A pop of gunfire cuts through the air. The intonations of chaos can be heard and felt from all directions. Shell casings litter the floor. People scramble, trying to make their way out of Milpitas’ BART Station.
Law enforcement officers pour onto the scene, their weapons in aim.
They see bleeding bodies on the ground. They spot individuals with gaping gun wounds, gasping for air.
This scene occured at Milpitas’ BART Station (still under construction) last Saturday…but was actually part of a staged safety exercise, coordinated by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.
Yet the fact that it was not real did nothing to detract from the situation’s intensity.
This training exercise, which has been thoughtfully planned over the last six months, has called for a deep collaborative effort between the Milpitas Police Department, the San Jose Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office, BART Police, BART, VTA, Milpitas Fire Department, San Jose Fire Department, and Santa Clara County EMS.
“We do realistic scenario trainings quite often,” said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith. “But BART to Santa Clara County is brand new, so obviously this is something we thought should be incorporated into our regular training.”
L to R: Sergeant Reginald Cooks (Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office), Officer Lee Tirona (CHP), Alex Shoor (VTA), Undersheriff Rick Sung (Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office), Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, & Sergeant Richard Glennon (Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office).
The realistic scenario training on this particular day involved two men playing the role of assailants, complete with guns and a backpack of explosives, so as to create a threat against the “public”, which was composed of many dozens of volunteers. The two assailants, as well as the public, were tasked with creating chaos, so that when law enforcement came on the scene, the set-up would be as realistic as possible.
Forty-one of the volunteers were from the regional Academy, which is run by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. Other recruits from various law enforcement agencies also took part in the training.
Four make-up artists were on hand, creating realistic-looking wounds and contusions on the faces, backs, legs, and arms of volunteers.
Fire Captain Mitch Matlow, a Public Information Officer with the San Jose Fire Department, spent some time with his 15-year-old daughter before the event, building wounds. Captain Matlow first began in theater in the fourth grade, and started learning theatrical makeup as part of his education. While teaching at a Paramedic Program at Stanford, he did theatrical makeup on victims in trauma classes. That’s how he started learning how to build wounds. He taught his daughter how to do theatrical makeup specific to trauma training when she was only 5. Captain Matlow refers to his now 15-year-old daughter as a “master”, and says her talent for creating realistic wounds exceeds his own.
When asked about the training that Fire Personnel receive in regard to BART, the Captain stated, “It’s an ongoing training process. Some people in the department are fully trained, and others haven’t started. We’re the biggest department in the County, and so it’s taking some time. This is a new hazard and a new problem. And we’ve had to come up with new training to support it.”
From Matlow’s department, 10 San Jose Fire personnel and 2 San Jose Fire dispatchers were present for the safety exercise. “Some of them will be doing role-playing where they go in as rescuers. Some are overhead staff for the drills, and some staff for the planning of the drill,” said Captain Matlow. “Some are observers who are watching the drill unfold so they are better equipped to train people in the future. Generally speaking, in the active shooter situation, law enforcement goes in and creates an area they believe is safe to go into. Then our teams will go with them for protection and to locate the victims and get the treatment and hopefully get them out there.”
Frank Lucarelli, a Security Consultant for the VTA, has been working round-the-clock to ensure that certain elements of Milpitas’ BART station are built to code and meet all FTA mandates.
“I think there’s been a huge team of people making sure that this operates as safely and securely as possible,” said Lucarelli.
Lucarelli, who worked for almost 23 years with the BART Police, has been serving on a Law Enforcement Coordination Committee for the past five years, meeting others on a quarterly basis to discuss law enforcement issues related to the BART and VTA stations. Six months ago, when the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department approached Lucarelli saying they wanted to use the Milpitas BART station for a safety exercise, he, among many others, helped to facilitate it.
From the Milpitas Police Department, just over 15 individuals, from officers to dispatchers to SWAT team members, took part in Saturday’s exercise.
“I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to train with the Sheriff’s office, and the BART Police Department. It’s all of our goals, to keep our community safe. And this helps to place us in a position of readiness,” said Milpitas Chief of Police Armando Corpuz. “We will be able to identify our strengths in a deployment such as this and we may identify some gaps where we need to be better, and we’ll work towards that. The collaboration between the Sheriff’s office, the Milpitas Police Department, and the BART Police Department is critical for community safety.”