Suspicious package exercise delivers unit readiness

  • Published
  • By Maj. Bryon Turner
  • 103rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
The Airmen of the 103rd Airlift Wing conducted their annual suspicious package exercise with a focus on mail-handling procedures and response actions taken by first responders on Aug. 14, 2014, at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, Connecticut.

"The scenario included the tracking of a suspicious package in the mail as it worked its way through the base distribution process," said Lt. Col. James Guerrera of the wing's inspector general's office. "An inspection report will be developed to identify any potential shortfalls in our reactions and procedures to ensure we are in compliance with specific directives and that we are ready to respond in the event of a real-world situation."

Exercise evaluators from the wing inspection team, identified by their highly-visible green vests, observed procedures at every point in the process as the simulated package made its way to the mail distribution center on base.

Lt. Col. Daniel Janusz, who serves at the unit's anti-terrorist officer, was a member of the evaluation team and observed the exercise with a focus on security capabilities and procedures.

"From the ATO perspective, the suspicious package exercise is a way to test the wing's mail-handling procedures to ensure personnel take appropriate actions to counter such threats against the base populace," said Janusz. "It's a team effort to maintain our wing's safety, security and operations."

A staged package filled with a simulated hazardous substance eventually reached the mail distribution center. The package possessed a telltale appearance common of real-world threats making it recognizable by a well-trained eye. It was training and experience that enabled Master Sgt. Kevin Ruel, knowledge operations manager with the 103rd Operations Group, to identify the package as a simulated threat and take action.

"Even in our day-to-day, seemingly ordinary tasks, we must always strive to remain vigilant against potential threats," said Ruel. "A task that is normally safe, such as processing mail, can even present dangers."

Once the threat was identified, a flurry of activity ensued under the watchful eyes of the exercise evaluators. Ruel's training guided him as he swiftly made use of the building's public address system to initiate an orderly evacuation. First responders from the 103rd Security Forces Squadron and the 103rd Civil Engineer Squadron rapidly arrived on scene and took control of the situation as evacuating Airmen made sure their peers were all accounted for and safely positioned out of harm's way. Meanwhile, Ruel continued to follow procedures and worked to contain the simulated threat.

"It is critical to treat exercises like this seriously and with respect so that we can swiftly rely on what we have learned to ensure that we react appropriately and safely in a real-world scenario," said Ruel. "Exercises that we partake in not only prepare us to excel on future inspections, but also keep us and our fellow Airmen safe and secure."

As the first responders worked to contain and neutralize the simulated threat, Ruel was isolated to prevent additional contamination, and those who evacuated were relocated to a safer location. As the exercise began to wind down, evaluators continued to observe and document what they witnessed.

"Having these types of exercises and inspections is a great way to identify vulnerabilities for continuous process improvement," said Master Sgt. Michael Weissgarber, wing senior knowledge operations manager. "We have been continuously looking at our processes and resources to come up with the best solution to ensure we are protecting the installation as well as mitigating the risk to the base populace."

After the exercise ended, members of the wing inspection team came together to compare notes and to discuss their findings to prepare to write an evaluation report with the goal of identifying strengths as well as areas in need of improvement with the goal of enhancing the unit's readiness and performance.

"Overall the unit did well, but there is always room for improvement," said Guerrera. "The goal now is to build this report to serve as a roadmap for those that will ultimately build upon the successes and correct any deficiencies we identify."