Manchester SWAT team goes through difficult training day in Boston
MANCHESTER - The scenarios were violent and they were difficult for police to tackle. Gunmen kill a few people and take hostages on the Boston subway train, rival gang members start shooting in a movie theater, a disgruntled employee takes hostages in an office building and demands a vehicle for a getaway - all among the scenarios SWAT units faced during training mission Urban Shield in Boston recently.
Eight members of Manchester Police SWAT joined 15 Massachusetts SWAT teams in the 24-hour exercise funded by the Department of Homeland Security. The program was designed to measure the teams' readiness to deal with challenging situations.
The exercise includes personnel representing all aspects of emergency response including intelligence, law enforcement, Explosive Ordinance Disposal Units, Fire, EMS, and others.
Manchester Team Leader Nate Boudreau said the Manchester team faced five situations in a nonstop 12-hour test, with 80 minutes to solve each problem.
Boudreau said the situations were carefully choreographed with actors wearing the appropriate clothing and makeup. Real weapons were used, but with simulated bullets, he said.
"We had to problem solve as a team," said Boudreau. The Manchester team's 12-hour turn went from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. "It's basically a marathon. You go from call to call," he said. "They brief you just as if you were being dispatched."
Meanwhile, the teams are being graded on various aspects of their performance, what questions they ask, how they allocate resources and how they solve the problem.
There are no trains in New Hampshire, but Boudreau said the train car is like a bus in shape, size and doorways, so that is how they approached the gunmen with hostages on the train.
Because the team has trained on buses, Boudreau said: "We treated the train like four buses lined up. We actually scored very high on it."
The cruise ship scenario utilized the retired destroyer the U.S.S. Salem in Quincy and had two gunmen on a shooting spree among the passengers.
"We had to find two men on what is basically a floating city," said Boudreau. "We had to get on board. It was like swimming upstream, with passengers running off the ship," said Boudreau.
They wondered: "What if the gunmen dropped their guns and pretended to be among the passengers and ran off the boat?"
So decisions had to be made about stopping and questioning passengers.
"It's a sobering event. How difficult it is to save lives," Boudreau said.
They went from the ship to the theater in Roxbury - actually four theaters, all full. The scenario: A gang member went to the movies, only to find a rival and the shooting began.
"We still had active shooting," he said, but also had to provide emergency medical aid.
The next scenario had a man taking four people hostage in a building and demanding a vehicle, using the hostages as his cover.
The fifth and final event was a mass casualty event at UMass-Boston, he said.
Boudreau said this is the only competition that challenges teams to problem solve. It is physically and mentally exhausting, he said, and members can snap at one another and start to make mistakes.
The team has to figure out how to keep working effectively. "It's just like when we were over on Main Street," said Boudreau, referring to the 30-hour standoff in May 2011 when a man holed up in his apartment with his 7-year-old daughter and a gun, refusing to come out because he would be charged with sexually assaulting another young relative.
The man was shot and killed by a New Hampshire State Police SWAT member.
After the scenarios are completed, said Boudreau, the team leaders go back to Boston to debrief.
"So we can take it back to the team," he said. "There has been no better training in real life. It confirms that you are able to do the right thing. You learn you are able to create these solutions."
Boudreau said the Manchester team was rated in the top three, but won't know exactly where until sometime next week.
The team members who participated, in addition to Boudreau, are team leaders Brandon Murphy and Andy Delorey and Joe Ryan, Peter Marr, Brian Gannon, Greg Ditullio and Todd Leshney.
Three Manchester SWAT members were evaluators for the scenario at the Salem in Quincy, Mass., each doing 12-hour evaluation periods running the site.
They were Sgt. Rich Brennan, Eric Knight and Tom Gonzales.