Active-shooter exercise keeps Europe District prepared

Published Nov. 6, 2015
WIESBADEN, Germany -- Throughout the Amelia Earhart Center, the instructions blared over the intercom system: "All personnel proceed to seek shelter." This alerted U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District and tenant agency employees that the first-ever, active-shooter exercise was in progress here Sept. 18. 

The district's emergency operations team planned and executed the drill in conjunction with a large-scale U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden exercise. The goal was to make sure employees knew where to go and what to do in case of an attack, and test the functionality of all systems, said Paul Howard, the district's chief of Operations, Plans and Security. 

"On the day of the event, our office received an alert from our garrison counterparts," he said. "Once we received the emergency notification, we locked down access to the facility. We made sure that the doors shut and locked properly, and observed the reaction of our employees as they went to their shelter-in-place locations."

To prepare for the event, Howard and his team checked and made adjustments to the AEC. 

"Our first consideration was, 'Do we have an access control system to lockdown the building?' We do. But we didn't have any areas identified to shelter in place. We needed to adjust that to get people behind secure doors," he said. 

During the planning phase, the emergency operations team developed floor plans to show personnel the safe, shelter-in-place locations on their floors and throughout the building. 

Employees including Melissa Loyal, a district management assistant, received training in advance of the exercise to review the three-part response plan -- "run, hide, fight" -- for a single shooter and the SIP locations closest to their workstations. 

"It's good to know where the shelter-in-place locations are in the building," Loyal said. "The training helped to identify the vulnerabilities of our work environment -- what we can and can't do and how we should handle an emergency situation. I think having the training once a year is a good way to keep us on our toes so we don't become complacent." 

If an actual shooter situation were to occur, employees would have little time to react, Howard said. 

"What we don't want, in an active-shooter situation, is for everyone to get up and act as if it were a fire drill," he said. "People think it's a good idea to evacuate the whole building, but they will be running right into the armed person. We want to lock down the facility so that there is less of a chance for the active shooter to get through our building -- stopping them at doors and slowing them down until the responding forces get here." 

Training and drills are designed to assist district employees in formulating individual plans. If something should happen, it's better to have a planned response up front, said Col. Matthew Tyler, district commander. 

"It is drills like this that will help us reduce chaos so people know what to do, how to respond and how to stay safe," he said. "This is about protecting yourself against a lone wolf or single actor." 

The district is currently in the "walk" phase of exercising a single-shooter scenario -- the drill was announced in advance to employees. In the future, the aim is to move to a "run," where the exercise is unannounced with role players, Tyler said. 

"I'd rather be prepared and have it never happen than have it happen and be unprepared," he said. "German law enforcement in the area do a great job, Pond guards do a great job and the military police do a great job -- so I'm not worried about a large-scale attack. I'm worried about a single individual who comes in with a knife or gun that wants to harm our employees." 

According to a 2014 FBI report, active-shooter situations have been on the rise at military installations, government offices and across the U.S. since 2000. 

"Moving forward, if external factors continue to show that the mostly likely harm that may come to our office is an isolated case, lone wolf or single actor with a gun or knife, then we should do this exercise annually," Tyler said. 

In Germany, gun legislation is among the strictest in the world. This makes an insider threat the greatest concern here, Howard said. 

"We wanted to train our employees on how to identify an insider threat," he said. "'What are the red flags?' Usually it is an individual who is stressing discontent toward the U.S. Those are the individuals we need to know about so we can sit down with their supervisors and talk to them." 

Insider-threat indicators may include aggression toward co-workers, repeated violation of policies, abnormal mood swings and depression, abuse of alcohol or drugs, and talk of suicide. 

Being vigilant is key, Loyal said. 

"Living in Europe, we should always be aware regardless if the threat is coming from outside or within our organization," she said.