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Proposals to "End Urban Shield as Currently Constituted"

On November 19, 2018, members of the Ad Hoc Committee on(Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) presented proposals for Alameda County's emergency preparedness and use of  UASI funds, to fulfill the Board of Supervisors' mandate to end Urban Shield as currently constituted. Below are what each committee member presented.

Criteria and Goals for Design and Evaluation of UASI-funded Exercises

Cinthya Muñoz proposals

1.     The UASI-funded exercise should no longer be called Urban Shield.

2.     Alameda County alternative departments apply for grants and coordinate emergency preparedness activities

3.     Major components of exercises are coordinated by the actual sectors participating, for example, the fire exercise should be coordinated by fire, medical exercise should be coordinated by medical.

4.     Exercises should prioritize activities according to the likelihood and severity of respective disasters, with special attention to risks from earthquakes and fires, and the mass displacement that may result. For example, it would have been great if we had rehearsed the plan for how to house all those un-housed given the toxicity in the air right now as a result of the fires we are experiencing.

5.     The number of scenarios and amount of time in each scenarios for non-law enforcement teams should be as much if not more than those for law enforcement teams.

6.     The objectives of scenarios should be established first; the scenarios should be designed to meet those objectives

7.     Objectives of scenarios should not be built around assessing utility of equipment from private vendors.

8.     The UASI-funded exercise should not include a vendor show.

9.     The UASI-funded exercise should strengthen community-led preparedness.

10.  All participants in the UASI-funded exercise should receive an orientation to the vision for disaster prevention, response, recovery, preparedness and resiliency programs in Alameda County and the Bay Area region.

11.  Community volunteers must represent the diverse demographics, values and attitudes of the actual community of the impact area.

12.  Community volunteers for role players are assigned active and responding roles in disaster scenarios, often acting helpless or being harmed.

13.  The UASI-funded exercise should foster cooperation within and between agencies and jurisdictions.

14.  The competition aspect of UASI-funded exercise should be eliminated.

15.  There should be an assessment at the end of each UASI-funded exercise of all those participating in order to harvest the lessons while still fresh in everyone’s mind and support the planning for the work throughout the year. For example, the assessment may tell us we need to develop the capacity around one particular skill within the different sectors.

16.  Language used to describe the exercise should reflect a whole community approach. For example, replaces  “command” with something more collaborative language (“exercise”).

17.  Post-action Debrief activities should follow basic best practices to harvest lessons learned. For example, the evaluator should facilitate a discussion among participants, rather than by beginning with their observations which can leave little if any room for difference of opinion and can sometimes inhibit lessons learned for better practices.

John Lindsay-Poland proposals

1.     The group setting priorities for UASI-training and exercises includes representatives of public health, social service, and housing agencies, as well as of CBOs that work directly with populations most at-risk in disasters, including homeless, older, undocumented, physically disabled, and mentally ill persons, within the BAUASI area.

2.     Community and service agencies provide leadership roles in planning, implementation, participation, and evaluation of those exercises that do not involve law enforcement participation.

3.     Community and service agency participation in planning, implementation, and evaluation respects confidentiality and excludes sharing of information on specific clients or information gathering and retention by law enforcement agencies.

4.     The goals and criteria for design and evaluation adopted by the Board of Supervisors have been incorporated in full into the Memorandum of Understanding between Alameda County and BAUASI for regional training and exercise. If we are to create guidelines, they need to be memorialized and binding in what is essentially the contract for the exercise.

5.     In addition to UASI funds, Alameda County resources previously dedicated to Urban Shield – which have been considerable, especially in Sheriff’s Office overtime and salary bumps for participation - are directed to support the design goals and evaluation processes in these recommendations.

6.     Coordinators have implemented a clear, accessible process for community and press observation of all parts of exercises. This has often not been clear.

7.     Evaluations address how well agency teams and participants worked with those in roles of community members, including those who show leadership or have information related to the disaster or impacted people. In the 2018 CERT exercise, volunteer roles were of helpless persons, though in a disaster community members often show leadership.

8.     Dedicate as many or more resources and time to prevention of and recovery from critical emergencies as are dedicated to response to such emergencies.

Law enforcement        

9.     Team evaluations assign positive value to survival of all persons in scenarios, including suspects, in addition to value to survival of those who may be under threat by suspects. The best outcome, even in violent situations, is everyone survives, which should be reflected in how participants are evaluated. Score sheets show penalty for harm to law enforcement or hostages, but not for harm to suspects.

10.  Exercises do not include participation by SWAT teams. The rationale is a) SWAT have had lot of participation, and it’s time for other agencies to get more resources; b) many disaster situations don’t require SWAT or first on scene are not SWAT; and c) SWAT teams primarily serve warrants on households of color.

11.  Exercise prepares agency personnel who are likely to have to respond to disasters, but who may not be dedicated disaster response personnel (e.g. non-SWAT law enforcement). Prepare whole agencies, not just elite within the agency.

12.  Team evaluations include assessment of teams’ compliance with their jurisdictions' policies and laws for use of force. We have problem of killings by police, compared to any other nation. Each department has policies and laws for use of force, but evaluation did not reference them, those most involved use of force.

13.  Evaluations of teams include assessment of respect demonstrated for community and non-law enforcement actors, including those who exhibit leadership or knowledge of situation or of persons involved.

14.  At least one half of scenarios emphasize and assess teams’ capacity for de-escalation of risk of violence.

15.  Scenarios are of sufficient duration to test and practice capabilities besides immediate tactical response (prevention, recovery), as well as de-escalation techniques. Urban Shield is set up with 36 scenarios in 48 hours, with transportation time between them, so only 10-15 minutes is for role play. This is artificially created amount of time for kinetic response to already violent situation, insufficient for testing skills for de-escalation, prevention, or recovery. There is no reason it needs to be that way.


16.  Exercise is calendared at time outside of anticipated heavy operational needs for each discipline. Urban Shield has been scheduled in September, previously in October, in the midst of fire season, when fire departments may be called on for active fires.

Matt Snelson proposals

1.     Overall: Refine not reject scenarios, training, and exercise. Funding at FEMA level is identified as having terrorism nexus. This is subset of funding set aside for that nexus. There are a number of sources of funding larger than the $5 million here that are set aside for disaster preparedness exercises, earthquake response, mass casualty incidents. That said, all these exercises and training should monopolize those funding sources and allow this region to be better prepared for all those events. There is overlap in preparation for terrorism and natural disaster response. I don’t want us to get lost. We do need to train for manmade disaster. We’re reminded of that regionally and nationally. And Urban Shield is addressing some of that preparation for our region.

2.     Keep guidelines adopted by Alameda County Supervisors and Sheriff’s Office. It was responsive to community input.

3.     City of Berkeley recommendations – most are acceptable and add on to Alameda County adopted. Rally around themes:

a.     Compliance team. That is a good addition to training, to have transparency and oversight. Maybe massage that to get oversight we’re looking for.

b.     Scenario-creation team. There is space to discuss what percentage we’re looking for in region, who is putting them on. That is in weeds for this committee. Instead, form committee of experts on annual basis that gives recommendations for scenarios in exercise.

4.     Surveillance technology: We need to further define what surveillance means. Is a camera surveillance equipment? There is a place for cameras, that may or may not be defined as surveillance. Alameda County has committee looking at surveillance; I would defer to what that committee comes up with.

5.     Continue to use SWAT teams to participate in exercises. I agree that SWAT are not responding to events for which they’re trained, but they are subject matter experts. We don’t have full-time SWAT teams in county, but they are leaders in their teams. It’s right group to focus on to test in this exercise.

6.     Overall authority and control for funding: BAUASI approval authority controls and oversees threat assessment. Seven of 10 are not law enforcement. This isn’t ACSO by themselves deciding what region should be doing for terrorism-nexus training.

Ana-Marie Jones proposals

All my proposals are under some concepts:

a)     We should categorically reject either/or idea that we either have well-funded Urban Shield-type exercise OR we have things that train community.

b)    b) Everything we do follows whole community approach to build cultures of readiness

c)     History: One reason we are in this painful conversation is we haven’t put into our funding stream certain rules and guidance so that we become better with every piece of funding

  1. We should always have printed information posted bulleted objectives at each event, less observers become passive witnesses. This should be experience where anyone can show up and have informed view.
  2. Anyone conducting post-action debrief activities should follow basic facilitator techniques. You can accidentally instill awful behaviors if you don’t debrief things properly. We should be squeezing every drop of knowledge from these multi-million dollar exercise with many human hours put in.
  3. We should look at community-led facilitation throughout entire process. We need community engagement, and for this to work for our whole and diverse community.
  4. Use of volunteers: We have volunteers who are made up as disaster victims. Not best way to use volunteers. Be more sensitive to benefit from diverse knowledge that volunteers bring. Reject idea that average person is a victim. I’d rather community members take almost any role besides sitting as a disaster victim. Community should not be positioned so that’s they think of themselves.
  5. We should be always harvesting volunteers’ knowledge, because volunteer component is a constant turnover. We keep losing information after each one of these.
  6. We need to look at how UASI-funded exercise is marketed to public: images shared, messaged shared, things not shared. Look with critical eye. Much of upset is with perception of what could be happening – traceable to how it’s shared.
  7. Media and public engagement: We should training media on coverage of these events. That has not come into emergency exercises. Community media need to be part of it.
  8. Public engagement beyond volunteers. It’s done on TV all the time – you have a dance competition and people put in their ideas. We should use this to learn what community knows, what they fear, how they can contribute. We’ve limited to those who volunteer.
  9. Community agencies whose support is needed (e.g. Eden I&R, VOAD), should be empowered and supported to bring in nonprofits and faith agencies. They’re left to do that from their own pockets. If we want inclusion of nonprofits and faith agencies, be sure those who support them have resources to do so.
  10. Public Health and Social Services barely able to do community outreach, have lost that capacity. So we should expect gaps. They need to be fully brought in and understand what they need to fully participate. Can’t fully leverage ability to get other funds, because not in funding pool.
  11. Bay Area used to be the leaders of engaged community: We should be returning to that mindset and learn lessons from last several years.

Erin Armstrong proposals

Four main recommendations. Last two weeks demonstrated importance of Urban Shield program: mass shooting and urban wild fire in Thousand Oaks; Camp Fire and evacuations in Butte County, still in that process. Even a police-involved shooting in Camp Fire evacuation. That’s why we need programs that can give adequate opportunity to fire, first responders, bomb squad, etc. to coordinate and exercise training

  1. Need more cross-command exercises. E.g. scenario in San Mateo Co. with dirty bomb. Objective was to find bomb and kill terrorist, called in bomb squad, then done. Could have actually called in bomb squad, to encourage teams to work togethe
  2. Need more de-escalation training, especially for SWAT teams. One we went to described as de-escalation was not; it was less than lethal force training involving a sponsor with less than lethal force gun to incapacitate victim. Teams were shown equipment. Use of that weapon was baked into scenario. Need teams to practice their de-escalation techniques. Part of that is ascribe positive value to all life in scenarios. Reward teams who de-escalate situation. Not always possible, but in training emphasize ability to do that. Otherwise, we’re essentially creating hit squad
  3. Should be rotating core of Urban Shield. Public face and core has been SWAT team. There was effort to expand, including in marketing materials. In middle, biggest head was SWAT team – clear that tactical is core of Urban Shield. What would it look like if fire, EMS or CERT were core. Want to rotate, especially around fire. Death toll over last two weeks between manmade and natural disasters, natural disasters is winning 7 or 8 to 1.
  4. Make ongoing this ad hoc committee to monitor and make recommendations, at least through 2019. Not necessarily to meet every two weeks. There is value in this committee and to make recommendations directly to Board of Supervisors, needed in implementation of 2019 MOU and 2020 exercises. Need to monitor, have foot on ground and continue make recs for following years.

More detailed recommendations in the weeds:

a)     Have more consistent role-playing in exercise. Saw scenarios where it wasn’t clear if role player was supposed to point gun at SWAT or away. To evaluate and compare, we need consistent role playing.

b)    Need improved evaluation. What we saw in de-escalation scenario felt more like a sales pitch than a debrief. It was more about how weapon worked, than about letting team in exercise talk about their experience of deciding when to use weapon. It seemed to center around the vendor who’d provided weapon. Need to maximize value from debriefing.

c)     Would like to see multi-disciplinary teams. Currently they’re siloed in SWAT, fire, EMS. Have exercise that involves expertise from all disciplines.

d)    Would like to stress-test more than just the SWAT team, which gets 48-hour stress test. What about fire? When a major wild fire comes to Oakland Hills, it will be go-time until it’s done.

e)     More community involvement: Leading up to community fair this year there was search for location. Some of promotion for that wasn’t put together at last minute. That could grow and grow. Like to fill a parking lot at Coliseum with people learning how to respond to natural or manmade disasters. Mock evacuations of neighborhoods that are at risk of fire. Many ways to involve community.

f)     Rebrand and re-market outreach. Think of who is audience for materials. Many designed for first-responder audience. Community perceives it in different way. 

Find more resources here on the Alameda County Ad Hoc Committee on UASI and emergency preparedness.

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