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Crews Film Officers Training at Kennedy
A camera crew arrived at the Kennedy Space Center early morning on Jan. 11, but they weren’t there to shoot a movie or cover a high-profile event.

A cameraman films members of Kennedy Space Center's Emergency Response Team. Image right: Range Master Frank Repass, in red, watches over five officers of the Emergency Response Team as they practice clearing a building. A cameraman films the practice session for a training video. The training teaches the officers to hone their skills and techniques that could be called on in a real situation. Image credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

The Texas-based trio came to film a training video featuring the newly-installed pop-up targets at the security training center’s practice range, and to record officers training at the shoot house, a facility where officers perform drills to clear a building of hostages or armed criminals.

“The video will help law enforcement and security personnel with their antiterrorism training,” said Anthony Burden, a producer for the Texas Television production company, who also produces stories for PBS affiliates.

And who better to show off their training skills and make use of the new equipment than members of NASA’s Emergency Response Team, federal officers who undergo extensive yearlong training at the facility.

“We go through scenarios that are based on real life, things that have happened,” officer Tom Parks said of the training exercises.

The practice drills began at the shoot house where a makeshift walkway hung overhead, providing a bird’s eye view inside the building.

With camera rolling, the five officers assumed their positions as they huddled close to the shoot house. The men, dressed in camouflage gear, slowly entered the building one by one with weapons drawn.

They strategically moved from one room to the next, each time yelling “Clear” before they came upon a room with wooden targets. Plastered on the targets was a picture of half a man’s body with an angry face staring back at them.

The officers fired at the face using live ammunition, making sure the bullets struck above the man’s chest. After the last round was fired, the officers pretended to remove a hostage and arrest a criminal.

The officers were evaluated by range master Frank Repass, who spent 25 years with the Orlando Police Department. He critiqued their marksmanship skills and praised them for their efforts.

“It’s a fun way to train,” Repass said after the training. “Most officers that go through these courses, they love it, they enjoy it.”

But Repass didn’t allow the men to rest on their laurels.

He had them go through the drill again but this time using a flash grenade, ammunition that explodes and releases thick plumes of smoke. An officer tossed a grenade into the first room and the team swarmed inside after the explosion. They repeated the drill twice.

Repass gave them a five-minute break before proceeding to the nearby practice range, a facility that features shooting lanes with new pop-up targets -- the focal point of the training video.

The officers assumed their positions as the camera started recording.

On cue, they fired at the pop-up targets in unison and went through rounds of ammunition before reloading their firearm and starting over.

The pop-ups, which make up the pneumatic target system, are connected to a timer designed to pop them up at any given moment. It forces an officer to use quick reflexes when aiming and shooting at targets.

“The pneumatic system demands that they use the fundamentals of hitting the target,” Repass said.

And because the pop-ups are made with impenetrable armored steel plates, officers don’t have to replace targets each time they’re done shooting. All Repass has to do is spray paint over the area marked up by a bullet.

The pneumatic target system is considered by Repass to be a better system than paper targets, which officers used for shooting practice until last year when the new mechanism arrived.

He likened the target system to an arcade game in which a mole’s head pops up through random holes and a player has a split second to hit it before the head disappears into the holes again.

He said racking up points takes concentration and forces a player to focus on the game.

Hundreds of bullet casings littered the ground by the time the officers were done. The camera crew conducted a short interview with Repass and called it a day. Their next stop was Port St. Lucie where they were to visit the facility that made the pop-up targets.

The security center is also available to law enforcement officers from various levels of the government, including agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The center touts a state-of-the-art range that involves training with laser guns.

Tanya Nguyen
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center