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RESPONSE READY: SWFL Law enforcement stages massive anti-terrorism exercise to train first responders

More than 300 responders honed their skills in a realistic, coordinated attack scenario at JetBlue Park
Posted at 9:25 PM, Jun 04, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Law enforcement agencies from all over Southwest Florida staged a complex, anti-terrorism drill at JetBlue Park on Tuesday.

More than 300 people came together to hone their skills responding to a real life terrorist attack scenario.

Firefighter talking with a hazmat team member during the simulated chemical attack emergency response.
Firefighter talking with a hazmat team member during the simulated chemical attack emergency response.

You could see firefighters pulling people out of the stadium on stretchers in the middle of the simulated complex coordinated attack.

Eli Lawson, the special agent in charge of FDLE Fort Myers regional operating center, said real-time training this this is critical.

Wide shot of firefighters working with the hazmat squad to rescue role playing volunteers from the simulated chemical attack on the stadium.
Wide shot of firefighters working with the hazmat squad to rescue role playing volunteers from the simulated chemical attack on the stadium.

“Our event today consists of a mock terrorist exercise that is designed to push our first responders to their limits,” said Lawson.

Lawson said that exercise began with emergency response to a chemical attack on the stadium.

Eli Lawson, the special agent in charge of FDLE Fort Myers regional operating center.
Eli Lawson, the special agent in charge of FDLE Fort Myers regional operating center.

Role-playing volunteers yelled out as they shielded their eyes in pain as firefighters and hazmat squads got them out of the stadium to be decontaminated.

Lawson said nearby medic teams had to be prepared for a variety of simulated injuries like trampling and chemical burns.

Role-playing volunteers shielding their eyes in pain from the simulated chemical attack on the stadium.
Role-playing volunteers shielding their eyes in pain from the simulated chemical attack on the stadium.

Then, Lawson said the drill escalated to a bomb threat and active shooter/hostage situation - where the bomb squad used high tech robots!

“What they will do is survey the scene with the robot while the operator stays at a safe distance. There’s an overwatch with a sniper under a truck over there - he’s in play,” explained Lawson.

Survey robots used by the bomb squad during a simulated bomb threat and active shooter/hostage scenario.
Survey robots used by the bomb squad during a simulated bomb threat and active shooter/hostage scenario.

Todd Poland, Fort Myers Fire Department’s special operation chief, said all the agencies training together like this makes a big impact on them.

“Seeing the people here during the exercise means that if a real event actually happens we’ll be able to work together that much better,” said Poland.

Firefighters wheeling a role-playing volunteer out of the stadium on a stretcher.
Firefighters wheeling a role-playing volunteer out of the stadium on a stretcher.

Finally, after victims are treated at the hospital tent, Lawson said they’re brought to a reunification area to be with their friends and family.

As the event wrapped up, Lawson said he’s proud knowing these teams are now better equipped to tackle these situations.

Role-playing victims being brought to the reunification area.
Role-playing victims being brought to the reunification area.

“We’re exposing them as close to real life because we start to build muscle memory because you’ve been there and done it, so you feel more comfortable in a real scenario to address it, and address it quickly,” said Lawson.

Two members of the hazmat team giving a thumbs up.
Two members of the hazmat team giving a thumbs up.