Bedlam at Ohio’s largest single-site employer revealed a problem local and state law enforcement hoped was behind them: Many years and millions of dollars haven’t solved crippling communication failures between agencies.
A report examining the Aug. 2 false active shooter report at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base says radio incompatibility between the 88th Air Base Wing and local law enforcement resulted in “communication difficulties.”
The “breakdown of communication led to a completely uncoordinated and ineffective combined response that could have resulted in serious injury or property damage,” the report commissioned by base commander Col. Thomas Sherman states.
The Air Force report acknowledges a need to improve cooperation with local agencies.
“A thorough understanding between federal, state and local agencies about command and control to include understanding jurisdiction and response procedures needs to be established,” it states.
Among the problems identified in Wednesday’s report: Local agencies rushed to the base in response to a “Signal 99” — a sign among local civilian police that an officer in distress needs help. But base officials were unaware such a call went out.
“The clue should have been when all the cops showed up at your gate,” said Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer, noting the base and local law enforcement “never really train together.”
“We basically speak different languages, the military and local law enforcement,” he said.
Some local officers never made it through the gate, several local law enforcement agencies told the Dayton Daily News. Others were waved through, but didn’t know where to check in with the incident commander. Still others assembled on base outside the hospital — the site of the chaos — where yet another cascade of errors unfolded.
“During the course of the response,” the report states, military security forces “breached a locked door by firing rounds from an M4 through the window of (a) door, causing additional 911 calls to be made from the hospital reporting a real world active shooter.”
The report states the military incident commander “quickly learned” military forces fired the round. But that action, as Plummer and others described it to the Dayton Daily News, “amped up” the assembled civilian officers.
About 50 local civilian officers “breached the locked front door of the hospital and entered with weapons drawn,” the military’s report says, despite the incident commander’s “attempt to explain the situation and otherwise stop them.”
“Everybody thought it was the real thing,” Plummer said, acknowledging his deputies were among those who entered.
Asked if a local police officer ignored base officials and entered the building because a loved one was inside, commander Sherman didn’t deny the report.
911 Caller: ‘Help! Help!…active shooter’
“I would say there were some situations across the board that would have deviated from standard operating procedure,” Sherman said. “Those individual cases are being dealt with with the individual departments, and therefore to ensure the privacy and rights of the individuals and the review processes of those departments, it would not be prudent for me to disclose that information at this time.”
A spokeswoman for the Dayton Police Department said the city’s officers went inside the hospital. Fairborn police and the Ohio State Highway Patrol said their officers didn’t enter the hospital. The FBI and ATF declined to comment for this story. The Riverside Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer, whose deputies responded to the base but didn’t enter the medical center building, said “it’s quite obvious there was a lack of communication.”
“They’re on one system, we’re on another,” Fischer said. “Information was not getting shared.”
Some of the largest event responses in Ohio history — including the response to the 1993 Lucasville prison riot — were complicated because of radio problems.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who was lieutenant governor during the prison riot, said Wednesday that “millions of dollars have been spent in the last few years to try and make sure all law enforcement can coordinate with other law enforcement.
“But what we found in this drill is there was a problem in regard to the federal government,” said DeWine, now governor-elect. “So we’ve got to make sure everyone’s tied in. What you learn from something like this — from an experience that didn’t go so well — is you’ve got to go back and make sure people can talk to each other.
“There’s absolutely no substitute for communication,” DeWine told the Dayton Daily News. “And if you don’t have communication, it can be a disaster.”
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News Center 7 reporters Mike Campbell, Jim Otte and John Bedell contributed reporting.