Urban Shield: Training is good, but watch the pricetag

Posted Friday, Nov. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Urban Shield disaster drill here this weekend is meant for training and preparation.

Whatever major tornadoes or terrorist threats come our way in the next few years, our police and firefighters will be able to work better across city and county lines after the training this weekend.

The practice drills at 20 locations, with major operations at Tarrant County College Northwest in Fort Worth, will help first responders prepare for simultaneous disasters and learn state-of-the-art response, as taught by the Pleasanton, Calif.-based Cytel Group Inc.

The $275,000 contract is funded out of a $400,000 federal Homeland Security grant through the Arlington-based North Central Texas Council of Governments regional agency.

Basically, it’s a giant SWAT team exercise and civil defense drill.

So what’s the worry?

Plenty, if you read news coverage of recent training in Oakland, Calif., or listen to public criticism at a recent Arlington City Council meeting.

Salon, an online magazine not given to hysteria, referred to Urban Shield as “gun nuts weaponizing your city” and found concern in a corporate trade show “expo” peddling expensive paramilitary gear and training to local police agencies. (The training here does not include the commercial trade show.)

From the other side of the political spectrum, Arlington protesters fear a loss of privacy and an overeager response by local police anxious to justify the cost of paramilitary equipment and lessons.

One Urban Shield critic feared a “police state.”

Critics also noted that Boston hosted an Urban Shield training exercise in 2011 that led in part to city police enforcing a military-style crackdown during the recent search for Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

But in the words of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis to a congressional committee, “It made all the difference … People are alive today because of Urban Shield and the terrorism training.”

Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson said residents should not fear the drills, involving more than 40 police, fire and emergency agencies including Fort Worth, Mansfield, Hood County and the Northeast Tarrant Area SWAT team.

“It’s an exercise in preparedness — for man-made and natural emergencies,” Crowson said.

“It keeps our people safe. We protect our community through these efforts.”

As long as it’s more practice drill than product pitch, there should be no worry.

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