By Ken Carter
With the ever-present possibility of perpetrators wanting to do harm to those on U.S. military installations, the Air Force Academy tested its ability to respond to the threat of an active shooter in the cadet area Jan. 20.
According to Academy Exercise Program director Franklin Gross, the exercise that had been in planning for two months tested numerous organizations across the Academy and the ability of each to deal with the scenario should it ever become a “real-word” threat here.
Frequent bright red-lettered updates from the Academy Command Center flashed across computer screens base wide as students and employees alike took cover. Reports shortly after 8 a.m. indicated a disturbance in Sijan Hall starting on the third floor and, within minutes, spreading to the second floor of the facility that serves as home for half the students of the Cadet Wing.
By 8:32 and again at 8:35 a.m. the giant voice speaker rang out reinforcing exercise information concerning the lockdown related to the still unidentified disturbance. Elsewhere around the Academy, doors remained locked and window shades drawn. People gathered in secure locations to ensure their safety.
Shortly before 9 a.m., the command center issued an “all clear” — Airmen with the 10th Security Forces Squadron had apprehended the attacker.
“I was very happy with everyone’s efforts and their high level of response to ‘cover, communicate and mitigate,'” Mr. Gross said. “Sure, there are areas that need improvement, but overall I’m impressed with how well the entire installation’s personnel performed.”
Cadet 2nd Class Brett Boyce from Cadet Squadron 23 portrayed the shooter. His ability to take on the role and perform as though he’d rehearsed for months impressed the members of the exercise evaluation team, who had selected him for the role only a few days before.
“Cadet Boyce’s strong academic and physical background enabled many of the evaluation team members to remark about how very close to a real-world event it resembled,” Mr. Gross said. “I would have to give this exercise a thumbs-up.”
Col. Rick LoCastro, commander of the 10th Air Base Wing, praised the exercise as a measure to further improve the readiness and capability of base personnel for any contingency or emergency, adding that cadets, faculty, base residents and family members can never be too ready.
“Sharpening our preparedness through practice and refinement of our emergency procedures across the entire installation is the Academy’s key to success,” he said. “This rededication to a new and improved exercise posture will ensure Team USAFA can best react and respond to any crisis.”
Paul Ceciliani, the Academy’s antiterrorism officer and lead for installation active shooter readiness, said the exercise was designed to evaluate preventive measures when a known threat is identified, people’s readiness to respond to an active shooter incident, command and control and the effectiveness of mass communication systems.
The whole base participated, Mr. Ceciliani said. Key organizations directly involved with the shooter exercise included the Cadet Wing, dean of faculty, security forces, the Academy Fire Department, command post and the 10th Medical Group. Key organizations involved in the prevention portion of the exercise included the Cadet Wing, Peak Performance Center, the 10th MDG, security forces and the Staff Judge Advocate office.
“This was the best response seen to date from the cadets and personnel on base since starting active shooter and lockdown exercises in 2007,” Mr. Ceciliani said. “The sense of urgency seen across all mission elements was very commendable.”
The sequence of events in the exercise unfolded considerably faster than would be expected in a real-world active shooter attack.
“Fort Hood was in lockdown for nearly six hours with many follow-on actions for several days” after the incident there that killed 13 people and injured 43 others, Mr. Ceciliani said.
“Our exercise was intended to balance the needs of the academic mission with readiness, and we feel we met this objective with few exceptions,” Mr. Ceciliani said.