Police officers dressed in SWAT gear and armed with assault rifles stalked the silent hallways of Fort Gordon’s Darling Hall on Wednesday, peering into dark, seemingly empty offices and jotting room numbers whenever they heard movement behind locked doors.
Civilians participating in Wednesday’s drill at Fort Gordon were asked to remain out of sight. A gunman was roaming the Soldiers Services Building, rounding up hostages on the facility’s third floor as he searched for the Defense Department’s accounting department in an attempt to negotiate his cousin’s release from jail.
It was a ritual reminiscent of the 1950s, when workers ducked under desks and covered their heads in anticipation of nuclear blastsToday’s threats include bombings, hazardous material spills, and armed sociopaths.
“There is a lot of threat in today’s world,” Col. Robert Barker, Fort Gordon garrison commander, said of the purpose behind the post’s annual anti-terrorism week, a full-scale exercise in which soldiers and civilians are trained on how to respond to bombing attacks, weather disasters and major crime. “Ensuring that our folks know how to respond and our emergency personnel know what actions to take to protect our soldiers, families and civilians is critical.”
The drill began about 1:10 p.m. Wednesday with a man’s voice on the Soldier Services Building’s loudspeaker saying, “Lockdown. Lockdown. Lockdown. There is an active shooter in the area of Darling Hall.”
Within minutes, police raced to the building. The facility’s first floor was evacuated and Fort Gordon’s security rating was upped three levels, effectively closing the front gate and halting all traffic in and out of the post.
Thirty minutes later, the suspect was pinned inside a room, his demands were heard and negotiations started. After an hour, the shooter was arrested and the hostages were set free.
Barker said the exercise went well and “everyone acted as they were supposed to when the firing started.”
Cynthia Kraemer has lived on Fort Gordon for three years and this was the first time she had seen the drill in action.
She had an appointment at Darling Hall to get her son’s ID card renewed. When combat teams arrived, she took shelter under a tree.
“It’s reassuring to know they keep Fort Gordon safe in case someone comes on post armed with a bomb or gun,” said Kraemer, who had to wait nearly 90 minutes to get inside Darling Hall.
Betty Usry, a Fort Gordon transportation clerk, works inside the Soldier Services Building. She said she was immediately told to leave the building when word spread of a shooter.
“We need to have these drill all over America,” Usry said. “This scenario could have really happened.”
Anti-terrorism exercises are expected to continue Thursday, said J.C. Mathews, public affairs officer at Fort Gordon.
Mathews recommended that, if possible, personnel postpone non-official business on the installation until the exercise is complete.