Boston to host "Urban Shield" training operations this weekend

Boston residents! This weekend you might notice some weird stuff going on. Most likely, the SWAT raid, hostage-type freaky scenarios you may come across on November 3 or 4 will be fake. "Urban Shield Boston 2012" is coming to town.

What's going to happen, exactly? We can't be sure. Will the events involve surprise military drills, like those that took place in Boston last year and Worcester this past August? According to the city, no. But there will be lots of SWAT teams!

A product of the post-9/11 "homeland security" environment, "Urban Shield" drills have been going on for a while now in cities nationwide. (These drills are not to be confused with military drills like "Urban Warrior", which took place off the coast of Oakland in 1999 and involved 6,000 US Marines and a "mid-intensity" urban combat operation.)

It appears as if Alameda County, California got the jump on police nationwide and has come to dominate the urban shield competitions. This year the exercises in Alameda were only one part of a larger, four day event that included a "vendor" showroom and demonstrations of hot up and coming police surveillance tools, like drones. Weapons and tactical companies were invited to submit their tools to the police and first responders in advance if they wanted cops to try them out in real time. Bizarrely, companies like Target and Verizon sponsored the event, alongside weapons companies and firms that manufacture things like riot shields. The Verizon blurb on the website reads: "Make a difference for your agency with the right experience, network and strategic alliances." (I hope the company isn't talking about this kind of strategic alliance.)

What can we expect in Boston this weekend when Urban Shield 2012 rolls into town? We aren't entirely sure. The Boston urban shield project has a fancy website like that in Alameda (it actually looks like it was designed by the same person), but it apparently hasn't been updated to reflect the 2012 events.

The little we know comes from a short statement posted on the City of Boston's website on Halloween evening. It says the exercises will involve police departments and first responders from Boston and surrounding towns, and is funded by the Department of Homeland Security's Urban Areas Security Initative (UASI), which also funds the Metropolitan Boston Homeland Security Region office that coordinates the (annual?) drill. "The goal of Urban Shield is to test and evaluate specific public safety capabilities that have been developed, or enhanced, with the investment of funds received from the Department of Homeland Security through the UASI grant program," says the Boston homeland security office.

One week after a powerful storm left tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents without power, the first responder and police training appears to focus exclusively on preparing for terrorist attacks, hazardous material attacks or "active shooter" type scenarios.

According to the City:

On Saturday, the area will host Urban Shield: Boston, a 24-hour training exercise that simulates large-scale public safety incidents in the metro-Boston area.  Urban Shield: Boston will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday and conclude at 8 a.m. Sunday. It will include personnel from the City of Boston, (including Boston Police, Fire, and EMS) Metro-Boston Homeland Security Region, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals and UMass Boston, and the United States Coast Guard.  This exercise will assess each team’s ability to successfully respond to, and manage, public safety events and other emergencies occurring simultaneously throughout the Boston area.
 
Urban Shield: Boston will run for a 24-hour period.  As a result residents in the area may hear simulated gunfire, observe officers responding to simulated emergencies, or see activity in the Boston Harbor.  Each scenario will be run multiple times, and organizers urge residents not to be alarmed. There is no danger to anyone in the area, and exercises will be done in cordoned-off areas away from the public.
Among the areas of the city to be subject to the exercises are the entire UMASS Boston campus, the Bowdoin MBTA station, eight Boston hospitals and a now shuttered cinema in Brookline. The city's website offers a complete list of affected neighborhoods.

In addition to the Boston Police Department and police departments from surrounding cities and towns in the "Metro Boston Homeland Security Region," SWAT teams from all over Massachusetts (and one from New Hampshire) will also participate in this weekend's events.

You can watch part of one of the 2011 Boston exercises below.

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