Somerset County Emergency Response Teams
The Somerset County Emergency Response Teams were established in 1985. The concept was developed to regionalize manpower, expertise and equipment to respond to an emergency within the county that required a specialized law enforcement response. The teams total 65 police officers from the Prosecutor’s Office, Sheriff’s Department and municipal departments within our County. They are divided into four sub units: the S.W.A.T. Team; Crisis Negotiation Team; the Emergency Medical Team from Somerset Medical Center and the newly formed Dive-Rescue Unit. When a call for assistance is received, the S.C.E.R.T. Teams can be mobilized and on scene within 45 minutes, any time of day or night, seven days a week. During the past sixteen (16) years, the S.C.E.R.T. Teams have responded to more than 100 incidents.
The S.W.A.T. Team presently consists of 29 police officers. These individuals are skilled and trained in the areas of special weapons; self defense; assault tactics; use of chemical agents; riot/crowd control; dignitary protection; first aid and heavy rescue techniques. Many of these highly motivated people have attended an 80-hour course in S.W.A.T. procedures and tactics sponsored by the Department of Defense at Picatinny Arsenal, the Advanced Hostage Rescue course sponsored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a week long seminar in heavy rescue techniques sponsored by the New Jersey State Police, and numerous other training courses throughout the United States. The S.W.A.T. Team is divided into four squads (each with their own chain of command and unit specialty; i.e., snipers/scouts/assault) as well as a three-person command group. In the instance of a hostage or barricade situation, the unit will be activated in a similar manner as the Crisis Negotiation Team, instituting the gradual response of one or more squads depending on the nature of the problem or the specialty required. The team’s purpose at any hostage/barricade situation is to provide a visible presence of force; set up a perimeter and secure the area; secure the command post; provide security for the negotiating team; effect and arrest when appropriate; and lastly, if all else fails and a life has been taken or is in imminent danger, forcibly enter the target area and physically restrain the target individual(s).
The Crisis Negotiation Team presently consists of 18 police officers. These individuals are skilled in the art of negotiating, bargaining, and mediating. Their training includes, but is not limited to, crisis intervention and hostage negotiations. Most of those in our unit have attended many seminars in this regard and have proven themselves to be experts in verbally bringing crisis situations to a peaceful and safe conclusion. The Crisis Negotiation Team is divided into three five-officer squads as well as a three-person command group. Each five-officer squad consists of a primary negotiator, secondary negotiator, and three intelligence/communications experts. The command group consists of a commander, an aid, and a local department liaison. One squad and a command group will be formed and respond to any hostage or barricade incident occurring in Somerset County. The other two squads will be notified and will remain on-call until the matter is concluded. If the situation develops into a lengthy ordeal, the on-call squads may be used on a rotating basis to relieve the original responding squad until conclusion.
The Dive-Rescue component is comprised of 13 police officers who are trained in various aspects of water rescue to include underwater search and rescue, crime scene processing, as well as flood water and surface swift-water rescue operations. Since its inception in mid 2000, the team members have conducted twelve training drills, have attended a three day swift-water rescue course as well as an ice dive-rescue course.
In addition to police officers, also attached to the S.C.E.R.T. Teams is a six-person team from the Somerset Medical Center’s Mobile Intensive Care Unit. These certified paramedics and nurses, along with a doctor, train monthly with the S.C.E.R.T Teams and respond to call-outs, for purposes of providing immediate medical attention in the event of an injury.
Unlike most hostage recovery units who deal exclusively with hostage or barricade situations, the Somerset County S.C.E.R.T. Teams have been trained to deal with all types of police emergencies. In addition to the so-called hostage barricade, we have also responded and provided dignitary protection; emergency rescue operations; assistance during natural disasters; i.e., floods/hurricanes, etc., all with precision and professionalism.
The teams train at least one (eight hour) day or night per month. The training varies, however, usually consists of both classroom and field operations. While in the field, the teams participate in physical training and then jointly conduct simulated hostage or barricade situations. These drills are conducted regardless of weather conditions and are made as real as possible with the use of police officers acting as both hostages and hostage takers. Also used during these drills are chemical agents, lights, generators, throw phones, ballistic shields and other specialized equipment that would be used during an actual situation. More recently, several drills have involved school-related scenarios and some have occurred at school facilities.
The Somerset County Emergency Response Teams also conduct numerous community relations – based demonstrations, school faculty education programs as well as violent active incident training programs for first responding patrol officers.