2015 Excelsior Challenge

September 30, 2015

Mastering skills related to interoperability and communication is key for the entire emergency response community, and the need is ever-increasing.

On September 15-17, the SPTC and NCSP, in collaboration with DHSES Office of Counter Terrorism (OCT) and the US DHS Office for Bombing Prevention, delivered the 5th annual bomb technician, explosive detection canine, and tactical team workshop, newly minted as the Excelsior Challenge.

The 2015 Excelsior Challenge brought together over 100 Law Enforcement professionals from New York State, the United Nations, and Canada. Students were engaged in a series of discussions, skill lanes, and scenario-based activities designed to integrate all three disciplines. The workshop encouraged students to use their field experience and extensive knowledge to execute their missions in fully-integrated scenario-based activities.

This workshop is completely in-line with the offerings provided throughout the year by the SPTC/NCSP. National-level subject matter experts (SMEs) collaborated to design and deliver a training program customized to the needs of responders in NY and the nation, emphasizing the need for interoperability and communications. The bomb technician SMEs designed, constructed, and set all devices used in the course, requiring a great deal of customization and skill. Objective-driven courses like these are available for a variety of homeland security professionals, at no cost to students throughout New York State.

Guest speakers from the FBI, former military Special Forces, and senior law enforcement officers presented on these themes, adding specific case studies that focused on incident response and lessons learned for application in future events.

NCSP SME Randy Williams presents a flag carried by U.S. troops to NCSP Director Rick Mathews, DHSES Commissioner John Melville, and the State Preparedness Training Center (SPTC).

"The flag was carried during the time at war with Al Qaeda in Iraq. I wanted to place the flag in New York somewhere that it can be shared by Law Enforcement, EMS and Fire departments throughout New York. SPTC seemed to be the appropriate place."

- SGM Randall Williams (Ret.)

The workshop comprised seven scenarios and several skill lanes spread out across the SPTC campus and incorporated many of the high-end training venues available including the CityScape, the Campgrounds, and Urban Search and Rescue Simulator. Students were encouraged to request any resources that would normally be available to them in the field – x-ray machines, robots, night vision, among others – in order to provide the most realistic training possible.

One of the hallmarks of the SPTC's training program is SME engagement throughout the course. Subject matter experts guide students in critical discussions about decision making, tactics, and areas for improvement. They also provide consequence-based learning, meaning the decisions students make impact what they'll face for the rest of the scenario in real time.

SMEs Randy Williams and Dan Izzo conduct a hot-wash with students after skill lanes in Bob's Shoot House.

"The training scenarios were specifically designed to challenge the students to work together as a team to successfully complete each scenario. As a result of this training, Tactical Teams, along with Explosive Teams and K-9 Handlers, were able to validate unit specific Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs) and also identify any shortfalls they may have had in conducting operations involving multiple law enforcement disciplines."

- Dan Izzo, Former U.S. Navy Seal; NCSP Senior Project Coordinator and SME

Bomb Technician SMEs Pablo Arroyo and Justin Kelly collaborate on device design for the 2015 Excelsior Challenge.

"Bomb technicians, explosive detection canine handlers and SWAT operators need to be prepared to support joint emergency services operations and respond as a member of a taskforce or composite team for situations like we have seen in the Boston Marathon incident response, Aurora, Colorado or the Pennsylvania Eric Frein manhunt response. These events all demonstrate the need for interoperability training and required preparedness to support these operations. That is the course goal, and we hope to continue to facilitate this workshop annually."

- Pablo Arroyo, Nationally-Recognized Explosives Expert; NCSP Senior SME

The 2015 Excelsior Challenge is one highlight of a successful delivery season at the SPTC, and it's not over yet! Check out the SPTC deliveries on the DHSES training calendar at or contact the SPTC at or (315) 768-5689 for more information on existing training or agency specific requests.

A bomb technician views the live feed transmitted from the camera on the bomb disposal robot.
The robot is disposing of a booby trap trip wire that was set up to detonate if someone entered the cabin.

Check out some other articles about the 2015 Excelsior Challenge: