TPA puts its first responders to the test in realistic active shooter exercise

(October 19, 2017) A group of passengers gathered in Red Baggage Claim to retrieve their luggage. A man disappeared into the restroom and emerged with a handgun. He fired into the crowd. Chaos and screaming ensued. Victims dropped to the floor. Police and paramedics rushed to the scene. TIAPD Active Shooter training

The alarming scene, blocked off by crime scene privacy walls and police tape to keep the public away, was part of a drill designed to test the response of Tampa International Airport Police, Operations staff, the AOC, ARFF paramedics, FAA staff and others in the event of an active shooter at TPA.

“It’s critical that we continue to sharpen our response skills and timing in an active shooter situation on a regular basis,” Police Chief Charlie Vazquez said. “You hope you never have to use this training, but if you do, you want to be as prepared as possible.”

More than a hundred participants –  which included role players from TSA, Alaska Airlines and other partner agencies – helped create a realistic scenario in which some pretended to be shot or hide in panic as officers and paramedics worked fast to secure the area and triage patients.

It was one of several active drills that TPA has practiced in recent years.

This exercise, directed by Lt. Scott Seifer, took place shortly after midnight in the Red Baggage Claim area as several real passengers arrived on the other side of the privacy walls to collect their luggage after their flights arrived. The AOC made several PA announcements alerting guests about the exercise and the area was protected by police.

Role players pretending to be Alaska Airlines passengers gathered around two baggage belts to retrieve luggage and the “shooter,” played by TIAPD Cpl. D.J. Colestock, walked into the scene and began firing a pistol with blanks. Within two minutes, the shooting incident was over and police had Colestock in custody.

The Incident Command Center was immediately activated and led by Executive Vice President of Operations and Customer Service John Tiliacos, who worked quickly with other staff leaders to make decisions on halting incoming flights, closing roadways, connecting with outside emergency response agencies, setting up a family crisis center and handling communications and media.

The exercise ended in about an hour and the entire group gathered for a quick recap and debrief before heading home. The Police Department and Operations staff and partnering agencies will review the exercise in coming days, and they will continue training throughout the year with tabletop exercises and other testing and drills.

“Practice, practice, practice,” Chief Vazquez said. “It’s the best way to stay ahead of the curve.” 

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