Pennsylvania State Police SERT
In 1986 the Pennsylvania State Police established its Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) program. The SERT unit was designed as a pilot program that would "provide the Department and other state, local and federal law enforcement agencies with a tool for handling high-risk incidents under a broad mission concept." The size of SERT was doubled in 1992 when a second identically trained and structured team was formed.
The SERT is currently composed of two units, a Tactical Unit and a Negotiation Unit. Each of the two teams is commanded by a full time coordinator who holds the rank of Lieutenant. Two Corporals act as Supervisors for the Tactical and Negotiations Units. These are the only full-time positions assigned to SERT. The remainder of the SERTmembers are part time team members primarily assigned to field installations throughout the Commonwealth. All Tactical Unit members and Negotiation Unit Leaders are permanently assigned a vehicle to enable them to respond directly to incidents from their home or station. All issued equipment is carried in their assigned vehicle. Members of both units respond to every activation.
Each 24-man Tactical Unit is comprised of 16 entry team members and 8 sharpshooters. The unit is further broken down into 4 man teams, including a team leader. Each Negotiations Unit consists of two seven-man teams, including a team leader. A SERT member's authority is vested in his position on the team and not in his, thus a Corporal can be a team leader and a Sergeant a team member. This system ensures that team leader positions are held by the most skilled and experienced personnel, regardless of rank. All SERTmembers understand this coming into the program.
All team members carry a personally owned Glock handgun. The majority of members carry the Glock .40 caliber pistol, with a few preferring the .45 caliber. Pointmen carry two handguns when using a ballistic shield. The primary entry team weapon is the HK MP-5 9mm SMG. The MP5's are assigned to the #2 man (coverman) and the #3 man, (Team Leader) of each entry team. The #4 man usually carries a short barreled Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun. Each entry team is also assigned a Benelli M-1 Super 90 entry shotgun and several AR-15 rifles. All entry team members are issued load-bearing RBR Level IIIA tactical body armor with a level IV strike plate. Each entry team member carries extra magazines, flexcuffs, distraction device, gas mask, personal first aid kit, portable radio, knife, and a smoke or CS grenade in the tactical body armor. All Tactical Unit members are issued kevlar ballistic helmets. The standard callout uniform is woodland camouflage BDUs.
SERT sharpshooters are equipped with custom made Hart Precision rifles, built around a Remington 700 action. Rifles are equipped with Leupold 3.5 X 10 power scopes with 50mm objectives, or Leupold 4.5 X 14 power scopes with 40mm objectives. Each two-man team is also equipped with an AR-15 or an HK-33 rifle. Four sharpshooters are also assigned a suppressed MP-5 SD 9mm SMG with a 4-power scope. These weapons are primarily used to extinguish lights and to deflate tires during containment situations. Each sharpshooter is also equipped with a Bushnell range finder.
Both teams have a command post truck, tactical van, and a negotiations van. The command-post (CP) trucks are Ford E-350 models with a 14-foot cargo box. The trucks have self-contained generators for electrical power. They can also use dockside power from any AC power source and are capable of operating for short periods of time from battery power. The trucks contain an assortment of communications gear ranging from telephone equipmen tot cross band repeaters for VHF and UHF radios. In addition they are also outfitted with exterior power outlets and phone jacks. The vehicles usually operate in conjunction with the negotiation vans and the phone jacks are used to allow the incident commander and the coordinator to listen in on the negotiations. Both vehicles are also used for transporting some tactical gear and negotiation equipment.
The negotiations vans are Dodge Ram extended body cargo vans that have been specially configured to act as a negotiations center. The vans contain desks, chairs, white board, Secure Line hostage phones, cell phone, and portable, battery powered wired and wireless P.A. systems. Both negotiator vans have also been equipped with power inverters, exterior power outlets, and phone jacks. The rear portion of the vans have been designed to carry extra wire, and tools required to reconfigure phone lines and to conduct electronic surveillance operations. Both vans are equipped with laptop computers and portable printers to accommodate FBI psychological profiling module (PPM) software. Two fiberglass extension ladders are carried on the roof racks.
The tactical (TAC) vans are Ford E-350 extended body cargo vans. The TAC vans have been configured with bench seats in the rear to transport team members, and can be used to store equipment. The vans are used primarily to transport breaching tools, ballistic shields, chemical agents, and munitions.
The team also has an additional cargo van to transport explosives and initiators in two mobile magazines. All of the vans are painted neutral colors without markings or emergency light bars.
Both teams respond to approximately 35 to 40 incidents each year. The majority of the call outs are for barricaded gunman/suicidal person incidents that occur in rural areas. Some of the other incidents that may require the activation of the SERT are:
Over the past several years, slightly over 50% of the barricade situations have been resolved through tactical intervention, usually chemical agents and/or entry. Since its inception in 1986, SERT has responded to over 300 activations. Deadly force has been used on only 7 occasions.
For most activations, 24 Tactical Unit members and 7 Negotiation Unit members respond. A group paging system is used to activate each unit. The situation and directions are entered in an 800 number voice mailbox where each team member acknowledges receiving the message. The Coordinator can then determine if everyone has received the page.
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The SERT is required to serve a large geographic area and it may be several hours before units can respond and become operational. Usually, several members can be on the scene within an hour to help set up the containment and stabilize the situation until the remainder of the team arrives. Occasionally, an advance party is sent in one or more of the Department's 7 Bell Jet Ranger helicopters. The two teams will support or relieve each other on manpower-intensive or protracted operations.
Both teams have access to a psychologist for telephone or on scene consultation. Tactical Emergency Medical Service (TEMS) services are provided and all the medics have attended CONTOMS training and are capable of providing emergency medical service in a tactical environment.
Prospective SERT applicants must undergo a 2-day selection process. Day one tests the applicants' "+fear of height and enclosed spaces, and their ability to effectively operate under stress". They are asked simple math, crime, and traffic questions after climbing to the top of a 110-foot water tower. They must traverse a 90-foot long horizontal pipe, 20 feet under ground, in total darkness while wearing a gas mask. They also must attempt to walk to the shallow end of the training tank, starting in 11 feet of water and carrying 40 pounds of weights. Day one also includes a stress shooting course, cover and concealment exercise, and writing an operational plan for the service of a felony arrest warrant.
Day two is designed to test the applicant's ability to work as a member of a team. The applicants are divided into two groups. One group is sent to the Leadership Reaction Course (LRC), while the second group must serve the felony warrant that they planned the previous day. The warrant group is broken down into teams of 4 to 6 applicants and given an hour to plan the operation. They are given simunitions weapons, inert chemical agents, vehicles, and protective equipment and live role players are used as the suspect and other parties. When these tasks are completed the groups rotate stations. Approximately 10% of the applicants are selected for further testing, including a review by the Bureau of Professional Responsibility.
Negotiator applicants are selected through an interview process. They must have three years of field experience and be assigned to a Troop or the Bureau of Training and Education to be eligible. Successful applicants attend the Department's 10-day basic negotiator course. Final selections are made at the conclusion of the training. All new negotiators must attend a class A wiretap school and a FBI advanced crisis negotiation course.
Training for the units is extensive and conducted on a regular basis. Tactical Units train a minimum of two consecutive days each month. Sharpshooters and explosive breachers train an additional 6 to 8 days per year. Five training days are scheduled with both teams training jointly at the same location. All Tactical Unit training emphasizes fitness, shooting skills, and tactics and begin with physical conditioning, which can include calisthenics, running in formation, or swimming laps in the Academy training tank. The remainder of the training day may involve entry work, live fire or simunitions, vehicle assaults, range training, or team movement. A great deal of training has been accomplished using the integrated use-of-force concept. Scenarios, designed by a certified Simunitions instructors, use live role players in Red Man suits. Team members use simunitions, inert chemical agents, stingballs and distraction devices, and Asp training batons. They must react to the situation using all levels of force that are available to them in an actual situation.
Negotiators train one day each month and also train with the Tactical Unit several times per year and participate in critiques of incidents on training days.