Urban Shield: Or, how I spent my Saturday getting shot at by SWAT teams

Over the weekend I volunteered to role play the part of a victim in Urban Shield, a citywide disaster drill that is used to train first responders in all sorts of horrible scenarios that might befall the city of Boston, like terrorist attacks and hazmat incidents and the like. I chose to do this because A) it’s a nice way to give back to all those who are out there to protect us, especially with the hurricane still fresh in mind and B) HOW COULD I NOT?

So I showed up bright and early (actually, not so bright, it was still dark out) on Saturday morning and, along with half a dozen other victims, was given a briefing about what might happen to us over the next few hours. We gathered in this tent:


And were given these fetching face masks:


And were told that we might possibly get shot with paintball-type bullets, but probably not. The SWAT teams and the fake bad guys would be armed with simunition guns, which come in just the loveliest shade of lethal blue:

Like the soothing waters of a shark-infested lagoon.

So my particular scenario was this: I was an innocent subway rider, on my way to go buy copious amounts of craft supplies (probably). When out of NOWHERE – two terrorists show up and take the subway passengers hostage! They have guns! And the SWAT teams are on the way! What’s going to happen?!

And in the dark, no less — with ghosts (probably)!

Lots of noise and shouting and gunfire, that’s what. Basically, we’d sit in the dark with the “bad guys” (who were actually transit police and were super, super nice as they tried to kill us) and wait as the SWAT team slowly made its way through the empty train cars toward us. Which, I have to say, really felt like a horror movie. It was totally silent and dark down there, and all we could do was wait and watch the SWAT team’s flashlights as they got closer and closer, and then their voices got slightly louder, and then–

They’d barge through the door and start yelling at us to either drop down to the ground or stick our hands up in the air, all while both they and the bad guys shot their guns off like crazy. If any of you know how obsessed I am with the show 24, you would know that it was at this point I wanted to jump up out of nowhere like Jack Bauer and, as the bullets harmlessly deflected off of me, demanded that they TELL ME WHERE THE BOMB IS, then proceeded to electrocute them with a floor lamp until they confessed.

Instead, what I did was cower when they told me to cower and tried to enjoy the moment. Which I did — the first time. The second time, one of the terrorists used me as a human shield (which made very little sense since I am the size of a particle and he was the size of a mountain), then sent me down to the floor, where I got shot three times in the back and once in the leg. And yes, it hurt, and here are the neon orange and blue blood stains to prove it:

“Welp, I’m dead. Is it lunchtime yet?”

We did the simulation a total of five times with five different SWAT teams from the surrounding areas of Boston, and I managed to survive the rest without incident — except the last one, when I put my hands up in the air like the SWAT team told me to do, but the bullets were still flying and I took one right in the knuckle, which left a truly badass cut-and-bulgy-bruise combo. My phone had died by then so I couldn’t get a decent photo, but here’s what it looked like:
All in all, I had a total blast (pun INTENDED) and can’t wait to do it again next year. The cops and everyone involved were so nice and appreciative of us volunteers giving up our day to help, and they fed us and even oohed and ahhed over our minor injuries, which I for one certainly appreciated.

All joking aside, though — as much fun as I had playing cops and robbers for a day, I also know that this would have been terrifying in real life, and I left with nothing but respect for those that put themselves in harm’s way to deal with this. Truly, they are made of much stronger stuff than I, and I’m quite grateful that they exist.

Even though they SHOT ME.



  1. So glad you enjoyed it! Deirdre was thrilled that you had fun (she was worried it would be incredibly dull or you’d be asked to be a nerve gas victim or something and spend the day in some kind of isolation tent as they pretended to prod you with needles).

    As for them shooting you, it’s worth noting it’s a training exercise. Some of those guys were probably really green recruits. Either that, or they just figured they’d shoot through you cause, ya know, they thought they were Robocop.

    • Oh, I know – they said some of the teams themselves were recently-formed, and that this was less of an assessment of their skills than a learning experience to see where they’re at, training-wise, so I certainly hold no ill will. Lord knows I would have just barged in and shot anything that moved, terrorist or no.

      Also, I secretly wanted to be shot. Um…for book research! That’s the ticket.

  2. Sounds like a great experience. Getting shot with paint balls hurts. I used to play with friends and we tinkered with the velocity and made the guns super powerful lol! Really though, this seems like a great learning experience and training exercise.

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