Hurex concludes with riot drill

POSTED: 08/29/13 12:49 PM


The awesome physical power of one marine was exemplified when it took at least five local police officers to restrain him during the mock riot drills as part of Operation Hurex which took place yesterday in Sucker Garden. Photo Today/Milton Pieters

St. Maarten – A contingent of Royal Dutch Marines arrived last Wednesday to conduct a series of annual hurricane preparedness drills with local emergency response personnel – Hurex 2013. “We are training, hoping that we are better prepared than before,” Inspector Henson said of the riot scenario exercise that was conducted yesterday morning in Sucker Garden.

In the past “people would go out and loot” damage homes and businesses, Henson continued, as he recalled the island’s encounters with hurricanes Luis and Lenny. The police would encounter “an area with a lot of people, a lot of looting going on.” He pointed out that “people would have the tendency to resist, and that’s when riots start.”

It was the “grand finale of all the drills” conducted over the past five days Dutch Royal Forces spokesperson Marta van der Maas explained. In the event of an approaching storm forecast to slam into St. Maarten, well over 100 marines are to be deployed 72 hours before to assist in various ways, including the suppression of rioting and looting, which was particularly notorious and widespread in the aftermath of Hurricane Luis in 1995.
“We don’t do their work but we help them,” Van der Maas said of local emergency workers as the drill unfolded in the morning sun. “We can help them with military assistance.”A riot scenario was set up with volunteer “rioters” made up of mostly of the Aruban militia as well as some Dutch marines and local VKS officers.
In the staged scenario, first responders, such as police officers and some assisting marines were on the scene of an accident with several injured or wounded individuals. The crowd then began to slowly gather and gradually worked itself into an angry mob that taunted and jeered the first responders.
The drill was as realistic as possible with the volunteer rioters physically provoking and prodding the officers and marines, who fended them off with batons and called in for back up as they were being overwhelmed. “It’s based on real life situations,” Van der Maas went on.
As the scenario escalated, more police officers arrived and several of the worst instigators were arrested and handcuffed. But to simulate the worst possible case, the crowd became larger and increasingly provocative, violent, and physically confrontational.

The next step in the a disaster management plan was to then clear the crowd so that other emergency personnel such as the ambulance and fire department could arrive and do their work in a safe and secure manner. A platoon of marines was then called in at this point. They arrived by the truckload in full riot gear and immediately set up a crowd control formation designed to corral the unruly mob and force it away from areas where the injured were.
The marines used real life crowd control tactics and force against the rioters in the drill, containing them in a narrow alleyway. They were backed up by local VKS officers also in full riot gear. Van der Maas explained that the marines are trained and instructed to only use proportional force in response to rioters and looters. While no live ammunition was used in the drill, the marines will of course be armed in a real life situation. She said these drills were set up “based on the experience of Luis.”
Several of the more aggressive rioters were slammed to the ground and had their hands bound. But the tactics worked. The crowd was contained. Ambulance and fire department personnel arrived and conducted their own emergency drills, tending to the wounded and clearing debris. This is how it is supposed to work out in the event of a real riot situation in the aftermath of a hurricane when the island’s infrastructure and roads are down or cluttered with debris and local emergency response personnel need to get to work to restore normalcy.
During a storm some marines will be stationed in various shelters across the island to assist and protect people from looting or theft and keep up morale, Van der Maas further explained. They will be stationed at the Red Cross building near the airport as their base. The Dutch naval vessel Pelikaan will also be here in the aftermath of a storm to offer relief and aid.

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