Space Center Emergency Response Team Hones Skills
By Steven Siceloff, NASA's Kennedy Space Center // September 3, 2014
rehearsal for KSC's Emergency Response Team
ABOVE VIDEO: NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Emergency Response Team performs training simulations to keep their skills current. Members of the Emergency Response Team recently placed in the top five overall at the 2013 International SWAT Roundup in Orlando, Florida.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA — The low-pitched, muffled sound of a helicopter came from a distance, but it didn’t take long before the white shape of a Huey came into sight.
It circled a largely empty field at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida before slowing to a hover while camo-clad police officers aboard got to their feet.
A few seconds of hovering gave them enough time to throw out two lengths of rope reaching down to the ground.
Each of the officers took hold of the rope with gloved hands and booted feet before sliding down single file in a textbook display of fast-roping.
The group disappeared behind some brush before emerging with gear at the ready and moving toward an empty blockhouse that had served as a launch control station in the distant past.
The officers converged on one door before working their way methodically through the inside. Their strides purposeful and swift, team members executed the assigned task to be able to declare the area cleared of hostiles and safe.
The whole episode was a rehearsal for Kennedy’s Emergency Response Team, or ERT, as it continues shaping itself into a force adapted for contemporary threats to worker and workplace safety.
Just as NASA requires its launch teams and astronauts to practice complex skills and techniques over and over and over, the ERT members run regular simulations that can focus on a single, specific skill or combine a host of operational needs.
After all, even a momentary distraction can cause a finger to slip or a hand to miss the grasp and the trooper to fall a couple stories onto the ground.
That’s why fellow officers watch each of the simulations closely and bring back a number of corrections and tips for the team to work on.
As the training grows in complexity, it begins to involve the units they work with, such as Kennedy’s aerial operations team that flies the helicopters.
“We have to know that we can make the right decisions in a very composed way under stressful conditions.”
A couple weeks after the fast-roping work and building incursion, the officers were back in the helicopter, this time over the Indian River, which makes the western boundary of the space center. The helicopter came in low, kicking up a fog of water around the chopper, partially masking the six officers that pushed off from the doors and into the river.
The ERT force made its way to one of the sandy islands in the river and came ashore as it would in a real situation. With the simulation ended, the team climbed aboard the waiting helicopter on the island and did the whole run again.
Previously focused nearly completely on guarding astronauts, space shuttles, scientific spacecraft and their launch vehicles, Kennedy’s police force, including the Emergency Response Team, or ERT, is resetting its training to focus more on workplace safety and to prepare for situations such as hostage-taking or active-shooter scenarios.
“A lot of our training and the measures we take daily focus on deterring and reacting to potentially violent criminal activity,” Young said.
“We’re still responsible for the same traditional missions related to resource protection, but the priority of the missions is changing to life safety. It’s important for us to anticipate what threats might arise and to train for those threats so that when it happens here, we’re prepared for it.”
Kennedy’s environment prompts a wide range of training requirements because of its vast size — 144,000 acres – and diverse settings. The officers have to be ready to work in everything from gator-packed swamps to pine forests and subtropical brush to the industrial area, with its dedicated facilities and densely packed office buildings.
“Our training focuses on how to protect the people that are here at Kennedy Space Center,” Young said.
“We’re training to respond to critical incidents and emergencies that other SWAT teams prepare for. For example we are prepared to conduct tactical searches for armed or dangerous persons that might flee into wooded areas or structures.”
The ERT, which is outfitted similarly to a big city’s SWAT team, has long used helicopters, boats and armored vehicles to execute its protection mission. The same means are being employed now to perform in these different situations, too.
Making sure his team is ready for the varying scenarios prompts repeated training including simulated scenarios complete with detailed settings.
“We can’t just operate by ourselves,” Young said.
“It takes collaboration with the entire security force, Air Operations and a lot of intricate planning. It’s very rewarding for me to see the officers come together to safely and successfully resolve these difficult situations.”