Public Safety: Winthrop Plays a Big Role in Large-scale Security Exercise

Though it is easily one of the smallest communities that make up the Boston area UASI (Urban Area Security Initiative – a federal Homeland Security designation), Winthrop last weekend played a very large role in the UASI’s largest full-scale training exercise to date.

Scenes from this past weekend's UASI exercises in Winthrop.

Urban Shield was the name that was given to the two-day, eight site exercise that drilled Boston-area first  responders on special weapons and tactics (SWAT), explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) and urban search and rescue (USAR) drills that were held in Boston, Brookline, Chelsea, Everett, Quincy, Roxbury and Winthrop beginning on Saturday and ending with a major exercise in Boston on Sunday.

Fire Chief Paul Flanagan who sits on the Boston UASI joint council, said that he advocated strongly to have the Winthrop Public Landing and pier included as one of the sites during the Saturday drills.

“I thought it was important that we make sure that Winthrop took a large role in the drills, and this was the way to do it, even if (the specific drills) didn’t require a Winthrop fire response,” said Flanagan.

The Winthrop landing and pier were used to stage a hostage scenario, with terrorists taking control of a ferryboat, necessitating a SWAT team rescue response and Emergency Medical Services support.

Beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, more than a dozen SWAT teams from around eastern Massachusetts and from as far away as Providence, RI and Alameda County, CA, took turns playing out the hostage scenario, with the SWAT teams attempting the board the boat, take control of the situation and rescue the hostages.

The first SWAT team up at 8 a.m. was the MBTA Transit Police SWAT team, which got a late start due to some logistical support problems, but quickly gained access to the blacked out ferry boat, subdued the terrorists and rescued the hostages within 35 minutes from the time they began the drill.

“This exercise was really a major undertaking and it seems to be going pretty well,” said Winthrop Police Chief Terence Delehanty on Saturday morning, just after the first drill got underway.

According to Chief Delehanty and Lieutenant Frank Scarpa, who ran the exercise scene beginning at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, the SWAT teams were scheduled to rotate through Winthrop every 90 minutes throughout the course of the day, with the final team, from Middlesex County Sheriff’s office, set to take the boat late Saturday night.

“The company that produced this exercise for the Boston area has been doing this for four years out in California,” explained Delehanty. “Last year, was the first year that Boston sent a team out to participate in Alameda County and so this year, we’re holding an exercise here and Alameda County sent out a team to take part as well.”

The purpose of exercises like Urban Shield is to give first responders a chance to practice the skills they’ve been taught in as real a situation as possible, so that in the event they ever after perform in a real emergency, they’ll be better prepared. Evaluators at each of the exercise scenes will report about what they observed, indicate what specific teams did well and what areas they need to work on to improve.

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