This year, I was again privileged to cover Urban Shield — the nation's largest and most challenging SWAT training events. Thirty eight-person SWAT teams from California and beyond, including three from overseas, competed in 30 real-world scenarios for a staggering 48 continuous hours. New this year was a separate component involving Fire/EMS scenarios.
I refer to Urban Shield as a "gruelathon," and this year proved even tougher than 2009. Although there are a number of outstanding SWAT competitions throughout America, I can think of none more realistic, encompassing, massive and demanding than Urban Shield.
Urban Shield begins with a day of orientations, assignments and ground rules that emphasize safety. This emphasis on safety includes mandatory medical checkpoints where medical professionals asses, monitor, and (if needed) treat, participants during Urban Shield.
Participants size up the competition up close and personal. Yet, the prevailing atmosphere is that of mutual respect and spirit of camaraderie among all those about to compete against each other — the epitome of professionalism, SWAT style.
Urban Shield requires a massive behind-the-scenes effort by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office (ACSO). Planning for Urban Shield 2010 began immediately after the 2009 event ended and planning for 2011 is already underway. ACSO commits a massive amount of enthusiastic support, planning, and manpower to make Urban Shield happen.
The amount of support and cooperation among agencies, public and private alike, is staggering. This year, more than 3,500 individuals from many public and private entities participated in Urban Shield — everything from competition to evaluators to support to logistics, planning and beyond. To be able to coordinate this many people, from so many different places and backgrounds, into a fine-tuned machine is a truly impressive accomplishment. To do so every year since 2006 is a credit to the dedicated professionals from ACSO.
Donated vans with identifying team placards are assigned to each of the 30 participating SWAT teams. Each van is driven by an ACSO deputy/liaison responsible driving the team, and looking out for their safety and welfare throughout the 48-hour event. This is an awesome responsibility — one that each and every ACSO deputy/liaison willingly takes on with enthusiastic dedication and professionalism.
There are also scores of other vital support personnel without whom Urban Shield couldn't happen. These range from scenario-site safety officers, logistics, role players, tactical evaluators, and many others most never know about. Their jobs are to ensure everything runs smoothly and safely. I can only imagine the amount of time, effort, and logistical coordination required to ensure all 30 teams running through all 30 scenarios run smoothly and safely.
Coordinating it all is a series of command centers, each tasked with demanding duties and responsibilities. Everything from communications, logistics to medical, monitoring, scheduling, and resolving any glitches that might occur. And since Urban Shield takes place in real-world sites/settings, there's always the possibility of some for-real, real-world incident to occur.
The central command center oversees five sub-command centers, assigned to five geographical areas. The capabilities of the central command center are beyond impressive, featuring the newest and best technology available today. Much of this technology is so new that Urban Shield is where it's getting its first "real-world" trial test.
The central command center is capable of simultaneously monitoring numerous sites in real-time. Amazing, considering the sites are scattered across 700 square miles, and many are in isolated, "inaccessible" locations.
Throughout Urban Shield, central command stays in constant communication with the five sub commands with regularly scheduled, coordinated, systematic update briefings throughout the entire 48-hour event. This ensures everyone always has the latest updates, and everyone is on the same page. And that any glitches are addressed and resolved immediately.
At each of the 30 scenario sites are tactical evaluators, experienced real-world SWAT personnel assigned to a variety of SWAT teams (local, state and federal). These tactical evaluators play a critical role in judging the performance of each of the 30 teams at the 30 scenario sites. Tactical evaluators undergo extensive briefing with regard to judging criteria, scoring, penalties and safety.
Perhaps the most valuable contribution from the tactical evaluators is their in-person, "candid" tactical de-briefs to each team immediately after every scenario. Tactical evaluators offer real-world advice based on their tactical expertise, experience and knowledge.
These tactical debriefs are give and take, allowing teams to interact one-on-one with evaluators. The result is very often advice that carries over to real-world situations. Such valuable tactical feedback is worth the "price of admission" alone. Urban Shield is most definitely a true learning experience for all involved.
The tactical scenarios are so realistic, because they've been developed by experienced SWAT personnel and are based on real-world incidents/scenarios from around the U.S. and world. They're set on location in real-world settings/locations and require hands-on, force-on-force, tactical resolution.
Urban Shield's success stems from long hours of continuous, meticulous, thorough preparation, planning, execution and enthusiastic dedication and professionalism by everyone involved — Alameda County SO, support agencies/personnel, public/private partnerships and especially the participating SWAT teams and members who met Urban Shield's daunting challenge.