SWAT Training at Six Flags

Police, from multiple Solano and Napa County agencies, get ready to participate in a practice scenario, involving multiple shooters and an bomb explosion, Wednesday at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

Solano County

SWAT squads train at Discovery Kingdom

By From page A1 | March 13, 2014

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.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.

Discussion | 5 comments

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  • rainMarch 13, 2014 - 12:22 am

    So, they probably scared the sh*t out of a bunch of animals. There are many other facilities available for training, like the Solano College campuses on days it is closed. Does anyone think any more?

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  • TDMMarch 13, 2014 - 3:57 pm

    Do you? Let's not be ready in case of something bad happening at an amusement park because we are scaring animals. And before you say nothing like that has ever happened at an amusement park, nobody got killed at movie theaters much before the last couple of years either.

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  • The MisterMarch 13, 2014 - 7:20 am

    It's just to get the people conditioned to seeing a militarized police force out and about. As you get used to it, you will see more and more of it. Before you know it, it will look much like Orwell's 1984.

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  • FF64March 13, 2014 - 4:25 pm

    Unfortunately, a "militarized" police response is required for many critical incidents. Hence the training which is very much necessary. More training equals better, safer, and less likely to pay out in lawsuits.

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  • Rich GiddensMarch 13, 2014 - 6:30 pm

    Really TDM? You know what I think? You and your horrible government caused this societal outcome where we have to have heavily armed troops staging military exercises in public areas. Public schools and amusement parks along with shopping malls are now typically the venue for your stunts. This is not Mayberry RFD----this is Fallujah, Mosul or Mogadishu. Isn't it wonderful and aren't you proud of yourself?

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