Why San Francisco should continue to support Urban Shield

Urban Shield enables all first responders to put their professional training into practical use in secure, safe scenario-based training exercises

I don’t typically do “advocacy” columns, especially ones which are as localized as what is about to follow. In this instance, I feel that the PoliceOne audience not only needs to know about the issue at hand, but has the potential power to influence the outcome of what will likely be a contentious City Council vote here in San Francisco. If you have ever participated in Urban Shield as a competing tactical team, or have been associated with the event in any other way, please consider taking action to ensure that the City and County of San Francisco continues to seek the Federal Funds that make this important event a reality.

Alameda County (Calif.) Sheriff Gregory Ahern recently circulated a letter to San Francisco Bay Area first responders and Urban Shield volunteers asking for their help in ensuring that the annual training exercise continues to take place. If the San Francisco Board of Supervisors votes the wrong way on February 28, 2017, funding for this multi-disciplinary first responder training may not be made available.

For almost 20 years, San Francisco has been the fiduciary agent for the UASI grant application. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors are tentatively scheduled to vote on accepting the approximately $23 million UASI grant for the Federal Fiscal Year 2017, which includes about $1.5 million to support the annual Urban Shield training exercise.

There is a chance that this UASI funding will be rejected by the board this year. The board has already postponed the vote on at least one occasion (in January), and groups opposed to Urban Shield have been actively lobbying for the board to reject this important public safety funding.

At the final exercise (also known as the awards banquet), PoliceOne Editor at Large (at right) visits with Sheriff Greg Ahern, who is urging first responders to send letters of support for Urban Shield to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors prior to their February 28, 2017 vote on securing UASI funds.
At the final exercise (also known as the awards banquet), PoliceOne Editor at Large (at right) visits with Sheriff Greg Ahern, who is urging first responders to send letters of support for Urban Shield to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors prior to their February 28, 2017 vote on securing UASI funds. (PoliceOne Image)

“I am advised that some of the members of the S.F. BOS may object to the $1.5 million which is allocated to support the Urban Shield training exercise,” Sheriff Ahern said in a written statement. “As you know, the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) program is intended to provide financial assistance to address the unique multi-disciplinary planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density, Urban Areas, and to assist these areas in building and sustaining capabilities to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from threats or acts of terrorism using Whole Community approach. Urban Areas must use UASI funds to employ regional approaches to overall preparedness and are encouraged to adopt regional response structures whenever appropriate.”


Tactical teams from around the globe participate in the SWAT competition, which is perhaps why the people who oppose Urban Shield feel it is all about “police militarization.” The problem with that assertion is that Urban Shield is about so much more than that one element.

Urban Shield enables all first responders — as well as a host of other government agencies and partner providers — to put their professional training into practical use in secure, safe scenario-based training exercises designed to test their capabilities related to the response and management of large-scale, real-world events.

Further, because so many agencies are able to interface during the yearlong planning, they are able to share best practices that help to increase the safety of their communities year-round. This training also helps participating agencies to facilitate more timely requests from their allied partners to rapidly evolving incidents that take place in the area.


I’ve attended — and reported on — Urban Shield at least six times, and in every case I’ve been incredibly impressed with the tremendous training value the event provides for fire, EMS, police, and other government agencies to prepare for a wide array of critical incidents. Urban Shield is designed to strengthen preparedness for natural disasters, terrorist attacks, active shooters, large-scale hostage rescue, and a host of other threats to the community.

I am absolutely convinced that Urban Shield has saved lives around the United States and probably the world. The participants leave the exercise with new ideas and best practices — from tactical maneuvers to practical field medicine — and return home to share that knowledge with their peers. That has to have had an immeasurable impact.

First responders are also able to “field test” all sorts of new technology that public safety vendors bring to the event. Sure, those vendors are also hopeful that the participating agencies like their gear so much that they purchase it, but so what? If the equipment on display at the Expo on the first day merits more attention, those operators can put it to a real-world test during the scenarios at the various training locations throughout the Bay Area.

Finally, Urban Shield provides an extraordinary opportunity for the public to learn more about how first responders would act during an emergency. There are thousands of civilian volunteers every year who act as role players — everything from hostages to casualties — and as support personnel who help the operation run smoothly for the 72-hour duration of the event.


“I would sincerely appreciate your assistance in conveying the importance of the Urban Shield training exercise to the S.F. BOS,” Sheriff Ahern said in a letter.

The easiest way to do that is to send an email to Board.of.Supervisors@sfgov.org stating your support for Urban Shield. Alternately, you can call them at (415) 554-5184.

Sheriff Ahern created a template to assist anyone interested in writing to the SF BOS. That is below.

As was stated in the Editor’s Note above, I generally don’t do advocacy pieces, but I feel very strongly that we need to do everything we can to help ensure that Urban Shield happens again in 2017. Thanks in advance for any assistance you provide.


Honorable Supervisor,

I am writing this email to show my support for the annual Urban Shield emergency preparedness training exercise. I have participated in this full scale exercise in different positions through the years. I have observed firsthand the tremendous value for all of the first responder’s, including fire, law, and emergency medical services. Additionally, there are thousands of community volunteers who come out and participate in a variety of capacities.

Urban Shield has been recognized by emergency managers across the nation and world as the finest first responder training exercise. With recent incidents in the Bay Area from the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 plane crash at the San Francisco Airport, the San Bruno PG&E pipeline explosion, the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse tragedy and a boat that capsized in the San Francisco Bay during Fleet Week where 30 people were rescued, we owe it to the communities we protect that our first responders receive the best training in the world. The Urban Shield training exercise is based upon real world incidents and challenges every discipline to utilize the best training, tactics and equipment the industry has to offer.

Please accept the UASI funding and support the Urban Shield training exercise.


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