Agencies team up to train for 'worst case' in Jacksonville

Downtown training exercise simulates explosives, shooters, hostage crisis

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Learning how to handle multiple attacks and work with other law enforcement agencies to respond to them was the goal of a training exercise Friday in downtown Jacksonville, hosted by the sheriff's office and the fire department.

Money from the State Homeland Security Grant Program helped support the seven-hour training session, which temporarily turned the Jacksonville Sports Complex into a worst-case scenario.

“We had simulated explosive devices. We had simulated shooters. We actually had hostage situations all going on simultaneously at different locations,” said Ron Lendvay, director of Investigations and Homeland Security.

Lendvay said the training was about multiple agencies working together to keep the public safe.

“A lot of the tactics, whether it’s going to be a terrorism-related scenario, or if it’s a bank robbery gone wrong, like we had recently, a lot of the tactics are going to be very similar,” Lendvay said, referring to a peacefully resolved hostage standoff last week at a Jacksonville credit union. “Today wasn’t about changing the tactics, it was about working together to achieve a common goal.”

The exercise was so realistic that residents driving down Bay Street between EverBank Field and Metro Park thought they saw a dead body.

“It was very realistic, very fast paced, very fast moving, and that challenged us to make sure we could communicate with not only the incidents as they unfolded, but up the chain of command, so to speak, to those decision makers about what we needed to do to render things safe,” said Michelle Cook, director of patrol and enforcement for JSO.

Cook said bringing together agencies from Alachua, Clay, Marion and St. Johns counties was important for this type of training, because they would be the ones to help pick up the slack during a crisis and they want to be prepared.

“Everybody did fantastic,” Cook said. “We have a lot of confidence in our SWAT and bomb guys that are out there.”

Cook said this was the first time that the department has hosted such an exercise.