Kennedy Emergency Response Team Tackles SWAT Competition
A progression of obstacle courses simulating real-life emergency situations tested Kennedy Space Center's Emergency Response Team, or ERT, during the annual SWAT Round-Up International. The Orlando-based competition, now in its 30th year, pitted special operations squads from law enforcement agencies around the world against each other in difficult races against the clock. Fifty-one teams took part in this year's event.
The Kennedy team, made up of eight competitors representing the spaceport's elite ERT, came into the weeklong competition as defending champions. After five days of competitions, the team finished this year's Round-Up in third place, about two minutes out of first place. Marion County's team won the event, with San Antonio finishing second.
"This annual training gives us a chance to test our skills against some of the best teams in the world," said Mark Borsi, chief of Security at Kennedy. "Defending a championship is something we'd really like to do, but it's not really necessary for us to feel good about ourselves and protect the center."
Several members of the team have participated in the competition numerous times, including competition team leader Charles Pedrick.
"The first year I came, we placed in the high teens," Pedrick said. "Ever since then, we kept finishing higher and higher."
Obviously unable to fight against real criminals, competitors try to traverse obstacles and fire at small targets as quickly as they can.
"The clock is unmerciful, you can lose an entire event because of five or six seconds," Borsi said.
To press the need to be accurate even under physical stress, misses added 30 seconds or more to a team's overall time.
"The time pressure you get to make a shot is probably the best thing we get out of it," Pedrick said.
With two of the five events behind them, the ERT began the third leg in second place behind San Antonio's squad Dec. 5. The day's event, limited to five members of the team, started with a sprint to a cable crossing a simulated ravine at the Orange County Sheriff's Office range.
The team members took turns sliding across the cable using small pulleys, carrying the weapons and gear they would need to rescue a fallen teammate. After another sprint, the team climbed up and over a high wall using ladders before climbing two shorter barricades and crossing a series of jagged obstacles.
Next, with heart rates pounding after all the running and climbing, came the time to fire tear gas canisters through a window, put on gas masks and storm through a door before taking careful aim on a series of steel plate targets.
A rifleman got his turn at this point, proving his marksmanship over longer distances, again just like in real life.
The team made the run back to the cable slide wearing their gas masks, a device that made it much harder for teams to catch their breath. Now carrying the rescued teammate, too, team members had to place him on the cable and send him across before a last sprint to the finish.
Soon after the Kennedy team finished, Pedrick stood by the bulletin board waiting for the official time. He knew the team probably earned a top five time, judging by the 30 teams that ran the event earlier in the day.
The best time was a few seconds over seven minutes, but almost all were more than 10 minutes, some longer than that. Pedrick knew the actual time was under seven minutes, but one target was missed and he had to find out whether judges recorded any penalties.
The scorer posted the time sheet: just over seven minutes. Pedrick gave a light cheer and calculated the result. It wasn't enough to move up into first overall, but a score that would put some distance between his team and the third place squad.
High fives and quick stories among the competitors and observers followed for the next few minutes before the team shifted its focus to the next day's event.
"It's more of a game than what we would usually train, so it's a little different but at the same time you’re gassed up because you want to do well for your team," said team member Bryan Baylis. "You're carrying the banner, you want to show everybody what you can do."
The competition is set up to test a SWAT team's ability and fitness, factors the teams have to master in real life.
For instance, in Pedrick's favorite event, known as Super SWAT, the officer has to run a mile in a gas mask, stop and shoot a target about the size of an index card from 15 yards before repeating that task twice more for a total of three miles and three targets.
The Round-Up also offers specialized classes for the officers who come from departments all over Florida, the Midwest, Texas and California. Overseas squads take part, too, including teams from Hungary, Switzerland, Sweden and Bosnia. Several South American and Caribbean Island nations also took part.
"It builds real camaraderie among the teams," Pedrick said. "You get to reach out to the other teams, develop some training opportunities."
The Kennedy team, made up of former military and special operations members, spends considerable time training during the weeks leading up to the competition as well.
"It gets us prepared so if something happens, we'll be able to the job under pressure," Pedrick said.
Kennedy Space Center