It was Friday the 13th of May, and an ominous figure was lumbering forward through an office building here. The sound of erratic gunshots echoed down the hallways. “Exercise, exercise, exercise!” yelled an unspecified voice trailing the aggressor. The clarification didn’t lower the volume of the mock gunfire.

The red-vested pretend assailant kept advancing, firing blank rounds within the confines of the office structure. Through the din, the trailing voice reassuringly repeated, “Exercise, exercise, exercise!”

Guardsmen of the 111th Attack Wing and first responders from Horsham Township, Pennsylvania, were participating in a major accident response exercise involving an active shooter and mass causalities.

But unlike some military installations, when the 111th ATKW conducts a MARE, the exercise isn’t isolated to base personnel. In fact, local agencies such as Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County’s  SWAT team, Horsham Township Police and Fire Departments play as important a role as the military units.

“We all live and work in Horsham Township and have a duty to serve our community to the best of our abilities,” said Horsham Police Department Lt. K. John Potts. “Exercises like the one that took place on Friday can help identify problems before an incident occurs, as well as foster an opportunity for members of the police department and the [Air National Guard] to build working relationships with one another.”

A MARE is a military training requirement that consists of simulated emergency events. The responses to those events are evaluated by wing inspection team members based on the Air Force’s four major graded areas. Those responses are then generated into a report by inspectors who are present to witness the entire exercise. That report is then uploaded into a tracking system and reviewed by the installation commander, who can then initiate any necessary remediation.

For nearly four years, the wing has included nonmilitary first responders, and the results have been encouraging.

“I’d say that from when we first brought the local authorities about four years ago, we’ve improved a good 80 to 85 percent,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jim Tobolski, 111th ATKW project manager. “If I have to pick out one area that we still need to work on, it is that there are so many cops that could respond, and not all of them have been here to do it. Base familiarity is the key, and the goal is seamless reaction — and we’re getting pretty close.”