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Full-Scale Exercise Strengthens NETL-Pittsburgh’s Partnership with Law Enforcement
A police officer stands ready at NETL-Pittsburgh as part of a recent emergency preparedness drill.

A police officer stands ready at NETL-Pittsburgh as part of a recent emergency preparedness drill.

On a recent summer morning, more than 30 uniformed and tactical police officers arrived at the NETL research campus near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to participate in drill that simulated a workplace shooting.

As a simulated hostage standoff unfolded, South Park Township police officers, members of the South Hills Area Council of Governments (SHACOG) Critical Incident Response Team and other emergency personnel evacuated those injured and positioned themselves to apprehend the suspect, who was identified as a disgruntled employee.

Meanwhile, members of the NETL-Pittsburgh emergency response organization (ERO) gathered in a command center to ensure on-site and remote staff received timely safety instructions and updates, coordinated road closings and provided law enforcement with resources they needed to defuse the crisis.

It was the first full-scale emergency exercise held at the NETL-Pittsburgh site since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020.

“The drill went extremely well,” said township Police Chief Dennis McDonough.

Gerald “Jerry” Simkonis, NETL’s Emergency Response Program manager, agreed. “One of the main purposes of this exercise was to build on the strong partnership we have developed with local law enforcement. We certainly achieved that goal and others,” Simkonis said.

September is National Preparedness Month. However, NETL activities that focus on protecting its most valuable resource — the researchers and staff who work at the site — are not limited to a single month.

“Emergency preparedness needs to be a year-round effort to be effective. That’s why we conducted regular table-top exercises during the pandemic and began to plan for this on-site, full-scale exercise as soon as restrictions related to COVID-19 eased,” Simkonis said.

Since the last on-site drill at NETL-Pittsburgh in 2019, the township police force and the SHACOG Critical Incident Response Team, which includes officers from 22 municipalities, has undergone a bit of a transformation.

“Some of our officers are newer hires who haven’t been to NETL, which is a large campus,” McDonough said. “This exercise provided them the opportunity to improve their familiarity with the campus layout and the design of several buildings. For police responding to a workplace violence incident, such information is critical knowledge to have.”

The drill also allowed police to communicate in person with NETL’s Security staff and members of the Lab’s ERO. “From an emergency management perspective, putting a face with the name of the person in charge of site security, communications, utilities and other responsibilities is essential,” McDonough said.

The drill provided police with a better understanding about knowing the right NETL personnel to handle specific duties, such as closing a gas valve, and what tactics can be used safely in research areas.

Staff portrayed victims during a full-scale emergency exercise at NETL-Pittsburgh.
Staff portrayed victims during a full-scale emergency exercise at NETL-Pittsburgh.

During the simulated exercise, NETL coordinated the transport of the mock casualties to its on-site occupational health unit for triage and treatment. Multiple communication channels were used to keep staff informed, issue a shelter-in-place order and provide an all-clear announcement. A debriefing followed to identify aspects of the drill that went smoothy and areas for improvement.  

McDonough added police would like to repeat the drill in the future to maintain a high level of emergency preparedness.

Simkonis expressed NETL’s gratitude to local law enforcement and other first responders who participated in the drill. “We are committed to maintaining these strong partnerships in order to be prepared for the unexpected,” he said.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.