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Fort Stewart, Hunter Army Airfield go through active shooter situations
safety drills
First responders headed for the Smith Army Education Center during one of the scenarios drawn up for the Fort Stewart incident response exercise. A similar mockup was held at Hunter Army Airfield. Photos by Pat Donahue

Vehicles blocked the streets. A fleet of ambulances waited nearby. Fire trucks were in position and officers from different agencies huddled at the back of a truck, going over the layout of the building in front of them.

People with visible wounds staggered out of the Paul Smith Education Center, and armed agents rushed inside.

It was all part of a training scenario for Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, as the installations tested their incident response procedures over two days last week.

“We’re able to run through some scenarios and incorporate our fire, our police, our criminal investigation, our EMS,” said Steven Hood, Fort Stewart’s deputy to the garrison commander. “It’s helping us learn how to protect the community, how to safeguard lives, most importantly and how to evacuate those who may be wounded.”

Post officials tested their response across the spectrum, from how to confront an active shooter who has taken hostages to how it notifies the public of what is happening, even with dealing with news media asking for access at the main gate. The installations also brought in agencies from outside their boundaries, working with Savannah law enforcement at Hunter Army Airfield’s exercise and with the Hinesville Police Department and the Liberty County Sheriff ’s Office.

“It’s also an opportunity to highlight the relationship we have with our local community,” Hood said. “It’s all in an effort to hone our skills, to learn how to work together, to learn how to communicate during times of tragedy or emergency situations.”

As the exercise progressed, there were also more levels of complexity added, leading to the Liberty County Sheriff ’s Office SWAT called in for a turn in the test.

“We’re one community here,” Hood added. “We can expect that symbiotic relationship to continue.”

On occasion, the exercise is carried out as a tabletop threat. Last week’s version was a large, more intensive run-through, including role players as walking wounded.

“We exercise to this magnitude a couple of times a year, sometimes three,” Hood said. “We get evaluated by external resources every two years. We’re keeping our skills sharp in preparation for that day we don’t want to see come.”

That day, such as an active shooter at a military installation, has happened elsewhere. And Fort Stewart officials want to be ready in case that happens at either or both posts.

“History tells us this can happen,” Hood acknowledged, “and we want to be prepared and practiced so that if that day comes, we can respond accordingly.”

The Paul Smith Education Center was home to much of last week’s training, and it provided a venue that lent itself to a number of different situations. Its hallways, classrooms and two floors brought in a number of variables for which responders had to take into account.

“We want these folks to get their reps. It adds realism,” Hood said. “We script them as much as possible but ultimately, they are going to ad lib and that creates a level of reaction we have to react to accordingly. We have to be fluid and react. That’s real world.”

A role player displays his “wounds” requiring treatment during a Fort Stewart incident response exercise.
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