Training Exercise Test Illinois Public/Private Partnership

Putting the Partnership to the Test
A full-scale training exercise provides an opportunity for public- & private-sector leaders to learn from one another
By Rob Ugaste
Photos courtesy Lake-Cook Regional Critical Incident Partnership

Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series on public-private partnerships. Read the first article, “Common Goal,” and the second article: “A Success Story."

So you’ve taken on the challenge to pursue a public-private partnership with your corporate partners, and you’re beginning to see the disconnect between the expectations of the private (corporate) sector and the realities of emergency service in your organization. The next question: How do you overcome that disconnect?

The back story to the training exercise: A disgruntled maintenance employee creates a hazardous material leak in one end of the building and then opens fire with automatic weapons at the other end.

The exercise eventually involved 80 fire/EMS personnel, 28 Sheriff’s deputies (including SWAT), 25 hazmat team technicians, 120 U.S. Army Reserve personnel, 60 controllers and evaluators, 70 actors, 10 presenters, the security force for the corporate host and an audience that exceeded 200.

Because the exercise involved federal resources as well as local personnel, the Army Chem Bio Decontamination Team was able to interact with and work alongside the Lake and McHenry County Hazardous Materials Team. .

Actors provided by a local Naval base as well as employee volunteers from the corporate host served as mock victims. Moulage artists from the Army and local hospitals heightened the realism.

The corporation’s building contained a state-of-the-art auditorium that was used for hundreds of observers to view the exercise via security cameras that filmed the public-sector players.

Problem #1 is that most corporate business continuity and security leaders lack experience with real events. These people are typically educated professionals with a genuine desire to keep their corporate bosses safe and in business. But they create policies and plans based on book learning, which doesn’t always translate well to the real world.

Problem #2 is that most public-sector agencies don’t know how to reach the corporate leaders who can effect real change. Fire, EMS and law enforcement all have a valid stake in the way the corporations plan to react during an emergency, but too often they find themselves on the outside looking in.

The two previous articles in this serious have discussed the need to develop relationships that result in partnerships. This article will provide an example of how such a partnership can really makes a difference.

Beyond the Tabletop
The Lake-Cook Regional Critical Incident Partnership (LCRCIP) is a grassroots partnership of 65 private-sector corporate and 42 public-sector entities. The goal of the organization is to break down the barriers that lead to real change through quarterly meetings containing educational components and tabletop sessions. The tabletop sessions are designed to challenge the public- and private-sector attendees with realistic disaster scenarios that force them to work with their counterparts to discuss and brainstorm how their business or agency will react.

Although the tabletop approach has proven to be a successful tool, the LCRCIP leadership wanted to create an opportunity for the private-sector leaders to observe and learn from an actual public-sector training. The original concept was to hold a small-scale exercise with multiple fire, EMS and police components while the private-sector audience looked on.

We faced two major challenges in designing the exercise:
1. To provide a realistic setting for the private-sector observers, a corporate host was needed for the exercise.
2. If they weren’t appropriately placed, the observers could contaminate the drill environment. Role-playing is never easy; having hundreds of people standing nearby watching would make it even harder for the drill participants or players to act like the scenario was real.

The first problem was overcome with the offer from a local major corporation, W. W. Grainger, Inc., an LCRCIP member, to host the event. Its headquarters building provided more than 800,000 square feet of space, with large parking lots on an isolated and gated campus. Employees who were not participating would be told to stay home on the day of the exercise—and as a bonus, the corporation’s security force would participate.

The exercise design planners soon realized that the corporation’s building contained a state-of-the-art auditorium that provided a golden opportunity to address the second challenge: The hundreds of observers could be staged in the auditorium, viewing the exercise via security cameras that would film the public-sector players.

Since the LCRCIP doesn’t have funding to hire photographers and a production team, we requested help from a local high school’s video team. In addition, the board of directors reached out to the Lake County Video Department, along with a privately owned communications vehicle that also participated for no charge. Thanks to the willingness of the corporate host to allow use of in-house security cameras, the stage was set for live video of the training to be streamed to the big screen in the auditorium.

Growing Bigger
Planning for this event began a year in advance and picked up speed in the final months. A planning team was selected and stakeholders were identified from each major component of the exercise. The desire to provide a private-sector experience at the same time as the drill was challenging but not impossible. The key, just as in any large-scale incident, was to make sure the team’s structure was large enough to manage the event.

The training itself quickly grew into a full-scale exercise. The back story: A disgruntled maintenance employee creates a hazardous material leak in one end of the building and then opens fire with automatic weapons at the other end. When the U.S. Army Reserve Chem-Bio Units requested permission to participate as part of their annual Red Dragon Exercise, the back-story was altered to include an unrelated local threat which had resulted in the Army’s activation and availability. While incorporating a federal resource in a local exercise was unusual it seemed like a great opportunity for the Army Chem Bio Decontamination Team to interact with and work alongside the Lake and McHenry County Hazardous Materials Team.

The exercise eventually involved 80 fire/EMS personnel, 28 Sheriff’s deputies (including SWAT), 25 hazmat team technicians, 120 U.S. Army Reserve personnel, 60 controllers and evaluators, 70 actors, 10 presenters, the security force for the corporate host and an audience that exceeded 200. More than 600 people participated that day, including actors provided by a local Naval base as well as employee volunteers from the corporate host. Moulage artists from the Army and local hospitals arrived at 6 a.m. to begin applying makeup to actors.

The Day Of
Although the public-sector participants were not given the back story, the private-sector audience in the auditorium watched a video of the bad guy damaging the building’s cooling system (to create an ammonia leak) and then loading automatic weapons, which he shoved into a bag. Dressed as an employee, the actor was quite believable. The audience was encouraged to realize this event could be occurring at their own corporation and that they should envision it as such. The video scenes that followed showed the actual exercise, as sheriff’s deputies swarmed the building while fire and EMS personnel rescued victims and cared for the injured.

As part of the auditorium experience, presenters who were experts in their fields were on stage to provide the private-sector observers with information on each topic. The vision was to use the live video as a backdrop for the subject matter experts, who would explain what was happening and why it was necessary. Presenters included an EMS (paramedic) system director, a deputy chief from the Sheriff’s Office, a professional incident command (NIMS) instructor, the leader of a regional hazmat team and multiple business resumption experts.

Topics that were covered included law enforcement actions with an active shooter, EMS triage, hazmat response and the need for decontamination, unified command and business continuity. The audience also had an opportunity to ask questions and to see the public-sector assets in person following the 3-hour exercise.

The Reaction
The reaction to this effort was overwhelmingly positive. Public-sector leaders voiced their appreciation for the exercise designers’ willingness to build in a significant educational component for the private sector, while the private sector voiced their appreciation for the opportunity to learn from some of the premier public safety experts in the area. The exercise also challenged and at times overwhelmed the public-sector players, providing critical lessons learned.

Thanks to the private sector being allowed to observe, high-level corporate leaders walked away with a better understanding of what will occur during a significant incident—information they can use to build more realistic disaster preparedness policies. In addition, after-action reports are being generated for all to use as a means to evaluate and improve emergency services.

At the conclusion of the exercise, the core planning team held an impromptu meeting to debrief and to discuss whether the event had proven to be as valuable as anticipated. An attendee who was walking past the group provided the answer by asking: “So when are we going to do this again?”

Rob Ugaste is the Deputy Chief of Administration for the Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protection District in northern Illinois. During his 30 years in the fire service, he has achieved Chief Fire Officer Designation (CFOD) and Illinois Fire Officer Level III; he is also a Public Sector Chairperson for the Lake Cook Regional Critical Incident Partnership and an Accreditation Manager. Ugaste has a bachelor’s degree in Public Safety Administration, is completing his master’s degree in Fire Service Leadership, and is in his third year of the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program at the National Fire Academy.


Copyright © Elsevier Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. SUBSCRIBE to FIRERESCUE

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