5:10 p.m.: Scenario Village
The Alameda County Sheriff's Department training center in Dublin, Calif., includes a series of wood frame homes called Scenario Village where academy recruits and veteran officers alike can train to answer high-risk calls.
This afternoon Scenario Village is the setting for Urban Shield Scenario #23, a combined SWAT and K-9 operation. In the scenario, terrorists have just attempted to steal weapons-grade plutonium from the nearby Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory. They were foiled by the lab's security and a gunfight ensued. The terrorists escaped, taking a lab worker hostage. They have just been stopped here in Scenario Village by patrol officers.
The Newark, Calif., SWAT team listens carefully to the scenario briefing. They are told the situation and told that they have the assistance of a patrol K-9. They also are given the option of using a First Choice MUST ballistic shield.
They move up to Scenario Village and exchange fire with the terrorists. A terrified hostage-played very effectively by Dep. Noelma Angulo of the Alameda SD-crawls to safety wailing, "Help me! Please help me!"
A K-9 is sent after one of the terrorists, and he gets his bite. The other terrorist runs into one of the wood frame houses. Newark SWAT forms a stack, and the K-9 is sent in for another bite with the team on his tail. The scenario ends very quickly.
"You showed great restraint," the tactical evaluator tells the team later in his debriefing. Hostage Angulo agrees. This team didn't shoot her, but over the course of the day she's caught rounds in the face, arm, and stomach. "It happens," she says.
"This was hard," Sgt. Jeff Mapes tells me as he walks to the team van. "We were dealing with two threats at once."
10:30 p.m.: The Shoothouse
"Sniper one, you are cleared to go hot. Load and make ready," orders the scenario director.
The sniper from the Sacramento Police SWAT team is on top of a truck adjacent to a live fire shoothouse on the Alameda County Sheriff's range. His attention is downrange anticipating a target.
And he gets one. A Northern Lights Tactical Robot zips out into the kill zone sporting a metal target. The sniper fires. Scenario #22 has begun.
As I watch from atop a catwalk overlooking the shoothouse, Sacramento SWAT effects a hostage rescue.
Flash-bangs detonate, numerous shots of 5.56mm frangible ammo are fired at stationary and robotic targets, then silence.
The shoothouse cleared, the team quickly realizes that the scenario planners have thrown them a curve ball. The team assaults an outbuilding, and the hostages are rescued.
Sacramento PD Sgt. Al Miller and his team look tired to me. And they should be; they have been running and gunning for some 28 hours. But Miller tells me they are doing fine. "When the exercise gets going, you don't really feel the fatigue," he says.
11:20 a.m.: Oakland Amtrak Station
The Mountain View Police Department SWAT team has loaded up on the front and rear of a Rook tracked armored vehicle, and they are making an assault on a passenger car where armed disgruntled workers have taken passengers hostage.
The Rook moves into position, and the team deploys from the vehicle's armored platforms. They enter the train, neutralize the hostage takers, and rescue the hostages.
I'm invited onto the train after the scenario. This wasn't an easy battle for any of the teams. A train car is one long fatal funnel. In a real tactical operation, it would be bloody, very bloody.
Lt. Chris Hsiung of Mountain View PD is at the exercise observing the team, and he agrees with my assessment that a train assault would be hairy. But he says training in such difficult operating environments is what Urban Shield is all about.
"There's something to be learned in each scenario," Hsiung says. "For example, in this scenario, the team has to work in very close quarters down the aisle of a passenger train. They also have to decide the best way to enter the train."