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Drill tests Salt Lake police in extreme situation

They deal with explosive device and hostage-taking

Salt Lake City police officers Darren Austill, left, and Robert Kohl participate in a mock disaster exercise on Wednesday.
Salt Lake City police officers Darren Austill, left, and Robert Kohl participate in a mock disaster exercise on Wednesday.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

Salt Lake City police Wednesday tuned up their skills for dealing with a large disaster.

Although the department has participated in other exercises before like when it was preparing for the Olympics and after 9/11, Wednesday's drill was the first time a mass exercise was set up and run exclusively by Salt Lake City police.

The training scenarios were taken from real-life incidents around the world and molded to fit possible situations in Utah, said Salt Lake City Police Lt. Jim Coleman, who is also the head of the city's Homeland Security operation.

In the drill, a woman in a car was found with an explosive device wrapped around her chest near a set of refinery tanks at 1900 North and 1350 West.

Officers learned at least two other men kidnapped the woman's family at another location and were holding them hostage. In the drill, the suspects threatened to kill her family if she didn't wear the explosives and go to the fuel tanks.

While officers were engaged in the drill, other supervising officers observed from the side taking notes.

"We want the officers to be successful. But we also want to challenge them by letting them face something they don't normally face," Coleman said.

The scenario was also meant to test how the department would handle being faced with two significant incidents happening simultaneously, he said. Once the drill ended, organizers met to discuss what went right and what areas needed improvement.

About 75 officers participated in the exercise.

Chief Rick Dinse said the drill helped train his officers for situations that require quick thinking.

"You can have a lot of plans in place, but they don't always fit the situation," he said. "Exercise and training is essential."

He pointed to the current disaster in New Orleans and Mississippi as an example of a scenario that emergency crews could not have planned for and are being constantly challenged to adapt to new problems.

But with proper training an officer's instincts just naturally kick in, Snyder said.

Although no single exercise can reproduce a real world situation, Dinse said the drill was designed to give officers "the extreme situation."

Salt Lake City police hope to do one major Homeland Security training exercise each year with a few minor drills throughout the year, Snyder said.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com