The practice drill that went awry after a 911 call caused a widespread lockdown involving the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Medical Center wasn’t the first emergency mix up Matt Sturgeon has responded to – but it was definitely the largest in scale.
The Riverside Police Department major said “probably upwards of 100” law enforcement officers from multiple jurisdictions rushed to the Air Force base to assist after a call went out Thursday afternoon. Later, he said, it sparked memories of a false alarm in Huber Heights a handful of years ago.
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“They were basically doing a scenario-based training,” he said of the drill in Huber Heights. The designated person to alert dispatch had their call — instead — go to 911.
“It was a completely different (smaller) amount of response than you would have had at the base,” he said.
Sturgeon said Riverside’s response to Wright-Patterson involved two majors and two detectives. They were joined by personnel from sheriff’s offices from Greene and Montgomery counties, as well as police from Dayton, Fairborn, Huber Heights, as well as the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the FBI, he said.
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The size of the response was understandable, Sturgeon said, because of from where the call originated.
“A base that size, it could get ugly quickly if it was the real thing,” he said. “So all those layers start to fall in place and everybody starts to react. And sometimes it takes a couple hours to shut all of the dominoes down when they start falling.”
Sturgeon said Riverside responders were out on call for about 90 minutes.
However Thursday’s scenario played out, base officials said were thankful for the widespread assistance.
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“I would like to highlight that we truly appreciate the outstanding response and support from our local personnel, local law enforcement and responding agencies that came to our aid throughout the Miami Valley region,” said Col. Thomas Sherman, installation commander and 88th Air Base Wing commander.
Former Fairborn Police Chief Patrick Oliver said that typically during such exercises there is constant communication with dispatch, the media and others to make sure the exercise is contained. This often includes having a communication contact between dispatch and people putting on the exercise.
“Generally your policies and procedures need to include there’s no live weapons, that there can be no accidental discharges, that everybody knows their role and purpose, there’s containment of the area where the training is taking place,” said Oliver, who is now a Cedarville University professor.
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“Having said that, there could still be an active at active shooter training, so it’s not going to change the initial response (once someone calls 911),” he said.
Oliver commended the response from military and civilian law enforcement, considering they thought it was a real emergency. This includes discharging a firearm to open an unlocked door if the officer thought someone on the other side of that door posed a risk to the public.
“In an unconventional incident, you got to sometimes use unconventional means,” he said.
Following the Huber Heights mix up years ago, “there’s been some changes made” to protocols by municipalities involving those drills, Sturgeon said.
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“We take great care when we run our drills to make sure that everybody’s on the same page,” he said. “….Because you’d hate to see a tragedy happen out of purely a training drill.”
Concern about what was going on at the base spread across neighboring Fairborn.
“I hope it was an exercise and everyone’s OK,” said Lawren Williams behind the counter of his café, Lefty’s Eats and Espresso downtown, while awaiting info on what happened.
Down the street at Cherry’s Barber Shop, barber Lorrie West expressed frustration about how little information was getting out.
“If somebody caused this incident, they should be held accountable for inducing panic,” she said.