Urban Shield: Debriefing the Teams

SWAT competitions give the teams an opportunity to compete against other tactical teams in events designed to test their competency and mettle. Among the many excellent SWAT competitions to choose from, Urban Shield's "full-scale exercise" format is widely considered the most realistically challenging.

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Tactical teams strive to develop reputations as "good teams." And virtually every tactical team I know wonders how they compare with other teams. One of the best ways to find out how a team compares with others is participating in one of the many excellent SWAT competitions held across the nation.

SWAT competitions give the teams an opportunity to compete against other tactical teams in events designed to test their competency and mettle. Among the many excellent SWAT competitions to choose from, Urban Shield's "full-scale exercise" format is widely considered the most realistically challenging of all.

Twenty nine SWAT teams from California and beyond competed in Urban Shield 2010 β€” 48 continuous hours of 26 "full scale" tactical scenarios, four medical checkpoints, three fire, and one EOD scenario. The venues are spread across 700 square miles of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The logistics and preparation for an event of this complexity and magnitude are mind-boggling. Yet, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) has succeeded in improving Urban Shield each of the four years of its existence.

Far more than a competition, Urban Shield's goal is to be a "full-scale regional preparedness exercise" for high-threat incidents. For the 29 SWAT teams, Urban Shield doubles as a competition β€” one I describe as a challenging, real-world simulation "gruelathon."

What criteria are used to judge SWAT teams participating in Urban Shield? For the answer, I turned to ACSO Lt. Mark Gordillo, who is Urban Shield's tactical coordinator.

Lt. Gordillo's response made me realize Urban Shield's judging criteria is what all SWAT teams strive for in "real life" β€” to be tactically proficient, competent, and be considered a "good" professional SWAT team.  Emphasis on team at all levels.

Before I get into Urban Shield's specific judging criteria, the following overview will give a clearer picture of just how extensive Urban Shield's logistics/planning are. This includes the key positions that make it all work to coordinated perfection.

  • Incident Commander (Exercise Director): Responsible for planning, coordinating, and overseeing.
  • Safety Coordinator: Formulates, implements, and enforces safety procedures.
  • Area Commanders: Responsible for organizing command centers and scenarios within their geographical area of responsibility.
  • Site Commanders (Controllers): Set up and operate their related scenario. Responsible for overall planning and management of the scenario during the 48-hour duration.
  • Liaisons: Assigned to each tactical team, responsible to ensure teams arrive on time and safely, and assists with logistics, briefings.
  • Exercise Evaluators: Technical and functional experts who evaluate and provide feedback on and assess and document performance of the exercise.
  • Tactical Evaluators: Experienced tactical operators and trainers responsible for team scoring. Conduct exercise tactical debriefs.

Urban Shield rules are extensive and strictly enforced. Safety is paramount with participant safety taking priority over exercise events.  Everyone involved with Urban Shield is responsible for safety. Medical support is readily available from mobile medical (ALS/BLS) units and medical checkpoints.

Urban Shield judging begins with extensive evaluator briefings with instructions outlining the rules and judging criteria (particularly important for exercise and tactical evaluators). The following is an overview checklist of the Urban Shield tactical judging criteria:

Leadership: Solicits input from team. Identifies and assigns tasks.  Delegates. Gives clear direction. Motivator. Demonstrates flexibility.  Maintains control. Exhibits command presence/self-confidence.

Intelligence Gathering: Debriefs victims and witnesses. Deploys scout/recon/surveillance team. Deploys sniper/observer team. Utilizes other resources (such as blueprints and employees).

Planning: Sound tactical and contingency plans. Compromise procedures. Rules of engagement. Clearly assigned tasks/roles. Breach/secondary breach points. Equipment assessment. Equipment assignments. Team movements. Team brief/brief back.

Deployment: React team. Rehearsal. Communications checks. Timing/coordination.

Team Movement: Communications (hand signals, verbal, and radio). Use of cover and concealment. Noise/light discipline/equipment. 360-degree security. Control checkpoints.

Teamwork: Cohesiveness/integrity. Communication. Cooperation.  Attitude. Morale.

The above Urban Shield judging criteria is one of the best, most comprehensive SWAT team overviews and checklists I've seen. A valuable "must have/must read" for all SWAT teams, commanders, team leaders, operators β€” and anyone involved in managing a SWAT team.

With its extensive tactical planning/preparation and challenging, realistic scenarios, Urban Shield is far more than a SWAT competition or tactical training exercise. Urban Shield's true value is its application to the real world, where lessons learned through training take on a different, "for real," and often life-saving role.

Urban Shield is a rare opportunity for "good" tactical teams to become even better β€” teams learn their strengths and weaknesses. These lessons and mistakes made in training save lives in the "real world."

This is Urban Shield's most valuable contribution to law enforcement and the society we serve.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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