It’s undeniably unnerving to stand in the same room as a man firing an automatic weapon and to hear its echo as women scream in another room — even with the knowledge the gun is firing blanks and the women are playing a role.
Everything about the training exercises held Thursday at the Sea Plane Base were meant to imitate the tension of an actual emergency.
Multiple scenarios were played out as part of the annual Citadel Shield-Solid Curtain Navy exercise.
This week, personnel from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and some evaluators from Navy Region Northwest participated in the first part of the exercise, Citadel Shield. This included isolated drills, such as a person carrying a suspicious bag toward the commanding officer’s house or an active shooter inside a building, that various departments responded to.
Next week, the installation will participate in the nationwide Solid Curtain scenario and play one small part in a week-long response.
At the end, NAS Whidbey will be evaluated on the effectiveness of its administrative and anti-terrorism training team. Local law enforcement also participated in the scenarios that they would likely be involved with, such as Oak Harbor Police Department in the active shooter drill.
Thursday afternoon, base commander Capt. Matthew Arny sat in a crowded room that became the Emergency Operation Center. He guided representatives from security forces, administration, medical and public affairs in a coordinated response to each threat. Three large TV screens hung from the wall with security footage from across the base.
He read over a quickly prepared press release about a “detonation” planned at the Sea Plane Base, directed that people be warned over Twitter and the base’s Giant Voice loud speaker system and finally gave the okay to “blow” the device.
Arny said effective communication between agencies, the public and responders on scene is the most important factor in each of these scenarios.
“It makes it easier, not harder, on ourselves,” he said.
The situation he handled at the moment involved a person targeting his own house. Behind him someone over the radio confirmed his wife was off base and his children were at school.
He said the exercise hit home because of how personal it was, but each one carried just as much significance for him.
“All of the situations target people, so it’s important everyone understands … and people are prepared,” he said, “that includes families.”
Standing at the command center, he had a view of the runway at the Ault Field base. The sight served as a reminder of what’s at stake in the simulated scenarios should one day they become not a simulation, he said.
“We protect billions of dollars worth of assets and thousands of lives,” he said. “We need to prepare ourselves every day.”