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Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

Fake Blood, Real Lessons

While many San Diegans were trick-or-treating, representatives from the military, law enforcement, first-responders and the intelligence community were treated to a private “Zombie-driven show” on San Diego’s Paradise Point Resort & Spa island designed to simulate a threat of real epidemic proportions.

“The Zombie Apocalypse has a serious purpose,” said Kit Lavell, executive vice president of San Diego-based Strategic Operations Inc., which created the live-action training demonstration on behalf of San Diego-based security firm Halo Corp. “It is heavily oriented to simulate a medical mass-casualty exercise and how to prepare and treat people in the aftermath of such an event.”

The demonstration was one of several training exercises presented during the 5th annual Halo Counter-Terrorism Summit, which took place recently at San Diego’s 44-acre Paradise Point Resort island.

Halo said it expected about 1,000 attendees, including Marines, Navy Special Ops, firefighters, police and emergency responders. Among the guests were also such high-ranking government and political figures as former CIA Director Michael Hayden, philanthropist Cindy McCain, wife of Senator John McCain, and Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona.

California Strategies LLC, a public affairs consulting firm, estimated the five-day event would add more than $2.4 million to the local economy.

Though heavily publicized in the media, the summit was closed off to the public. Brad Barker, president of Halo, explains what’s behind the summit.

A Lifesaving Purpose

“The objective of the summit is to educate and train the entire range of national security stakeholders, from government agencies and military units to law enforcement and emergency responder personnel, and to provide them with additional knowledge and resources to mitigate criminal and terrorist-based threats, risks and losses,” said Barker in a written statement.

For the fifth annual counter-terrorism summit, Barker said, he wanted to take a new approach in creating immersive training and simulating real-world scenarios where responders and operators can apply information safely in a controlled environment.

Behind the creation of the realistic tactical training environment was Halo’s local partner, Strategic Operations, owned by movie studio Stu Segall Productions.

Lavell said Strategic Operations has exported its Hyper-Realistic brand training to more than 600,000 soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and Coast Guard personnel at various military facilities nationwide and trained some 120,000 local military personnel at its lot in Kearny Mesa.

“We can do extremely realistic scenarios to improve the ability of our law enforcement and military to train under realistic conditions,” Lavell said.

For the summit, Strategic Operations constructed an entire Middle Eastern village complete with medical simulation systems, special effects, including rocket-propelled grenades, props, and even recruited actors to play the “good and bad guys.” Some demonstrations feature representatives from the San Diego SWAT team and La Mesa Police Department, he said.

To re-create the feel of a foreign culture and its unique environment, Strategic Operations went back to its Hollywood moviemaking roots. Lavell said the firm’s patented building system, a mobile structure, takes merely a few hours to assemble.

Lavell likened the structure to a “Lego kit” that can be built in various configurations — thatched roofs iconic of East Africa, Southeast Asia’s bamboo and Afghanistan’s mud huts. The price tag per unit is about $14,000, he said.

Sold or rented to all military branches and government entities, the manufacturing and construction of these structures make up roughly half of Strategic Operation’s business today. Lavell declined to give revenues citing the firm’s private company status, but said that hundreds of structures have been sold to clients.

He regarded the summit as the perfect venue to showcase how the firm’s moviemaking techniques and structures can be used to better prepare the nation’s military for combat.

“It certainly will help us to get our products and services out to the people who make the decisions about buying them for the state, federal and local government,” Lavell said. “We hope enough decision-makers and users are there who can influence the decision-makers.”

Lavell said Strategic Operations was the summit’s title sponsor.

Other sponsors, according to Barker, included UTM / Phoenix RBT Solutions, a training/ammunition company, and various local and national firms offering products and services for defense, law enforcement and security industries.

Privately held Halo, which provides security and services for disaster response, military, government and corporate and international clients, in turn, hopes to be a government partner in supplementing training for those who protect the U.S. and its citizens both at home and abroad, Barker said.

The summit aimed to educate participants about current threats, including terrorism, organized crime and natural disasters and arm various agencies with real-world tools and techniques to fight these threats.

UTM/Phoenix RBT Solutions, for instance, offered participants a chance to test their shooting skills during situational scenarios.

Protecting Sea Lanes

Exhibitor San Diego-based Seabotix Inc., demonstrated how their underwater unmanned vehicles could be used to detect mines at sea, and invited participants to try their hand at driving robotic vehicles in a “treasure hunt,” Halo said. Other presentations featured body armor, night-vision, thermal-imaging systems, surveillance technologies, ruggedized computers and smartphones; with locally based Tapestry Solutions Inc. showing their software solutions.

One thing is for certain: The zombies didn’t give away any military secrets.

“This was not the type of training where you learn the newest techniques,” Lavell said. “We will not disclose current tactics, techniques and procedures that would be disclosing information that the public should not see.” Rather, he said, “We are doing this to be able to show to attendees the various types of things we can do.”

The “Zombie Apocalypse” theme, while appropriate for Halloween, also follows a yearlong “anti-zombie”campaign put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the importance of emergency preparedness.

With 464 rooms sold out at Paradise Point Resort & Spa, the invasion certainly proved to be financially rewarding for several local entities. Barker expects future summits to bring significant benefits and visibility for San Diego — economically, for our national security and emergency preparedness.


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