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NEWS | Sept. 7, 2021

63rd Readiness Division, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office conduct active-shooter response training exercise

By Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta 63rd Readiness Division

The Army Reserve’s 63rd Readiness Division and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office conducted a partnered full-scale active-shooter event response training exercise at the Sgt. James Witowski Armed Forces Reserve Center, Aug. 26, 2021.

The six-hour event, the first here since 2017, had more than 100 civilian, police, fire and emergency medical services first responder personnel go through the five training iterations.

Five law enforcement agencies and three fire departments participated, including, “agencies from Santa Clara County, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, CHP (California Highway Patrol), Palo Alto and NASA,” said Mr. Felix Purvis exercise co-director and regional antiterrorism specialist, G-34 Anti-Terrorism Branch, 63rd RD.

Law enforcement, fire department, EMS and training support staff for the event were coordinated by Detective Robert Aviles, exercise co-director and an intelligence officer from the SCCSO assigned to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, the fusion center responsible for the Bay Area and coastal Northern California.

“The response from law enforcement introduced a major highlight as that was the first time so many agencies participated in an active shooter incident (here),” said Purvis. “The introduction of fire personnel conducting casualty activities introduced realism into the scenario and qualified the exercise as a full-scale event.”

“So what we're trying to do is expose first responders to a low stress environment that will simulate a workplace or insider threat active shooter type scenario,” said Aviles.

63rd RD personnel participated in the first training scenario, the remaining practice simulations were for the first responders to gain exposure and practice as a combined interagency team, in the case they had to respond to a real world active-shooter event in real time.

For the 63rd RD, the purpose of the active shooter exercise, “was to evaluate how personnel working at the SGT James Witowski AFRC would respond during an active shooter incident,” said Purvis.

Civilian and military personnel from the 63rd RD were evaluated on how they interacted with emergency response personnel at the scene of the incident, only during the first iteration.

“The main goal is to bring local first responding agencies together to implement the Santa Clara county active-shooter protocol, how they would in a real-life situation without a ‘training environment.’” Aviles said. “They may be working with people from a different agency and have to adjust their tactics and their understanding of the protocol application accordingly because they won't know who else is going to be here as part of their Contact Team or part of their Rescue Task Force.”

During the event, the 63rd RD facility mass-warning system was sounding an alarm and announcements repeatedly as another aspect of realism added to the first iteration training.

In addition, the SCCSO’s training division provided blank firing simunitions to enhance the realism of the scenario, according to Aviles.

According to Aviles, the SCCSO active-shooter protocol instructs the first responder law enforcement personnel, who arrive on site of an active-shooter incident, to immediately organize as a Contact Team.

Then, the CT pair or group, immediately respond by engaging with the active-shooter (s) until they eliminate the threat (s).

After the active-shooter (s) are no longer a threat, the CT reconsolidates outside of the facility or dangerous area, then links up with first responder EMS and Fire department personnel to brief them and form a Rescue Task Force.

Next, the RTF enters the previously hostile active-shooter building or area escorted by the original CT to triage, save and rescue any injured or ambulatory personnel then extract them to a casualty collection point during the second phase of the SCCSO active-shooter protocol.

The 63rd RD’s personnel had different objectives during this training, they were instructed to run (evacuate), hide or fight, Purvis said.

“Overall performance of the exercise was outstanding,” Purvis said. “Personnel flawlessly executed run, hide, fight protocol procedures that included a facility evacuation to designated assembly points and ensured personnel accountability.”

The participants have said it's a “good experience,” added Aviles.

“I thought it was very realistic, well planned out and as close to the real thing as you're gonna get without it actually being the real thing,” said Public Safety Officer S. Kotani, Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety (Law), a member of the first law enforcement responder contact team during the first iteration.

Future plans call for this event on a tri-annual basis and internal active shooter drills will be conducted annually, Purvis added.

“Our partnership with the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office was outstanding every step of the way,” Purvis said.

Detective Aviles was integral as co-director and the direct liaison with the first responder personnel, said Purvis. He was invaluable with planning, training, organizing, coordinating, and executing this exercise with cooperation and help from the 63d RD G-34. His actions help make our personnel and facility safer.

“I thought it was great it was as close as realistic as it can get,” said Public Safety Officer B. McMoore, Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety (Law), who was also a member of first law enforcement responder contact team during the first iteration. “I thought it was really good, they had the alarm sounding, bodies on the ground, civilians running out and our response to it.

“We can’t emphasize (enough) how great of an opportunity this was just to be involved in this type of training also with Mountain View and CHP and just seeing how we can all incorporate our input to neutralize the threat,” he added.