If you see FBI agents, local SWAT teams and fire departments congregating at Greenwood Park Mall this weekend, don’t worry, the mall isn’t under siege.
Federal agents and local emergency responders will rush to the mall Sunday evening after closing for a terrorist attack training exercise. The event in Greenwood will start at 7 p.m. and is one of several the FBI has hosted in cities around the U.S., including Boston, Atlanta, Seattle and Jacksonville.
In the scenario, police have received a report of some suspicious shoppers dropping packages around the mall and then walking away. When the first police arrive to investigate, the terrorists start shooting and wound several officers then take hostages and scatter throughout the mall, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office SWAT commander Maj. Jerry Pickett said.
That’s when the FBI and local departments will arrive with the mission of catching the terrorists and rescuing civilians, Pickett said.
Traffic passing by the mall can expect to see multiple types of law enforcement and emergency vehicles, according to an FBI news release. Eleven federal, state and local departments will take part in the exercise. Local agencies include the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Greenwood police and fire departments. Indiana State Police and police, fire and ambulances from Indianapolis also will be involved.
The training event will happen after the mall closes for the day and shouldn’t disrupt other nearby businesses that are open later, including restaurants or shops around the mall, the release said. The event is closed to the public, so people are being asked to keep their distance from any activity.
Vehicles and emergency workers will gather outside the mall during the exercise while officers also work their way through the halls and shops inside.
KEEP CALM AND SHOP ON
If you’re passing by Greenwood Park Mall after 7 p.m. Sunday, you might see a training exercise for emergency workers going on. Here is what you might notice:
VEHICLES: You might find a SWAT van parked outside the entrances to department stores or find parking spaces filled up with ambulances and fire trucks.
EMERGENCY WORKERS: Instead of shoppers coming out of the mall carrying bags, you might instead see FBI agents wearing bulletproof vests and helmets and toting guns, see people coming out in handcuffs or spot a person being rolled out on a stretcher with fake wounds.
STAY AWAY: The FBI and local police and emergency departments are doing a terrorism training exercise. The exercise isn’t open to the public, and the FBI is asking people not to go near any law enforcement.
The FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security planned the mall trainings across the country after terrorists took over a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last year. Four gunmen wielding assault rifles took control of the mall for three days, and more than 60 people were killed.
Past mall exercises by the FBI have included simulated attacks by terrorists, improvised explosive devices, and multiple people posing as victims and witnesses.
The Greenwood terrorism scenario will be a capstone exercise in the series, meaning it will be larger and more complex than other scenarios the FBI has run in recent months. The scenario set up at the Greenwood Park Mall has been designed to build on the lessons learned from previous planning meetings and performances in other mall terrorism scenarios, the FBI news release said.
“This capstone event will test readiness, preparedness and partnerships among law enforcement, first responders and the private sector and is a testament to our commitment to strengthening public safety together,” Indianapolis FBI Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott said in the release.
Pickett doesn’t know most details of the exercise on purpose so that county SWAT team members don’t get any unfair advantages they wouldn’t have if the terrorist attack were real, he said.
The training exercise should be difficult, just like a real attack on the mall would be, Pickett said. Police would have to try to ensure that terrorists don’t sneak away with crowds of people fleeing the building. Clearing the mall would be time consuming and dangerous because of its size and many shops that offer hiding places for scared shoppers and workers or attackers, he said.
“You’ll have people that are hiding in places, so you have to check every nook and cranny,” Pickett said.