More details have emerged regarding UConn’s “FEMA Virtual Tabletop Exercise” preparing for “civil unrest” situations. The exercise took place on Jul. 7, 2022.
Some of the departments involved in the training include University Safety, Facility Operations, University Communications, Student Affairs, the Office of General Counsel and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Other representatives from other universities, health care systems, municipalities, federal agencies and a Tribal nation also took part in the training.
A “civil disturbance” means “activity such as a demonstration, riot, or strike that disrupts a community and requires intervention to maintain public safety,” according to the official FEMA glossary.
UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz provided a brief description of the event back in October.
“This Virtual Tabletop Exercise (VTTX) is designed around events in the state that lead to civil unrest and protests. The VTTX involves key personnel discussing simulated scenarios in an informal setting and can be used to assess plans, policies, training, and procedures,” Reitz said.
The format of the training had “included three discussion modules, local discussion with guided questions facilitated by an on-site facilitator and brief-outs from each participating location, after each module,” according to Reitz.
The details regarding the three discussion modules have now been revealed, as The Daily Campus has received the scenario packet from the event. Some redactions in the scenario packet have been made to protect individuals involved in the event.
All modules focused on Damon Pope, a fictional 22-year-old African American male being shot and killed by Wayne Unser, a fictional 50-year-old white Hartford police officer. Damon Pope was described as being a “suspect in a ‘strong arm’ robbery committed minutes before the shooting,” according to the packet.
Stephanie Reitz, UConn Spokesperson
“This Virtual Tabletop Exercise (VTTX) is designed around events in the state that lead to civil unrest and protests. The VTTX involves key personnel discussing simulated scenarios in an informal setting and can be used to assess plans, policies, training, and procedures.”
Module 1 revolved around “build up” to the civil disturbance. As a result of the shooting, “many of the social media sites are stirring up residents in Hartford and throughout the state to stand up against the police,” according to the fictional scenario described.
In Module 1, peaceful demonstrations “became unruly.” Hartford Police deployed police officers equipped with riot gear and “at least a dozen businesses in Hartford were looted or vandalized and a convenience store gas station was set on fire, leading to over 30 arrests.” Further fictional events were described, with a SWAT team needing to be deployed.
In specific regards to UConn, Module 1 describes UConn students as planning to organize protests as well.
“UConn students on the Storrs and Hartford Campuses are using social media to plan and organize gatherings of support for the Pope Family with call for social justice. They have applied to Student Affairs to conduct gatherings on Monday April 18th at 1200 hrs on the Storrs campus on Fairfield Way and at the Hartford Campus on Prospect Street … The Governor is considering issuing an Executive Order imposing a mandatory curfew in Hartford and other larger municipalities,” the fictional scenario read.
The UConn panel were asked questions about Module 1 such as what preparedness actions has your agency used to prepare for a Civil Unrest incident, has your agency ever trained using a Civil Unrest scenario and what whole community resources may you need to engage in order to develop Incident Action Plans to prepare for a Civil Unrest event?
Module 2 regarded the “response” to the civil disturbance.
“After violent clashes during the imposed curfew, the Governor activated the Connecticut National Guard to help restore peace and order and to protect the citizens of Hartford and potentially other communities,” the fictional scenario stated. Arrests and further civil disturbances in Hartford were described as well.
Regarding UConn, the scenario describes UConn students planning further protests along with counter protests.
“Approximately 500 Students on the Storrs Campus have gathered by the circle on Fairfield Way. As the event continues, additional students are joining and observing the event. A counter-protest across the circle has a small gathering of approximately 10 students who are supporting Officer Unser. Local TV and media arrived on campus to cover the event. No reports of violence at this time… Approximately, 100 students have gathered outside the main entrance to the Hartford Campus on Prospect Street. In addition to UConn students, there are individuals who have been identified from outside the university as local activists who are participating in the event. Local TV and print media are covering the event. No reports of violence at this time but individuals are blocking the street,” the fictional scenario said.
Module 2 also describes further fictional UConn events, such as Spring Weekend being disturbed.
“Spring Weekend is scheduled for April 21-23 on the Storrs campus. Many students are hesitant to participate on the Spring Weekend events. Numerous events scheduled for Spring Weekend are interrupted by student protests and some events are canceled by organizers concerned about safety,” the fictional scenario states.
Some of the questions the UConn panel were asked regarding Module 2 were what entities will you be coordinating with at this point and who may be reaching out to you for assistance, how should public and media concerns and questions be handled and what infrastructure systems are most at risk and which will be the most critical to restore?
Module 3, the final module regarded “extended operation and recovery”.
The scenario described a memorial being burned to the ground and further protests. It also included calls for police resignations, and continued protests.
There were no specific mentions of UConn in this scenario. However, some questions the UConn panel were asked in regards to Module 3 included what public information and risk communication messages should be disseminated at this point, when should the response transform into recovery operations and what behavioral and health monitoring programs should be implemented for residents/members of Police/Fire/EMS/Public Works?
“Rather, the response has been positive as people have become aware that the University is continuously conducting training to ensure the safety and security of its campus communities under various kinds of potential scenarios.”Stephanie Reitz, UConn Spokesperson
Back in October when asked if this training was a response to “civil unrest” situations as was seen in the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, Reitz made clear that this FEMA training was not meant to combat any one group.
“To be clear, the event did not focus on that group or any other specific organizations or ideologies; nor were there any scenarios presented that discussed BLM gatherings locally or elsewhere,” Reitz said.
Throughout the training, “the participants and organizers emphasized the need to protect the rights to assembly and free speech, and to ensure that safety and response planning includes those considerations,” Reitz wrote.
Reitz emphasized that the response from the training has been positive.
“UConn hasn’t received any negative feedback or concerns from members of the community about the tabletop exercises or any of the topics, including last summer’s program,” Reitz said. “Rather, the response has been positive as people have become aware that the University is continuously conducting training to ensure the safety and security of its campus communities under various kinds of potential scenarios.”
Reitz also said that UConn has participated in many types of exercises over the years.
“UConn has participated in various Virtual Tabletop Exercises (commonly referred to as VTXXs) over many years. They are offered and conducted by the Emergency Management Institute (EMI), National Emergency Training Center, a component of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA),” Reitz wrote. “EMI sends us their annual Virtual Tabletop Exercise Program topics for the upcoming fiscal year, from which we determine the exercises in which we’ll be participating. It’s part of the National Exercise Program (NEP), which is a two-year cycle of elected exercises across the nation that examines and validates capabilities in all preparedness mission areas: prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.”
Some of the other types of exercises UConn has participated in include dam failure, winter storms, family reunification during and after emergencies, active threat assessment and training for colleges/universities, agricultural emergencies and cyber security. Future exercises are still being planned.