SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Members from the 375th Security Forces Squadron converged on Scott Elementary School Aug. 1-2 to participate in the installation’s first ever dual-state “Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attacks,” or CCTA, drill.
Requested by the Department of Homeland Security, Scott Elementary served as the proving ground for the defenders and other first response civilian agencies. In this case, the drill scenario was an active shooter incident.
Capt. Kyle Buss, 375th SFS operations officer and Staff Sgt. Justin Heitzmann, 375th SFS police services NCO in charge, led the drill for their unit in an effort to sharpen their skills by safely and seamlessly developing tactics with other first response organizations from Illinois and Missouri.
Congress provided the Department of Homeland Security $35.9 million for FEMA to distribute to select communities across the country who submitted proposals for developing plans, training and exercises that focus on enhancing preparedness against CCTAs.
This region, one of 29 areas selected, encompasses eight counties on both the East and West sides of the Mississippi River, with over 190 municipalities and a combined estimated population of a little over 2.5 million.
“That’s how big this is now, and our exercise was just a small piece of the pie,” said Heitzmann. “[At the same time, another piece was across the river at the St. Louis Convention Center where there were other simulated attacks. All the pieces that go into this – EMS, fire, SWAT, tactical EOD, bomb dogs, and St. Louis Area Regional Response System – were there. The intent behind this was for it to not only be the exercise we intended it to be, but also to facilitate this regional response for the CCTA program. It was as realistic as I have ever seen.”
As the planning for this exercise morphed from its original design to ensure maximum impact, Buss explained its beginnings and how the 375th SFS fit into the drill.
“This started off as a small scale exercise between us and St. Clair County, and it ballooned to a large scale coordinated effort with the St. Louis regional police departments, medical and fire departments,” Buss said.
“For this particular instance at Scott Elementary, it’s considered off base … but we help with the response is because it’s in the interest of preservation of life and protecting others … while ensuring the safety and security of the base populous and resources on base.
“We need to be able to communicate and interact with off-base forces as effectively as possible so that when a response is needed, we know how we work together with other agencies. We [learn] the differences in tactics, techniques, and procedures, and what we can and cannot do in regards to legality with how we can assist them when we turn over control to [off base agencies],” Buss said. “The goal here is that if the time ever comes, we are not caught off-guard, and we can neutralize the threat as quickly and efficiently as possible and prevent further harm.”
He said the biggest takeaway was just the learning experience of working with off base agencies, seeing how they do things such as the use of “Rescue Task Forces.”
In previous active-shooter exercises, “the goal is to go in and eliminate the threat, we would bypass any injured individuals because we have to stop the threat … and we wouldn’t let any medical responders into the building until it was safe and secure.”
However, the use of a Rescue Task Force uses medical technicians who are guarded by security forces or law enforcement personnel to ensure their safety so they can begin life preserving measures without delay.
Staff Sgt. Nolan Pharris, 375th SFS base defense operation center controller and part of the initial response force, said the experience helped him be better prepared to respond at a moment’s notice.
“The local police departments are well versed in the active shooter techniques as well, so we work very well together. For the most part, our techniques are the same. There are slight differences with us being military and them civilian, but when it comes to saving lives, we all try to train to the same standard so everything is streamlined.”