For years, the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon has been recognized as a leader in communications.
It has been know to perform both regional and world-wide missions including extensive communications training and operations.
But this week, there was a terrible breakdown in communication at Fort Gordon that caused panic and fear across the Augusta area.
For about an hour on Thursday, Fort Gordon was on lockdown after there were reports of an active shooter on base.
Much of the public first learned of this incident via a Facebook post shortly after noon on Thursday from Columbia County Emergency Management Director Pam Tucker.
“There is a true active shooter situation at Fort Gordon with two active shooters,” Tucker wrote. “This occurred during the exercise. Richmond County is now assisting Fort Gordon. This is no longer an exercise. No other info available at this time.”
Several local news outlets, including the Metro Spirit, immediately reported the information to the public.
People living on base and in the surrounding communities quickly began posting questions and concerns about their loved ones.
“Omg my son is on base! He just graduated yesterday and was suppose to get a pass today but is being told to stay in barracks cuz the shooter is close!” one woman posted.
Another woman wrote, “I just drove by and there are no cars going in gate five so they must still be on lockdown.”
“That’s why so many sirens. Wow,” another person posted.
As a long line of cars was halted by the fort’s gates and men, women and children on base were told to immediately seek shelter, it was a total state of confusion.
A few minutes later, Tucker posted: “Ft Gordon has just told Richmond Co to stand down. No further details yet.”
Most folks were aware of the fact that Fort Gordon was conducting its annual all-hazard response exercise this week, which includes the occasional firing of blank ammunition on base.
The drill on Thursday also included an active-shooter situation at Darling Hall.
Minutes after the local media had reported there was an active shooter on base, several individuals at the fort began doubting the information.
“This was part of the drill,” one person posted. “No active shooters! Misinformed.”
People didn’t know what to believe.
“What the hell is going on here?” one frustrated reader of the Metro Spirit posted. “Every 3 minutes there is an active shooter, then there are hostages, then there is no active shooter, and around and around in circles….anyone know for sure?”
Another person joked, “Who’s on first…….”
Shortly after 12:30 p.m., Lt. Allan Rollins from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office alerted the media that there was not an active shooter at Fort Gordon.
Around the same time, Tucker also informed the public there was no threat on base.
“We have confirmed that word of the exercise did not reach everyone this morning and there is NO ACTIVE SHOOTER SITUATION AT FORT GORDON!” she wrote.
It didn’t take long before the public began blaming the media for reporting false information.
“MEDIA!!! Media scares the hell out of us with half information. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE,” one woman posted.
Another angry person wrote, “This is BULLSH** someone is going to get their asses handed to them for not communicating this properly.”
Some citizens even blamed Tucker for alerting the public, even though she insists she confirmed the information with the Columbia County Dispatch Center.
“Pam Tucker put out a false announcement that put the community in a state of concern,” one woman posted on The Austin Rhodes Show’s Facebook page.
Well, Tucker didn’t take the criticism lying down.
She publicly responded to the comment.
“Do you honestly believe that I would put out a false announcement of ANY type?” Tucker wrote. “I have been disseminating warnings and alerts for 38 years. Once I personally confirmed with the sheriff’s office that they believed there was a real shooter, I let people know. I didn’t want those involved in the drill to be in harms way.”
It didn’t help matters that Augusta’s City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson sent out an email to public officials stating that “Columbia County EMA issued erroneous information regarding this being an active shooter.”
Tucker once again commented about the letter on The Austin Rhodes Show’s Facebook page.
“Was it erroneous if every official believes it to be true at the time? Would it have been better to let people believe it was the drill – and there indeed was a shooter? You be the judge,” Tucker wrote. “I stand by my decision to let people know what is going on – especially when there is potential danger.”
In the email to officials, Jackson said she is reviewing all emergency communication to Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, 911 and EMA to determine what all happened.
“This incident calls to our attention the need to solidify communications plans between the Fort, Columbia County, and ourselves,” Jackson wrote. “Our EMA will take the lead in ensuring that such a planning process begins.”
It wasn’t until 1:22 p.m. on Thursday that Fort Gordon actually confirmed there was no active shooter on base. That is almost an hour after the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement.
By 1:40 p.m., Fort Gordon finally issued a statement regarding the matter.
“A scheduled All Hazards Force Protection Exercise that focused on an active shooter scenario took place at Darling Hall at Fort Gordon March 24,” the press release stated. “During the exercise an individual in the building reacted to an event unfolding in the scenario and called it into 911. Richmond County 911 received the call and appropriately treated it as a legitimate 911 call.”
As well they should have. If Richmond County gets a 911 call, officials have no choice but to take the matter seriously.
“Because Fort Gordon officials were unable to definitively determine whether or not the 911 call was associated with the exercise, Fort Gordon officials took the report as a legitimate threat, cancelled the exercise and put the installation on lockdown,” the press release stated. “Law Enforcement personnel at the installation responded and cleared the building.”
People all over both Richmond and Columbia counties were shaking their heads.
“I think it is safe to say they failed that drill,” one man posted.
Well said, sir. Well said.