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UT Knoxville hosts 2023 full-scale emergency response exercise


Ryan Moore, University of Tennessee Public Safety PIO

Over the summer, emergency personnel from multiple agencies participated in a two-day Tennessee Homeland Security District 2 Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack exercise. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Office of Emergency Management organized and hosted the 2023 Active Shooter Full-Scale Exercise (FSE) in close coordination with the Knoxville Police Department and Knoxville Fire Department.

Full-Scale Exercises are typically the most complex and resource-intensive type of exercise. They often involve multiple agencies, organizations, and jurisdictions and validate many facets of preparedness. Often, the exercise includes many players operating under cooperative systems such as the Incident Command System (ICS) or Unified Command.

In events like the one held at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville; the events are projected through an exercise scenario with event updates that drive activity at the operational level. They are usually conducted in a real-time, stressful environment that is intended to mirror a real incident. The FSE simulates reality by presenting complex and realistic problems that require critical thinking, rapid problem solving, and effective responses by trained personnel.

Below is a breakdown of the FSE put on by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Office of Emergency Management.

July 12, 2023:

On July 12th barricades and police tape wrapped the university’s Intramural Field Complex on Sutherland Avenue. Members of the University of Tennessee Police Department, Knoxville Police Department, Knoxville Fire Department, American Medical Response (AMR) along with resources from Knox and Blount Counties all filed into the complex, awaiting their next step in the regional training event.

“When we have full-scale events like this, we try to achieve as much realism as possible,” said UT Knoxville Emergency Management Director Brian Gard. “We try to create the extra stress on the officers and the other emergency personnel as they respond to make it realistic and make them adapt to the high stress situations that can change at a moment’s notice.”

A variety of shifts from all the agencies involved took part in multiple scenarios that included aspects of a mass casualty incident involving an active shooter as well as other aspects like utilizing bomb detecting K9s.

“The more stress we can add, and the realism we can throw in the mix with our role players, the makeup and the acting go a long way in the high stress environment,” said Gard. “When they are all under pressure, and you train that way, you are better when it actually comes time to do some of these things in real life.”

The event took roughly a year to fully plan and included over 50 officials in a four-county area including Knox, Blount, Sevier, and Hamblen Counties. The exercise is intended to test the ability of emergency management personnel to effectively conduct emergency operations in the case of a large-scale, multi-jurisdictional event.

“The more our agencies work together, train together, and work hand in hand from response, to communication, to tactics and lifesaving efforts, the better we will all be in the event of a tragedy,” said UT Associate Vice Chancellor of Public Safety, Chief Troy Lane. “Exercises like this allow us to work towards the highest level of preparedness and safety reasonably achievable, and they work towards the overall well-being of our campus and community.”

July 13, 2023:

On July 13th members of the All-Hazard Incident Management Team (AHIMT) gathered in the emergency operations center and continued to work through portions of the training exercise.

“This day two function is how we will help provide support and logistics for a long-term event, “said Gard. “We have individuals from a variety of disciplines on campus that train as a team to guide the campus recovery effort and gather the right campus expertise to handle these types of situations and manage them effectively in the event they need to.”

Throughout the day, a variety of changing factors and scenarios were phoned into the emergency operations center as a continuation of the previous day’s events.

“To see how our team reacts and handles a variety of curveballs thrown at them has really been impressive,” said Gard. “With continued exercises, and our training that we will be having monthly, we will only continue to get better and perform at the highest level that we can.”

To learn more about the UT Knoxville Emergency Management Office, you can visit