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Boston area safety crews to practice emergency response

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  November 2, 2012 02:06 PM

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First responders will be out in force this weekend, and members of the public may hear simulated gunfire, as police and fire personnel practice their response to emergencies in the Quincy and Boston region.

Quincy public safety personnel, as well as public safety employees from Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Hingham, Revere, Somerville, and Weymouth will come together from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. on Sunday to practice on several simulated large-scale public safety incidents.

The Massachusetts Environmental Police, the Massachusetts State Police, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police, Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals, UMass Boston, the United States Coast Guard, Fallon Ambulance, Boston EMS, and MassPort Fire Rescue Services will also join in on the exercise.

Overall, the “Urban Shield: Boston” program looks to assess each agency’s ability to respond to and manage public safety problems and emergencies.

Although it may look frightening to those who are unaware of the exercise, coordinators are urging the public not to be alarmed.

“Urban Shield: Boston will run for a 24-hour period. As a result, residents in the area may hear simulated gunfire, observe officers responding to simulated emergencies, or see activity in the Boston Harbor. Each scenario will be run multiple times, and organizers urge residents not to be alarmed. There is no danger to anyone in the area, and exercises will be done in cordoned-off areas away from the public,” coordinators said in a release.

According to Lt. Jack Sullivan with the Quincy Police, there will still be enough officers on duty to handle any incidents. In the case of an emergency, public safety crews are advised to drop the exercise and head out in response.

The activity will take a large scale coordination effort, but organizers say the simulation is vital, especially as the exercises train safety personnel how to react without the pressure of lives or environmental dangers on the line.

"It's training, and training is always very important," Sullivan said. "It's important because if you do it enough, when the crisis happens, it becomes rote memory, it's ingrained, so you don’t think about it."

The training is fairly new, and was done in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

"Years ago you trained for bank robberies, now we train for these scenarios," Sullivan said.

Officers take part in several simulations, and have about 90 minutes to get to a scene and finish the proscribed exercise.

"It might be a report of terrorist on the ship, and they might say there are reports of four masked gunman, they have taken over the Captain and have demands but no one knows what they are," Sullivan said. "They have to go in, find them, and see if they can talk them down or take a shot."

Officers also use professional paint-ball gun equipment and protective clothing to make the simulation feel real.

Once officers are done with each exercise, they must get their next assignment and figure out how to get to the next location.

According to Quincy City Councilor Margaret Laforest, who will be viewing this year’s operations in Quincy, previous years have gone exceedingly well.

“I visited some of the sites at last year's Urban Shield and I am very impressed with the planning and coordination of resources that go into this training for our first responders,” she said. “Boston is the only US region running these training exercises and [the Quincy Police Department] is very involved with the grant writing and implementation.”

The program is funded with a grant through the Urban Area Security Initiative, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

Several high -ranking personnel from each public safety agency run the simulation, using $2 million worth of communications equipment to coordinate during the simulated crisis.

The exercises focus on several areas of the region, including the USS Salem in Quincy (for a maritime practice), the former B-2 Police Station in Boston (for simulated SWAT exercises), the former Circle Cinemas in Brookline (for simulated bank robbery and hostage situations), and at the Bowdoin MBTA Station in Boston (for simulated HazMat incidents).

Additionally, exercises will occur in Boston Harbor Anchorage #1 (for maritimate operations and a ferry boat HazMat scenarios), at UMass Boston Campus (for cumulating exercises), and in eight hospitals throughout Boston (for simulated HazMat decontaminations, management of victims, and activation of a Medical Intellegence Center).

According to Laforest, the exercises are not just unrealistic drills.

“As Quincy has 27 miles of coastline and QPD this summer had to respond to a ferry grounding, I believe it is important to have our first responders familiar with these "targets" and the corresponding agencies,” she said. “QPD took the lead on the ferry grounding this summer and it is great to learn from the experience and drill with neighboring departments.”

For those looking for real-time updates of the exercises, visit Laforest’s Facebook page here.

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