Emergency response exercise at UAA

On April 1 numerous first responder organizations in Alaska came together to participate in an emergency response training exercise known as Alaska Shield. The event is a simulation of a real emergency. It is designed to test emergency organization’s ability to respond to a crisis. The organizations were faced with an active shooter/hostage simulation in Beatrice McDonald Hall at UAA. Each participating organization worked together to suppress the actor acting as the shooter.

Alaska Homeland Security, Alaska FBI, Alaska Fire Department, Providence Hospital, Alaska Joint Terrorism Task Force, American Red Cross, APD, UPD and more participated in the event. According to Alaska Homeland Security, the bicentennial exercises are designed to evaluate 13 core capabilities of participants: community resilience, cybersecurity, environment response/health & safety, fatality management services, intelligence & information sharing, mass care services, mass search and rescue operations, on-scene security and protection, operational communications, operational coordination, planning, public health and medical services, and public information and warning.

USUAA Vice President Matthieu Ostrander in an interview earlier this semester before the event explained how the Alaska Shield drill is a tool for emergency planning.

“‘We don’t know’ isn’t the response you want when you ask ‘what if?’ Preparing our response could save lives. It also helps up recognize what we can do now. We might realize that we need stronger doors or a better way to navigate buildings in emergencies,” said Ostrander.

The event began with a debriefing prior to the simulation. All participants were then asked to clear the building. Police then ran a metal detector over the actors as they reentered the building to play their parts in the scenario. The security was to ensure that organizations would only be responding to a simulation and not a real emergency.

After the actors playing victims entered the building the actor playing the shooter ran in around 9 a.m. What sounded like gun shots were heard shortly after he entered. Minutes later UPD and FBI went in to clear the building. The scenario continued to unfold until about 10 a.m. as actors playing victims exited the building in three separate groups and some individually. The actors were then lead by FBI agents to the Rasmuson Hall to be interviewed about how things unfolded. Therapy dogs from National Crisis Response Canine Team were also available to actors in the Rasmuson Hall.

“Canines are here to work with the witnesses and with the families and with the survivors,” said Connie Jantzen, president of the National Crisis Response Canine Team at the event.

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Following the clearing of the building Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Relations Kristin DeSmith, Chancellor Tom Case and UPD Chief of Police Brad Munn and other emergency officials gave a staged press release that opened with DeSmith stating that this was only a part of the training and not a real emergency. After DeSmith opened with the disclaimer the press release followed as if it were real. This allowed university officials to practice giving a press release in case of a real emergency.

After the press release the scenario winded down. Organizations met again to debrief and discuss how things went.

“I think overall it went well in terms of interacting with so many different agencies… it actually went pretty well. We learned that though the capabilities are there it’s always good to keep training,” said UPD officer John Chu. “I think that in order to get good at something you have to practice… I heard someone else say, if you look at our women’s basketball team they couldn’t have gotten where they have gotten without practice.”

The Alaska Shield emergency response training exercise has been useful to all organizations involved in determining where they need to improve and allowing them to practice in the event of a real emergency. Alaska Shield will also help the university’s Incident Management Team to assess how to make UAA a safer place.

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FBI agents and UPD enter Beatrice McDonald Hall to clear the building of threats and rescue victims during the Alaska Shield emergency response training exercise on April 1. Photo credit: Casey Peterson
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One of the actors at the Alaska Shield emergency response exercise on April 1 after exiting the Beatrice McDonald Hall as one of the first released from the building. Photo credit: Young Kim
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Actors acting as released hostages from the Beatrice McDonald Hall on April 1 for the Alaska Shield emergency response training exercise. Photo credit: Casey Peterson
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Two wounded actors at the Alaska Shield emergency response training on April 1. Photo credit: Casey Peterson
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FBI agents who participated in the event interviewed the actors whom were playing victims as they would in a real emergency situation during the April 1 Alaska Shield emergency response exercise. Photo credit: Young Kim
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Chancellor Tom Case and other university officials and first responders give a press conference to the media as if the emergency response training exercise on April 1 were real. The press conference was a part of the exercise to help train PR officials in dealing with an emergency and the media. Photo credit: Young Kim