VALLEJO — About 60 SWAT team members descended on Six Flags Discovery Kingdom on Wednesday to deal with scenarios that in real life would be a disaster.
Two men with handguns set a fire at the park’s water arena and ambushed the responding firefighters and police. They set off a bomb. They took hostages from among the park’s patrons.
“It’s complete chaos right now,” Vallejo Police Lt. John Whitney said as he stood in the parking lot organizing the various exercises.
The imagined incident started at 8 a.m. Special Weapons and Tactical teams from the Fairfield, Benicia, Napa and Vallejo police departments and the Sheriff’s Office responded. They prowled the park with their camouflage uniforms, helmets and assault rifles. A California Highway Patrol helicopter circled overhead.
Whitney walked past the park’s giant coasters and other rides on his way to the Lakeside Family Games section. He saw a police officer sitting on a bench near the Dippin’ Dots stand.
“Are you OK?” Whitney said.
“I’ve been killed already,” the officer said glumly. “I got ambushed.”
Even in a fantasy, not all the results are good.
A woman volunteer playing a park patron crouched between a stone trash container and a Batman statue, hoping to stay alive. A supposed gunman peered out the window of the adjacent Studio 6F store, framed by mannequins modeling T-shirts.
“Active shooter, Studio 6F,” the police scanner blared as the sound of shots – blanks – rang through the air.
A few minutes later, a handful of SWAT members crept up to the store. They entered the front door of Studio 6F. And they conquered. The shooter could be seen through the open door on the floor and a SWAT member called for a tourniquet.
Another scenario broke out across the plaza. A gunman had taken a hostage in another shop, though SWAT officers had no idea which.
More SWAT members came to the area. Sheriff’s deputies drove the massive, gray Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicle past a fountain with statues of leaping dolphins.
Organizers had the scenario worked out. Hostage negotiators would negotiate with the gunman. That would give them some training.
But a SWAT member spotted the gunman quickly and in this imaginary world shot him, at the very least wounding him. That freed the hostages with no need for negotiations.
Whitney talked of setting up another hostage situation. These exercises had a certain fluidity to them, with new challenges arising as the need dictated.
SWAT members had blue tape on their rifles, indicating the rifles had been inspected and contained no ammunition. Organizers had no desire to break out of the world of fantasy.
Often, rifles fire paintballs during such exercises. Not this time, not in Discovery Kingdom, an amusement park that is home to various animal attractions.
“If you miss and you hit an animal – we don’t want that,” Whitney said. “When the blanks are fired, it will be away from the animals. And the smoke we’re using, it’s well away from the animals.”
After several hours of exercises would come the post-mortem.
“At the end of the day, we’ll sit down and talk about what mistakes were made, how do we fix it and what training is needed in the future,” Whitney said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.