First Responder Training Sites
EMERGENCY STATE: FIRST RESPONDER and Law Enforcement Training Architecture was on display at the CLUI Los Angeles Exhibition Hall this summer. The exhibit, about police and emergency training structures, featured images taken by CLUI photographers depicting ten representative locations in Southern California. As with several recent exhibits at the Center, this was a digitally created and displayed production, with each of the sites described on a LCD or projection screen, along with printed text panels, enhanced by video and ambient sound.
Southern California’s training villages and emergency props range from the typical to the state of the art, as one would imagine they might in this place where movies are made and theme parks originated. The training sites depicted in this exhibit showed different characteristics of this unusual form of architecture, a form which is increasing in its sophistication and occurrence across the country, as this era of preparedness progresses.
The Police Academy
One of the earliest training towns still in use in the Los Angeles area is the situation simulation village at the Los Angeles Police Department Academy in Elysian Park. The Police Academy is the LAPD’s historic classroom and firearms training area. It was established in the late 1920’s as a private shooting range for officers, and evolved into the LAPD’s main training campus for over fifty years. Though it has long been staffed by LAPD employees, the grounds and the buildings are still owned by the private Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club. Several years ago most recruit training moved to the new Ahmanson Recruit Training Center in Westchester, and now the Academy is used just for continuing police education, officer training, and graduations.
The Academy grounds have a swimming pool, café, dining club, rock garden, gymnasium, athletic field, classrooms, three firing ranges, two electronic simulation training rooms, and two outdoor tactical training areas. The situation simulation (SIT SIM) village is on a hillside near the Rock Garden, and was built in 1975, with help from Universal Studios volunteers. It consists of a series of connected facades with individual doors. The interior rooms are all connected by inside doorways, enabling a continuous search scenario to be played out from one end of the complex to the other. Props inside are minimal, and the building is fairly simply constructed. Only simunition rounds—high velocity mini-paintball bullets—are used in this facility.
Another tactical training area at the Police Academy, located between two shooting ranges, is the Practical Combat Range at the Tactical Training Center. This is a small Hogan’s Alley-type facility (a name which comes from the FBI’s training town in Virginia), with a number of corridors that terminate at fixed and moving targets. Unlike SIT SIM village, this is a live fire range, with a large bullet trap consisting of piles of shredded tires, faced by a painted rubber mat. It was improved and modified following the notorious 1999 North Hollywood shootout involving heavily armed and armored bank robbers that alarmed police with their firepower.
Ed Davis Training Facility
Another major LAPD site is the Edward M. Davis Emergency Vehicle Operations Center & Tactics/Firearms Training Facility, located next to the 405 Freeway in Granada Hills. It opened in 1998, the newest and most elaborate LAPD training facility. Much of the grounds are occupied by the 4.4 miles of vehicle training track of the LAPD’s Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC), used to teach driving techniques. One of only two large EVOCs in Southern California, the Ed Davis facility has two skid pans, a collision avoidance simulator, an inner city street grid, and a high speed track with blind driveways, sharp turns, and elevation changes. The 137,000 square foot main building has electronic driving simulators, offices, classrooms, firing ranges, and a maintenance garage for EVOC vehicles.
Located between the main building and the EVOC is the most postmodern civilian tactical training village in Southern California. The Simulation-Simulator Village, as it is also called, has a gas station, bank, bar, convenience store, hotel, house, and coffee shop. The village is used by recruits, by officers for advanced training, and for the production of training videos. Trainees use simunition rounds and are fully protected with face shields and vests. The interior walls of the buildings are coated with vinyl, making it easier to wipe off the multicolored simunition splatter.
Hotchkin Training Center
The Los Angeles City Fire Department’s main training center for In-service training (training for fire department personnel, not new recruits) is in a grand Art Deco building near Dodger Stadium that once housed a Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center. In 1995, the building was vacated by the military, and transferred to the Fire Department. It is named the Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center, after a firefighter who died while fighting a fire there in 1980, after falling through a fire-weakened roof.
Among the props in the training areas outside the building is what may be the largest rooftop training prop in Southern California. It is a structural skeleton of a building, with a large flat roof area, and a tall pitched roof area. Firefighters practice shoring and cutting through roofing and flooring material, something often done in fighting structural fires in order to vent gases and smoke, and to prevent potential flashovers. Also on site is a five story metal drill tower, which was recently ordered from a company that pre-manufactures them and then assembles them on site. This drill tower has hot house capability, meaning that portions of it can ignite with propane in order to create more realistic training conditions.
Los Angeles County Laser Village
The Los Angeles County Sheriff Department is the largest Sheriff’s department in the world, with over 14,000 employees (8,500 sworn, 5,800 civilian). One of the major locations for the Sheriff’s Department is at City Terrace, a former garbage mound east of downtown Los Angeles, later developed into a county complex. In addition to shooting ranges, fire training facilities, correctional facilities, and emergency command centers, the County operates their only active training simulation village, which is still referred to as Laser Village, though the laser-based training weapons were replaced with simunition-firing weapons several years ago.
The village consists of a shopping plaza-type structure, with a second floor and balcony, and an adjacent home and garage. The main building was constructed in the 1980’s for this purpose, and rests on the asphalt without any foundation. Though it is still in use, it was recently officially condemned by county building inspectors for being structurally unsound. The building has a simulated bar, liquor store, escrow company office, check cashing store, hotel, drive up ATM, and women’s medical clinic.
Del Valle Training Center
The Fire Department of Los Angeles County has five training sites: the department headquarters and command center on Eastern Avenue, known as the Hill (next to the Sheriff’s complex); an east county training center in Pomona, used for recruit training; a north county training site in Lancaster, with the county’s only active live fire tower; a classroom site in La Quinta; and the Del Valle Training Center, near Castaic, the largest and most diversified fire training prop site in the LA region.
Del Valle is located on a hill top and uses 160 acres of land that the county bought from Unocal in 1984. Much of the focus of Del Valle is technical rescue training. There are industrial props (including a portion of an oil refinery), vehicle accident props (including propane-powered bus collisions), construction site accident props, confined space rescue props, and other urban search and rescue facilities. There is also a hazmat training area with railcars and a chemical storage building, and a fire extinguisher training area.
Orange County Tactical Training Center
The Sheriff’s Department of Orange County operates the Tactical Training Center, in the City of Orange, one of the most realistic simulated police training villages in the state, and trains thousands of officers, agents, and private security company employees from the western United States. Like the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s tactical village at City Terrace, Orange County’s Tactical Training Center was built as a laser village in the 1980’s, when practice weapons emitted a laser light, and “victims” wore vests that electronically detected the approximate strike of the beam. Now small dye-filled simunitions are used.
The village has eight buildings: three residences, a convenience store, a bank, a bar, a fast food restaurant, and a service station. Though the buildings are smaller in area than their real counterparts, realism is heightened by the use of actual commercial signs and props. In scenarios involving building searches, ambush survival, bomb squad training, bank robberies, hostage situations, and sniper confrontations, live actors play roles such as store clerks and customers. The five simulated businesses are in fact sponsored by the companies themselves, which support their maintenance through donations to police community foundations.
North Net Fire Training Center
The Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) has nearly finished its new Regional Fire Operations and Training Center in Irvine, a 16.5-acre classroom and training prop facility that will be the largest fire training site in the County. After it opens, training will continue at most of the other regional fire training sites, like the North Net Fire Training Center in Anaheim. North Net is operated by a consortium of northern Orange County cities, and is used by fire departments from Southern California, and from out of state as well. North Net, built in 1978, is the most elaborate fire training center in Orange County, until the Regional Fire Operations and Training Center in Irvine goes online later this year.
The main feature of North Net is a five story concrete training tower with propane-fueled fire capability, also used for ladder and rope rescue training. The tower is surrounded by basic fire training props such as door breach props, roof ventilation props, and wood for shore construction training. South of the tower is an area for concrete cutting and heavy object lifting and moving training, and some tunnels and tubes for confined space rescue training. Junked cars are regularly delivered to the site to be used for cutting and for victim extraction training.
Ventura County Fire Training Center
Next to Los Angeles County in the northwest is the increasingly urbanized Ventura County, which has an elaborate regional training center on the edge of Camarillo Airport, formerly a Cold War era coastal defense Air Force Base. The site, mostly operated by the Ventura County Fire Department, has several significant structures for rescue training, fire-fighting training, and hazardous material response training. These facilities include several climbing and rappelling props, including a five story tower (for urban search and rescue); an elaborate confined space rescue tunnel network; two simulated roof structures; and an electrical transmission system prop.
The hazardous material training area is especially advanced, and is used for training by fire departments and law enforcement agencies from within and from outside Ventura County. There are several hazardous tanker and rail car accident and spill props; an industrial tank farm leak prop area; and a simulated methamphetamine lab, built inside a shipping container, and situated in a miniature orange grove.
San Bernardino County EVOC
The Sheriff’s Department of San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles County, operates what may be the largest dedicated Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (EVOC) in the nation, a 78 acre site which opened in 1991. In California, the only EVOC approaching it in size and diversity is the 43 acre California Highway Patrol EVOC at their training site outside Sacramento. Unlike the CHP and the EVOC at the LAPD’s Ed Davis Center, the San Bernardino County EVOC is a single purpose facility, not part of a larger training site. It sits in a dusty plain, next to a wash and an off-highway vehicle recreation area, south of Glen Helen. Police departments from all over the country send their training officers here for instruction.
This EVOC has a mile long high speed track, a large skid pan made of polished concrete that, when watered, becomes as slick as ice. A large asphalt lot in the middle of the track is primarily used as a motorcycle obstacle course. It also has a residential street grid with numerous intersections, a few 4 wheel drive obstacle courses, and a simulated rail crossing. Overseeing it all is an observation tower atop the administration and classroom building. The EVOC has a fleet of several dozen cars, including some that have been especially modified to practice the PIT maneuver, a police tactic for nudging cars into a skid.
In addition to city and county agencies, the state operates a number of training sites for emergency personnel and police. The Office of Emergency Services of the State of California operates a multifaceted training site called the California Specialized Training Institute (CSTI). It exists to train law enforcement, emergency management, and other first responders in emergency procedures and tactics, including responses to earthquakes, terrorism, and hazmat spills. It is located on the grounds of Camp San Luis Obispo, a large National Guard training base in the mid coast of California. CSTI has several training areas with different functions, and has the only “mock emergency operations center” in the state, where disaster scenarios are played out in a town called Santa Luisa Del Mar, a fictional disaster town modeled after Santa Barbara, but with the addition of a harbor.
A portion of Santa Luisa Del Mar has been assembled in three dimensions for police scenario training using simunitions, out of buildings relocated from other parts of the base. Other training areas at CSTI include a large and scattered hazmat training yard, with prop rail cars brought in from actual derailment sites. The Criminal Justice Program at CSTI has developed one of the open shooting ranges on base with some structural props, used for live fire weapons training. The Department of Toxics and Substance Patrol has created what is probably the most elaborate mock clandestine drug lab in the state. Also referred to as a clan lab or meth lab, prisoners from the state penitentiary across the highway were brought in to decorate it.
Private and Federal Training Sites
Private companies also provide training for public law enforcement officers, as well as for private security, and even for interested members of the public. These companies are sometimes hired to run programs at existing police training sites, or to run training programs for police at rented classroom spaces, or at public shooting ranges, such as Burro Canyon Shooting Park in Azusa, where high risk entry training, warrant serving, and close quarter battle training classes are held. Full scale realistic scenario training by private companies can also take place at unused or soon to be demolished buildings, wherever they may be. Though not in California, Thunder Ranch, with locations in Texas and Oregon, may have the most sophisticated private weapons and tactics training sites in the country. Private companies and educational institutions also run fire and hazmat training sites, such as the Fire Science Academy in Carlin, Nevada, and at many larger chemical plants, like Chevron’s Live Fire Training Center at its refinery in El Segundo, next to LAX.
Southern California’s history of creating superlative simulated environments is poetically emphasized by the fact that when the first SWAT team in the USA was established (in Los Angeles by a young LAPD inspector named Daryl Gates, in response to the 1965 Watts riots) their first training site was at the back lot of Universal Studios. These days SWAT trains at a number of places, including an abandoned military housing area near San Pedro. SWAT also uses some of the elaborate mock towns at the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, which are among the most sophisticated in the country. These defense department training towns, sometimes called MOUT facilities (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) usually consist of a large, “European-style” row building or even several city blocks of buildings that evoke a generic international war torn city. Though built by and for military training, sometimes civilian law enforcement agencies, especially those that employ military tactics like SWAT, are permitted to use them. A new MOUT facility to be built for the SEALs on the Navy’s San Clemente Island, off the coast of California, will be based on “European and Third World urban patterns,” and will include features like an embassy, international hotel, and a soccer field.
Of course, the DoD isn’t the only federal agency operating mock towns for training purposes. The FBI’s mock town in Quantico, Virginia, perhaps the original Hogan’s Alley, is a nearly complete North American small town, with three storey brick houses, a bank (the Bank of Hogan called the “most robbed bank in America”), the Biograph movie theater, Honest Jim’s Used Cars (We Stand Behind Our Cars, says the sign), a courthouse, and a post office. And the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, has a 34-building practical exercise complex, used by federal agencies of all kinds.
By examining the expanding landscape of preparedness, we learn how modeling our communities in this manner is an incidental, complex, and compelling expression of an institutional interpretation of public and architectural space. ♦