Urban Shield 2013: Don’t forget the ‘victims’

Behind the scenes with the countless volunteers who make Urban Shield training so valuable — ‘victims’ will never fully know the good they did this weekend

During my two days of driving all over the San Francisco Bay Area for Urban Shield 2013, I got a little unlucky in the timing of my arrival at the scenario held at the Fremont (Calif.) Fire Training Facility.

The team imminently due to arrive was Boston PD, and when the Red Sox beat the Tigers to earn their ticket to play in the 2013 World Series, Boston SWAT had to cancel their planned trip to California.

So, some down time was thrust upon me. I truly hate down time, so I visited with some of the volunteer role players for the scenario. It was nearing shift change, so the dayshift was sharing some of their lessons learned with the arriving nighttime replacements.

SWAT officers approach Palomares Elementary School in Castro Valley during an active shooter drill at Urban Shield 2013.
SWAT officers approach Palomares Elementary School in Castro Valley during an active shooter drill at Urban Shield 2013. (Photo: Doug Wyllie)

Howl and Yell
“Be real,” said one volunteer. “Try to act it out. Play the part. Make these guys work, because it will make them better.”

He then joked that the volunteers should choose the biggest, heaviest role players to take on the part of the non-ambulatory victims.

“Tell ‘em, ‘Carry me out of here, you son-of-a-bitch!’ Make ‘em work,” he said.

The firefighters in the room laughed, but only a little. They were busy eyeballing that big dude they didn’t look forward to hauling out of the building a dozen times in the next 12 hours.

Another volunteer then added, “You’ll find that these teams all act different, as far as how they try to treat victims and try to find the bad guys. Some teams will check on you, attend to you, search you, and carry you gently all the way out and put you in the van. Some guys will be like, ‘Okay, throw ‘em in there and let’s go get the bad guys.”

No cops were present, so I was the one who laughed at that one.

At one point during this impromptu debriefing, someone said something to the effect of “Just howl and yell and be that victim. Be a [bleeping] nightmare.”

This counsel had obviously also been shared with the civilian volunteers at the Palomares Elementary School in Castro Valley.

Haunting and Horrible
The infamous 2004 terrorist siege in Beslan and the horrific 2012 active-shooter attack on the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut have obviously highlighted the extreme peril faced by our nation’s most vulnerable victims — our children.

At Scenario #36, tactical teams had to approach and assault an active shooter in a remote elementary school and provide force protection for responding EMS teams — all while hearing the altogether-too-real cries of school-aged role players.

I followed one competing team all the way through that scenario, and I can testify that those role players did a tremendous job of “making it real.”

As I followed the SWAT team — I was safely tucked into the hip pocket of one of the drill evaluators — I kept thinking that the civilian volunteers had to have been instructed: “Be incompressible. Be impossible.”

I didn’t have a gun in my hand, so the tunnel vision and auditory exclusion you might expect in such a situation didn’t happen for me. Maybe that team heard those dreadful voices and saw that appalling makeup, and maybe they didn’t.

The cries for help — while haunting and horrible — seemed to not disturb those SWAT heroes one stitch. They had that scene Code Four as fast as you could say, “They’ve got this thing knocked.”

They then proceeded to evacuate survivors and safely deliver EMS people into the carnage.

However, having been through the scenario with those warriors, I have to believe that they’ll eventually talk about what it was like to have to tactically move toward their target and neutralize the threat while young people pleaded for their help.

Those role players made that impression on me, and I sincerely doubt I was alone. They were awesome.

God Bless the ‘Victims’
I’ve said many times, and I’ll surely say it many times in the future, that Urban Shield is the very best tactical training exercise to which I’ve ever been exposed.

The coppers, firefighters, EMTs, emergency management staff, and other professionals participating are truly top notch. But I would be remiss if I failed to also hail the countless volunteer “victims” who make this training so valuable.

You folks are heroes. You will never fully know the good you did this weekend.

Thank you — and may God bless you — every single one of you.

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