For the second time in less than a week, an active-shooter drill on a military installation led to concerns outside the gates that a tragedy was unfolding.
Tuesday morning, a 911 call about an active shooter sent police and first responders to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida’s Panhandle, but it turned out the caller did not realize officials were conducting an active shooter training exercise, the base said in a Facebook post.
“These exercises are conducted regularly to test our response to ongoing threats,” the base Facebook post stated. “During the exercise, a real world 911 call was made from an adjacent building that resulted in a response by the 325th Security Forces Squadron as well as local law enforcement and first responders. First responders have cleared the building, ensured there was no threat, and the all clear was issued. We have resumed normal operations at this time.”
That incident follows one on Sept. 23 at Fort Meade in Maryland in which an active-shooter drill led to media reports that several people were killed.
The base public affairs office apologized the next day in a Facebook post.
“I appreciate all of your concerns and personally apologize for the confusion and distress caused by yesterday’s media leak tied to the installation’s scheduled Force Protection Exercise,” wrote Chad T. Jones. “As your PAO, I can tell you the last thing you want is for an exercise to become a real-world incident like happened yesterday. "
The confusion happened, said Jones, even though Fort Meade public affairs personnel had “communicated this exercise for the past two weeks on multiple mediums including several messages to each organization’s Public Affairs and operation offices; multiple social media posts; at least one installation town hall, and a media advisory” on Sept. 22.
“Even with all of that effort, a major miscommunication occurred,” said Jones. “The installation responded as soon as it was brought to our attention, but not before it spread unnecessary concern in the community. We will absolutely take the lessons learned yesterday to help us be better in future exercises, and more importantly, if a real-world incident ever occurs.”
Adding to the confusion, said Jones, was that the training exercise was posted on the installation Facebook page as if it were unfolding in real time (albeit with the word “exercise” repeated three times on the top of each post).
As a result, Fort Meade will no longer post scenario information on its public facing pages, according to Jones.
“This should have never happened in the first place as it was not common practice,” Jones stated. “We will also clarify what “notional” media organizations will be participating in our exercises before an exercise begins as an additional measure to keep from potential spillage. "
Public affairs officials at Fort Meade thought that real reporters asking about the exercise were role players and part of the exercise, Military.com reported. So they provided information about the fake crisis thinking it was all part of the training.
“Again, the Public Affairs Office apologizes for any confusion or distress the incident caused,” Jones wrote in is apology. “We will do better.”
This story contains information from the Associated Press
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.