Urban Shield Tests Police Ability

Photo: The San Leandro SWAT team participates in a 'Hostage Rescue' drill at the UC Berkeley site of the Urban Shield training program.
Nathan Yan/Staff
The San Leandro SWAT team participates in a 'Hostage Rescue' drill at the UC Berkeley site of the Urban Shield training program.

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"Everybody's hot? Loaded?" a man asks a squad of eight police officers dressed in fatigues and bulletproof vests.

"If there are more weapons, I'll take 'em," one officer responds with a smile, helping a fellow officer tighten his helmet.

The atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed, despite the fact that terrorists protesting animal research have taken a hostage in a UC Berkeley building and are threatening to shoot anyone who approaches the scene.

Suddenly, four gunshots are heard inside the building and the officers quickly ascend a four-story fire escape to confront the terrorists.

All this is standard procedure for the San Leandro Police Department tactical team, which was participating in Urban Shield, the nation's largest homeland security drill.

The event is hosted by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and made possible by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, as well as a number of sponsors and volunteers from around the area.

Throughout the weekend, teams participated in 25 different tactical scenarios ranging from airplane assaults to bank robberies. The teams use real weapons modified to fire non-lethal soap caplets.

The teams started at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, and trained almost continuously until early this morning.

The 48 hours of grueling training is designed to test officers' abilities in high-stress, fatiguing conditions. Officers only get two 45-minute naps during the entire event.

"It's absolutely exhausting," said UCPD Lt. Adan Tejada, who participated in the event last year. "It's like doing two dozen athletic events with almost no rest. It really takes it out of you."

However, he said the drills are worth it.

"It's extremely helpful in assessing ability and training needs," he said. "What you end up seeing is that the higher your sleep deprivation, the more you rely on basic skills."

Officers check in at various monitoring stations throughout the day to test their blood pressure, heart rate and reaction time.

UCPD and the Berkeley police department co-hosted this particular hostage scenario in the campus's former public health building. They also hosted a similar event when Urban Shield took place last year.

According to UCPD Assistant Chief Mitch Celaya, UCPD began training for this type of scenario after the Columbine High School shooting in April of 1999 and it became particularly important after the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007.

"Anytime you can put a team through realistic scenarios, it prepares them for the real thing," Celaya said.

Police forces generally train once or twice a month in similar situations, but none that compare with the length and difficulty of the Urban Shield drills.

Cameras were stationed around the building and attached to some officers' helmets, so that the teams can evaluate their performance on film and design training days to address issues that crop up during the drill.

Teams are scored for their performance in each scenario based on timing and entry, among other measures of success.

Tejada said that while some teams are very competitive, UCPD uses the training as an opportunity to learn.

"We don't care about scores," he said. "It's just a good indication of skills, and a great confidence booster."


Contact Anna Widdowson at [email protected]

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