Navy drill refines response
December 24, 2018
Naval Air Station Fallon always has had an eye out for the unexpected.
Personnel at the sprawling air station east of Fallon, which is also home to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, continually implements different scenarios to train both military and civilians to prevent a worst-case scenario event.
This month's training at NAS Fallon focused on a driver running the gate with explosives in the car's trunk, and an active-shooter drill at the base theater that resulted in the death of one of the perpetrators and the release of a hostage.
"Our yearly drill isn't until February," said Chris Pierce, the base's training officer, "(but) this is a practice only for the final evaluation in July."
Pierce said his office has more details to complete for the actual exercise. Each drill requires meticulous planning among the various base commands and outside agencies. While this recent drill only involved military personnel, Pierce said the Churchill County Sheriff's Office provided two officers to observe the active-shooter situation. Banner Churchill Community Hospital sent an ambulance with two paramedics, who were on standby.
Sheriff-elect Richard Hickox said the CCSO has set up meetings to discuss the agency's role with NAS Fallon. He said the latest drill simulated the local transport of the prisoner but no one from CCSO was actually involve.
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"So much planning goes into this," Pierce pointed out. "The sheriff's office has been involved in previous drills."
NAS Fallon has also worked with the Fallon Police Department, Care Flight and other government agencies.
"Eventually, we would like to get Renown and air assets," Pierce added. "We're also waiting on an MOU (mutual of understanding) to be signed and to go into effect before using city assets."
During NAS Fallon's last drill, Pierce said a motorist stopped at one of the gates and asked the officer if he could see Tom Cruise, whom he thought was at the base filming the sequel to the movie "Top Gun." After the guard denied his request, the motorist "rammed" his car through the gate arm, causing the other officers to begin a chase. The motorist was apprehended and handcuffed, but security officers discovered an improvised explosive device (IED) in the trunk. Officers then notified the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team to deal with the IED.
At the theater, Pierce said security arrived and once they identified the situation, they call in hostage negotiators. One of the assailants was wearing an IED vest.
Capt. David Halloran, commanding officer at NAS Fallon, said conducting each drill is important.
"You never know where the emergency will happen," Halloran said.
He added the lessons learned from the drills — including the two from this month — provide both base and community responders with additional knowledge in reacting to the specific situation.
Jerry Blunck, exercise program manager for Navy Region Southwest in San Diego, Calif, said both base personnel and his tea help each other and share information derived from other base drills. He said each drill sees constant changes and how personnel adapt. During many drills, Blunck said the time element is also simulated, but not during the Fallon's latest exercise.
"Today we offered a compressed timeframe," Blunck added.
Even with the best training practices, each drill reveals problems.
"There's no such thing as a perfect drill," Blunck said.
Blunck's team visits all 10 bases in the Navy's southwest region and looks for consistency among all installations. He said evaluators look at both a base's external and internal threats. As for the recent drill, Blunck said the Navy issued guidance in October that both military and civilians be involved with an active-shooter drill. He said people assigned to the base learns how to run, hide and fight in the event they may encounter an active shooter.
Blunck said personnel are encouraged to run away from the situation, and if they can't, hide and conceal themselves.
"The last resort is to fight back," Blunck said.
During drills, Blunck said sailors in a command post continually look at maps and try to determine the location of the threat and where's it's moving.
Once the drill ends, Blunck said both internal and external evaluators assess the drill and must give critical feedback.
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