Real World Training Exercise

Table exercises and drills are all well and good, but how do you discover the unexpected problems and limitations of your response if you have it all planned out? The City of Philadelphia recently created a terror drill that required emergency response teams to respond in real time.

The Philadelphia Fire Department, city police, transit police and the FBI cooperated for a four-hour training exercise. The scenario was a simulated terrorist bomb explosion on the subway, and the responding teams were not informed in advance that the drill would be taking place.

As the name implies, “Operation Edge” was designed to keep the responders on edge. The drill began completely unannounced on a Sunday morning with emergency management actors phoning 9-1-1 to report a “bomb” exploded on a subway train, trapping it in a tunnel.

The responders, including commanders, were given information one piece at a time to best simulate a real incident unfolding. The drill designer used a technique called “stressing the exercise” to build the pressure on the responders as the scenario unfolded, introducing unpredictable events until something goes wrong.

An out-of town ambulance was parked near the command post with a “900-pound bomb” inside. It went completely unnoticed by the response teams.  This and other problems such as inter-departmental communication issues and conflicting rescue procedures would have been difficult to predict in a more traditional drill setting.

Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan told the local press “It’s very easy to carefully script an exercise like this and provide that script to all the participants in advance. And we can come out here and we can go through the script and at the end of the day pat each other on the back and say what a great job we did — and have learned nothing.”

Watch the CBS News coverage here:

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