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CASE STUDY -- When the unthinkable happens, Delaware SWAT teams don’t miss a beat

By Tim Shook

Day to day, most citizens do not think twice about the routine activities that their local law enforcement agencies complete in order to ensure their safety. Things like issuing citations for minor offenses or patrolling the neighborhood to prevent vandalism simply equate to another “day in the life” for law enforcement officers. Ideally, these routine activities keep neighborhoods all over the country relatively safe and quiet.   

But what if the unthinkable happens?

Every so often, an incident occurs that requires law enforcement’s response that is above-and-beyond a routine call of duty. In the news, we hear about these happenings -- riots in urban areas, school shootings and drug lab busts. Fortunately, for the citizens of Delaware, law enforcement agencies statewide have been training and preparing SWAT teams to handle unique, and extremely dangerous, emergency situations.

Type I:  Above-and-beyond the call of duty

In recent years, the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) developed criteria for credentialing SWAT teams to ensure their preparation for a full range of emergency situations. FEMA set criteria for training at three levels, from basic to advanced, and required that law enforcement teams train at least at the basic level in order to be considered a SWAT team.

DHS does not yet use these credentials as a basis for allocating training funds. Even so, Delaware law enforcement authorities saw the need to train at an advanced level. Sgt. Al Parton of the Delaware State Police explained, “We have a deep understanding of the types of emergency situations that could happen in Delaware. We are surrounded by waterways, so we are responsible for maritime capabilities. We also have aerial assets within the state police, so we have to be ready for aerial situations, as well. All of that said, we knew we needed advanced training.”

In addition to preparedness for Delaware-based situations, Sgt. Parton recognized a greater need.

“It hasn’t come to it yet, but someday, FEMA might need to call on SWAT teams to respond to emergency situations around the country, based on their capabilities. We want to make sure we are available to help wherever the situation arises,” he said. “To prepare for that call, we needed a training facility that supported advanced training.”.

An unprecedented approach

The search for a training facility that would enable advanced training exercises started in the Delaware State Police Department. The team trained previously on the DHS SWAT Government Training Institute in Boise, ID, using the only DHS-approved training curriculum available.   

Because it cost $10,000 per person to complete a single training session at the Boise facility, the state police could train only nine people. The state police wanted a coordinated approach that would allow the team to train together. The answer was to build an in-state, centrally located facility that the department could maintain and use throughout the year.

Determining the need was simple; making it happen required some creativity.

 “We soon realized that the state police couldn’t build a training facility alone,” Sgt. Parton said. “So, we worked with the chiefs of police across Delaware to secure enough DHS funds for the project. The benefits were two-fold. Every SWAT team across the entire state could receive advanced training from the facility, and by consolidating our budgets, we were able to save about 66 percent of our DHS training funds annually.”

A homebuilt solution

The next step was to determine the best design for the training facility. Because each SWAT team had unique needs and, therefore, required specific training, the facility needed to mirror multiple true-to-life scenarios. 

Delaware law enforcement worked with General Dynamics Information Technology to design and build a mobile tactical training (MTT) range. The MTT is a transportable, field-ready, self-contained structure designed to mimic real-world first responder and law enforcement scenarios. Starting with a basic MTT configuration, the group altered the design to meet its defined needs. The end result was a four-story structure that supported must-have training capabilities, including  tactical repelling, anti-terrorism-based training, close-quarter combat, explosive breach entry, fast rope courses, helicopter insertion, maritime-related training, night vision and a patrol course for active shooters.

Better training, better preparedness, better response

The MTT, located in Smyrna, DE, hosted its first training course in July 2009. Since then, the facility has been used for patrol courses, active shooter training, explosive ordinance disposal and SWAT training on a weekly basis. On top of that, in partnership with the Government Training Institute, the facility is home to advance DHS SWAT and DHS active shooter training for five months each year.

“Through the use of realistic sights and sounds and real-time scenarios, we have been able to better prepare our SWAT teams not only to collaborate better with teammates during an emergency situation, but also, and more importantly, to practice safe response habits,” Sgt. Parton said.

Future-proofed for evolving needs

Because the MTT is reconfigurable, transportable and self-contained, it is relatively easy to upgrade and alter to meet new training requirements, Parton said.

Further, Delaware law enforcement agencies plan to install cameras in the facility to record training sessions and provide near-immediate feedback in the classroom. Video will be transmitted via fiber optic cables the state has already installed between the MTT and a training classroom. This after-action review will hold SWAT officers accountable for their actions, because they will be able to see where improvements need to be made.

“A facility such as this is cost-effective and provides the realistic training necessary to truly prepare SWAT teams for emergency situations,” Sgt. Parton said. “For us, it represents the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to achieve DHS-sanctioned advanced SWAT training statewide for all of our teams.”    


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