Inside look at a staged attack on Fort Hamilton

It was a beautiful morning for a simulated attack at New YorkCity’s only active army base.

Shortly after 10 a.m. on Friday, December 2, on-base security atFort Hamilton Army Base was called to the site of a dumpster firenear the fort’s chapel. A few minutes later, the call went out ofshots fired inside the Military Entrance Processing Station, whichat any given time can be filled with everyone from militarypersonnel to civilian applicants, family members and employees. Thefire may only have been a diversion.

At 10:15 a.m., a tan minivan came tearing across the front lawn,the doors opened and four police officers wearing bulletproofvests, helmets, goggles and shields jumped out, formed a line, andwent into the nondescript building. Loud popping noises could beheard from outside, where hostages would soon be running, and wherea few other reporters and I stood and awaited news.

In a normal situation, we wouldn’t have been there for theinitial response, and may not have been allowed to get as close aswe were then. But this was a drill and we were there on the lawnalong with waiting fire engines, police backup and ambulances fromLutheran Medical Center. Our job was as it always is: to observe,question and report.

It is important that if we’re going to be prepared forsomething that really happens, that we know what all of the movingpieces are, said Colonel Michael Gould, who was joined in apost-drill press conference by FDNY Chief Michael Marrone and NYPDInspector Phil Van Gostein of the Counterterrorism Department.

We train together all the time [using smaller scenarios],explained Gould. For this drill, the tragedy at Fort Hood [in late2009] was one of many scenarios we considered. We used that becauseit was the best chance to get all agencies – including NYC-basedresponders – involved and participating.

Van Gostein agreed, describing the inter-agency relationship asexcellent and the drills as great, because we can work out anykinks.

The first responders involved included the city’s Office ofEmergency Management (OEM), NYPD, FDNY and EMTs from Lutheran.Civilian volunteers from BRAVO and OEM’s CERT programs in Bay Ridgeand Sunset Park also participated, volunteering as hostages andcasualties with injuries as varied as broken legs and gunshotwounds to being impaled through the right shoulder.

As part of the CERT Team 1011, I like to participate inanything that can help, said volunteer Josephine Vella, whoresponders noted was exceptionally good at acting out her plannedinjuries. It’s good to see the military and EMS [workingtogether].

It’s a disaster scenario [and] very important to help the citydo things in advance, agreed fellow CERT 1011 volunteer, AlanStoddart.

For the law enforcement personnel involved, the scenario mayhave been fabricated using paintballs and simulated rounds ofgunfire, but the experience was as real as any they had everexperienced.

It’s a very realistic drill of an active shooter. Once you seethe muzzle flash, it gets real quick, said Keith Hill, a retiredNYPD officer who now works as a Fort Hamilton police officer. Ourentire police force has trained for [an incident] like this. It’sextremely important that there is inter-lateral cooperation as aunit. The training is required to keep us on our toes.

We learned a lot today, on a [larger] macro level, like howmany units respond, but also little things like making sure youhave the right phone number, said Gould. For the community, it’simportant to have awareness. We wanted to go out of our way to leteveryone know that Fort Hamilton is here to help the community knowwhat’s going on.

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