Army training helped dispatcher filter, funnel emergency calls during Navy Yard shoot out
Training is an investment in a valuable commodity that produces high returns. Training, particularly military training, often sets service members apart in dealing with a chaotic situation. Learning to slow down one’s adrenaline and think through a problem or situation in a systemic manner and respond appropriately takes training.
Heather Wood, a former active duty military police assigned to the 35th Military Police Detachment at Fort Gordon, learned firsthand how valuable her military training was Sept. 16 in Washington, D.C. She was one of the dispatchers for the Patuxent Naval Air Station when a flood of calls started coming in.
Reports of a gunman entering the building at the Navy Yard with a shotgun were being received. “With such a huge influx of emergency calls that day I also helped answer the Navy Yard 911 lines and retrieved updated information to give to [emergency] responders,” Wood said.
Remaining calm in a crisis takes training – ongoing training - and Wood was adequately prepared to help the hours-long manhunt and lockdown which took place blocks away from the U.S. Capitol building that day. As far back as high school she had been involved in search and rescue missions for downed aircraft and missing persons in woody terrain as a member of the Civil Air Patrol, an official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
Part of the law enforcement training requirements for military police is dealing with scenarios involving simulated active shooters. Wood, who served on active duty after five years in law enforcement, is now a MP reservist assigned to the 443rd Military Police Company in Owings, Md.
“ You learn how to respond to a scene and what to do while there,” the specialist explained.
While assigned to the 35th Military Police Detachment at Fort Gordon Wood worked as a road patrol responding to different calls; a blotter clerk in the MP station a long side the desk sergeant, and a dispatcher fielding calls for the MPs and the fire department. At Fort Gordon she was certified through the National Academy of Fire, Police and Medical Dispatching.
After a permanent change of station move from Fort Gordon, Wood trained in combat support missions as a field MP with the 615th Military Police Company in Grafenwoehr, Germany. In May 2010, her company deployed to Afghanistan and operated in different areas in Regional Command East.
After transferring to the Army Reserve, and once she was hired in September 2012 by the Naval District Center at the Navy Yard she was recertified as a dispatcher through the Association of Public- Safety Communications Officials organization.
“Every [emergency] call can have its own challenges,” Wood explained.”In dealing with the active shooter at the Navy Yard, I just kept calm. I gave instructions to the caller and fed the information to the dispatchers who are assigned to dispatch emergency responders for the Navy yard and they in turn fed them the information I received from my caller.”
After dealing with an actual active shooter, Wood felt the need to pass on some tips she learned during the incident. She encourages everyone to take active shooter training seriously.
“Do not think it cannot happen at your work place or your child’s school, the grocery store or any other public area,” she said. “The numbers of active shooter incidents are rising all the time. Paying attention and being alert can save your life and the lives of others around you.”
The Navy federal dispatcher advised everyone involved in an active shooter situation to remain where they are until a uniformed police officer comes to get them and states that is ok for them to leave the area. “Stay away from windows, breezeways and hallways,” Wood said.
“Do not get up and run because you do not think you can hear the shooter anymore,” she cautioned. “You may not know what the shooter looks like or how many shooters there could be.”
Wood encouraged individuals to remain calm and when it’s safe to call 911. “Give the dispatcher as much information as you can,” she said. “Any and all information is helpful. If the active shooter is in the immediate vicinity, do not talk or even whisper, simply put the phone on the floor so that the dispatcher can still hear what is going on.”
“Finally, be observant, try and listen for any coworkers who might sound like they are injured and where they might be located in the immediate area, said the Patuxent Naval Air Station dispatcher.
When Wood reflects on the Navy Yard “active shooter” incident as well as her military training she sees the true value of training.“When I look back on what I’ve done with my life so far I just feel as though serving the community and country is what I was meant to do,” she said.