora, Colo. Police Department, concluded the seminars with a discussion of the July 2012 theatre massacre in which 70 people were shot and 12 killed. The discussion included the considerations that needed to be made in the aftermath to restore the community and the first responders. 

The top performers of the 2015 Urban Shield exercise included SWAT: 1


place, Sacramento Police Department; 2


place, Oakland Police Department; and 3


place, Travis County Sheriff’s Office. The top EODs were: 1


place, Sacramento Area EOD; 2


place, Riverside County/Orange County EOD (CA); and 3


place, Santa Clara County Bomb Squad. 

The top Hazmat team participants were: 1


place, Santa Clara County Fire Department; 2


place, Santa Clara City Fire Department; 3


place, San Jose Fire Department. The top maritime units were: 1


place, Alameda County Fire Department; 2


place, Southern Marin County Fire Department; 3


place, Sonoma County Fire Department.


Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., J.D., writes in the fields of law enforcement and security.

Published in Tactical Response, Spring 2016

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