Fort Lee officials examine an incident map

Officials from around the Fort Lee Garrison examine an incident map during a tabletop exercise Tuesday in the Training Support Center.

A tabletop exercise simulating an active shooter on post helped the garrison’s staff and some of its tenant units prepare for a larger exercise next year. The event took place Tuesday in the Training Support Center.

Although the garrison could not conduct a full-scale exercise this year because of COVID-19 and its corresponding social distancing requirements, the tabletop was successful at getting key leaders and staff together to practice communicating with each other, said Thomas Loden, the emergency manager in the Fort Lee Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

In addition, the exercise will help participants validate their emergency response plans and make changes and updates, if needed, he said.

That last time the garrison had a similar real-world incident was in 2014, pointed out Fort Lee Garrison Commander Col. Karin L. Watson. The staff needs training exercises like this to be ready in the event that a large-scale response is needed in the future.

While organizations from around post participated – including Kenner Army Health Clinic; liaison officers from the Combined Arms Support Command; the garrison’s Safety Office; the Directorate of Public Works; the Directorate of Family and MWR; and others – the main training audience was the Fort Lee DPTMS, Directorate of Emergency Services and Directorate of Human Resources, Loden said. 

For some organizations, like the police and fire departments, emergency response procedures are part of their everyday work, he continued. Others don’t get as much time to practice, and the low-stress tabletop environment helps the participants focus on collaborating without the complexity of a live, full-scale drill.

“This is the best way for people to be able to communicate,” he acknowledged.

The active shooter exercise started at about 8 a.m. with a simulated shooting in Training Area 11. Representatives were directed to report to the TSC to form an Emergency Operations Cell. They practiced responding to situations that included injuries and deaths requiring coordination between multiple agencies, the lockdown of a crime scene, identification of victims and notification of next-of-kin.

These will be elements in next year’s exercise, which is planned to be a full-scale boots-on-the-ground simulation, Loden said.

“This is a building block for the exercise projected for next year,” he said.

According to IMCOM requirements, the garrison is supposed to do a full emergency response exercise every year, alternating between simulating man-made and natural disasters, Loden said. In the real world, a natural disaster – a weather event – is the most likely emergency the garrison will face.

The DPTMS team put together “a great exercise” and put in a lot of hard work with ample attention to detail to get it exactly right, Watson said.

“It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of long hours, and I appreciate what you do,” she told the DPTMS staff members at the conclusion of the exercise.