ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Mock gunfire and screams echoed through the air during an active shooter exercise at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, March 24, 2022.
Members of the 78th Security Forces Squadron, 778th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department and 78th Medical Group participated in a drill to test their preparedness and response to this type of threat.
This was the first full-scale active shooter exercise held at Robins since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unfortunately, as we’ve all seen on the news, active shooter incidents are becoming more and more common,” Lee Nelson, 78th Air Base Wing Inspector General. “So we must be ready to respond in the event we have one at Robins AFB. This exercise is a critical component of ensuring the readiness for our first responders as they all exercise together, as well as our key command and control nodes.”
The exercise started with a literal bang on the south side of the base.
The gunfire didn’t come from an actual active shooter but from a role player acting as a gunman using an M4 rifle with a fire suppressor and blank rounds, delivering realistic sounds for the staged environment.
The gunman’s firing spree encompassed multiple buildings and resulted in more than a dozen simulated casualties.
It was up to security forces to determine how to stop the shooter.
“This is about creating muscle memory for our first responders. When they are presented with a certain situation, they will know how to react. It will be second nature,” said Christine Hawkins, 78th ABW Inspector General exercise planner. “Through all of the chaos of people crying in fear or screaming in pain from injuries, the responders still had to remain focused during a very stressful environment to take down an intruder.”
According to Hawkins, there were several new elements to the bi-annual training event. One twist introduced firefighters to being embedded with security forces as they attempted to neutralize the threat.
“Our firefighters are also trained medics,” said Hawkins. “In previous years, they would wait until the gunman had been captured or killed before entering a building to start caring for victims. But we know seconds matter in an emergency and getting them to the victims could mean the difference of life and death. So, firefighters went in as a Rescue Task Force team wearing protective gear and sandwiched in between two security forces members to care for victims as soon as possible.”
Another challenging situation first responders faced was having to determine who was a friend or foe.
“As they maneuvered through the buildings, they had no idea who the shooter was. So as they came across people hiding or injured, they had to be on guard and approach cautiously,” she said.
Though a group of security forces members were able to corner and kill the shooter, the exercise wasn’t over.
Ultimately, the 78th MDG had to triage each survivor. It was their job to determine, based on the patients’ injuries, who could be treated on site or needed to be evacuated promptly.
“The incident commander must determine the best way to save the most lives,” Hawkins explained. “There were a lot of simulated severe injuries and that forced the commander to start thinking about the best use of the small resources at hand for transporting patients. Who goes in the ambulance, or do you get a truck to move patients en mass to the hospital?”
Aiding in the realism of this exercise were members of the moulage team – formed from various squadrons around Robins.
Moulage is the art of creating realistic looking but fake injuries for training purposes. The goal of this technique is to give participants a visual example of the bloodshed and carnage that could be seen during a true emergency.
“There was also the shock and awe factor we created with the patients displaying the fake bloody wounds and acting the way a person would depending on the severity of their condition,” Hawkins said.
Standing by quietly and observing were members of the Wing Inspection Team.
These subject matter experts watched from the sidelines and documented how teams performed during the drill.
WIT members jotted down notes and collected information, which will be used to help educate Airmen and civilians on how to perform their jobs better when faced with another exercise or real-world threat.
Hawkins considered the exercise to be a successful one.
“I think an exercise where no one gets hurt and they get an opportunity to practice their procedures is always a success,” she said. “Whether they do things right or wrong, they learn from it.”
And while this exercise gave first responders the chance to test their skills, Nelson encourages everyone at Robins to be prepared.
“We cannot overstate the importance of individual readiness as well, and knowing how to run – hide – fight as necessary if we ever face this situation,” he said.