A day in the life of an intern: Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack training exercises

Hi! My name is Alex Worth and I’m wrapping up a 9-week internship at MARC through the Leadership Tomorrow program with the Jewish Federation of Kansas City. Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in two Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack (CCTA) Task Force training exercises, by far the most interesting experience during my time here.

The CCTA Task Force is a subcommittee of the Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Council. It was established in July 2017 after the region was awarded a $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The CCTA Task Force aims to help the region prepare for CCTA emergencies — terrorist attacks which occur at multiple occasions in quick succession. They do this by increasing coordination among law enforcement and emergency services agencies across the region, teaching situational and community awareness, and conducting training exercises.

The first training exercise took place on Thursday, July 18. I drove to Maple Park Middle School to be a photographer for the day. I did not know what to expect before showing up, but what I witnessed was amazing, to say the least.

Police officers from all over the Kansas City region were in attendance, geared up in what they would wear in an actual attack: bullet proof vests, protective eye-wear and helmets/masks. What took me off guard were the guns the officers were carrying. I didn’t ask what type of weapons they were, but they appeared to be semi-automatic; they were quite large and very intimidating.

The officers took part in three separate training exercises. The first was to navigate through the school’s hallways and take out the mock terrorist. I put on a green safety vest and a pair of safety glasses and followed the officers — standing far enough back to not get shot with the paintball-like projectiles — as they moved in a single-file line, each officer putting a hand on the shoulder of the officer in front of him or her. After about 10 minutes, the officers eliminated the target and the drill ended.

A few minutes later, the second drill began. For this, the goal was to eliminate the targets while also freeing a hostage. To make it even more difficult, speakers played loud noises in an effort to limit communication between the officers. This exercise was much more difficult and intense than the first, but the officers finished quickly and flawlessly.

On Tuesday, July 23, I drove to Frank Rushton Middle School for a second training exercise. This one was more intense, as there were not just area police officers, but it involved EMTs and other emergency workers. Six actors, including myself, played victims. We ran through five different drills, all of which were based on CCTAs that have occurred in the past.

Before each drill, the shooting victims were given fake gunshot wounds on different parts of their bodies. The goal was to have the police officers come in and defuse the situation by eliminating the target (one of the actors), assess the situation, give medical treatment to each victim and keep everyone “alive” until the EMTs arrived. Once the EMTs showed up, they treated each victim and got us out of the school as quickly and safely as possible. It took about five hours to go through all of the drills, debrief and then set up for the next drill.

Participating in these events was an eye-opening experience. Seeing what goes on during an active shooting incident is a numbing thing to witness but I feel safer knowing emergency workers train for these events. For me, the main takeaway was that no police officer, EMT or resident ever wants to be in a situation like this, but drills like this help us all feel more prepared.