AUGUSTA — City and state agencies on Wednesday joined forces with the Maine Army National Guard to hone their teamwork skills during a mock drill involving a supposed active shooter at Camp Keyes.
The exercise, which was coordinated by the Maine Army National Guard and involved Augusta police and firefighters and the Maine State Police bomb team, was designed to test the agencies’ ability to communicate with one another during an emergency. The drill elicited high marks on that front.
“We learned the communication we have between all the agencies are strong,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class John Knoblach.
“The purpose was to test our plans and procedures,” said Army Maj. Michael Steinbuchel “We want to make sure we are as prepared and ready as we can be.”
Last fall the Maine Army National Guard coordinated a massive training exercise involving local, state and federal agencies responding to multiple catastrophes across the state. Much of that exercise was built around improving incident command communication. Insights gleaned from that exercise, dubbed Vigilant Guard, were implemented during Wednesday’s training, said Augusta police Lt. Kevin Lully, who led the department’s Special Response Team.
“It just reinforces what all of us have said for years,” Lully said. “No one entity can facilitate a favorable end to a crisis by themselves.”
The training scenario involved a pair of men who had shot their way into a building at Camp Keyes. Four people were injured by the gunman, one of whom eventually was shot fatally. The second gunman surrendered after negotiations.
The scenario gave Augusta firefighters an opportunity to exercise training that allows them to enter the building with police to begin treating the wounded more quickly. Medics traditionally have waited until police ensure an entire building is secure before removing the wounded. Knoblach said the actors playing the part of the wounded, all of whom were soldiers, were actually dragged or carried to safety to make the exercise as realistic as possible.
The dead gunman, who ultimately proved to be the only fatality, claimed to have placed a bomb in the area. Responders, after making sure no bomb was in the building, turned their attention to the gunman’s truck. Inside they found a suspicious item, a backpack, that the Maine State Police bomb team investigated.
Lully said emphasis on clear communications was proved during the exercise when members of the special response team came across a person with a gun. By following protocol and relaying information to the command center, the team inside the building was able to confirm the person was “friendly,” and nobody was injured.
“Lacking that communication, we could have ended up with a shooting,” Lully said.
Beyond finding ways to improve inter-agency communications, Steinbuchel said the exercise offered Augusta police and firefighters a chance to familiarize themselves further with the campus and the men and women who work there. Relationships developed during the exercise will prove important if there ever is a crisis at the base, Steinbuchel said.
“Exercises like this give us the opportunity to strengthen those relationships,” he said. “That’s the overall goal here.”
The exercise was the first of its kind at Camp Keyes, but both Steinbuchel and Lully say they hope it’s the first of many.
“The Maine National Guard is a member of the community,” Steinbuchel said. “It’s important we stay involved.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5642 [email protected]