I waited seven hours to see the SWAT team storm a city bus. Unfortunately, they did it during the two minutes I was in the Command Post bathroom.
I kid you not.
That disappointment aside, my morning as a volunteer hostage was pretty interesting.
The scenario was that three men had robbed a nearby McDonald’s and when chased by the cops, one ran onto a city bus, and the other two went into a school. So, the SWAT team and negotiators had to be split, though in reality we were all on the same piece of land.
I volunteered to be in the bus, thinking I’d have a good view of what was going on. Except for the end when all the action happened—le sigh—I did.
The most surprising thing I learned was how slowly things move in a standoff. When the SWAT team is called out, this isn’t a quick thing. It takes time for them to arrive, coordinate, set up, get snipers in position, bring out a command post, get a hostage negotiator on scene, fire up the robots…
If you take a group hostage, expect to be there a while. Don’t drink too much, and be patient. Better yet, surrender.
The other thing that surprised me is how much I wanted the negotiator to just give the gunman what he wanted. I also really, really didn’t want to be onboard when the SWAT team stormed the bus. Even though I know they’re good at what they do, I couldn’t help thinking the whole scene—four of us crammed in the back, three acting as shields for the guy with two handguns—could turn into a blood bath with innocent casualties.
After several hours on board, watching robots spy on us and listening to the one-sided phone conversations where demands were generally not met (either by design or miscommunication), the gunman agreed to exchange me (the “pregnant” lady who had to pee) for a throw phone, since his cell was low on battery.
I followed another hostage to the door so he could get the phone, and he let me out. He also slipped out at the same time, leaving only one hostage behind.
I expected the SWAT team to storm the bus almost immediately–which is why I didn’t take advantage of the bathroom facilities when I initially found out about them–but when they did board, it was quick.
They attached a giant hook attached to a truck to rip the door (which had been handcuffed shut) open, boarded, and took down the gunman with multiple shots. The hostage was unhurt, despite standing right next to him.
When it was all over, the SWAT team, EOD team (who provided the robots), hostage negotiators, and others involved sat through a debrief where they talked about lessons learned.
What did I learn? (Besides the fact that I never want to be a hostage for real?)
Next time volunteer to be in the school.