Mall Exercise Last Night

We had an EXCELLENT training event last night at Great Lakes Crossings Mall.  It was a full-scale event involving people who played roles as the bad guys AKA active shooters, press people, wounded victims.  Most of us, including me, played our own roles–what we would do in the event of an incident like this.  FBI was there.  Oakland County Homeland Security,
Great Lakes Crossings Security, other police agencies with officers trained to respond to this kind of event, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office swat team members–all in all more than 300 people.  Even the Salvation Army came out to help with coffee and hot dogs for the participants in that cold, cold rain.

Lt Miarka briefing the teams in staging prior to event start.
Lt Miarka briefing the teams in staging prior to event start.

Of course, there are always unexpected things that happen.  Like the rollover freeway crash on southbound I-75 right at the time the mall traffic was exiting.  We had to close the freeway ramp at Joslyn for a while so as not to add to the traffic jam since we had to close some lanes for a time.  Then another injury crash came in north of the mall area in a subdivision and we had to divert units there.  So we got started a little late.  Not to mention that yesterday was a looonnnggg day for our Fire Department.  Deputy Director Manning, Assistant Chief Macias and many of our personnel were on the scene of the tornado hit in Rochester Hills as mutual aid beginning at about 6:30 am.  And it was a cold, dank rain.  But that is just what life is like–we operate in the real world so there is no idea of postponing for any reason.

I admit that it was chilling listening to the original dispatch of armed men in the mall and an officer down.  I was sitting in a vehicle with Deputy Director Hardesty waiting to be deployed.  Deputy Director Manning was in his vehicle parked behind us, also waiting.  There is a system to the response on an event like this and we have all been trained extensively.  We use the federal National Incident Management System developed by FEMA after 9/11 to organize ourselves and make it possible for agencies to work together.  My job was to establish an incident command post taking over command of the overall incident and assisting the operational command post staffed by sergeants on scene, so that we deal with the next level of the incident.  There is a great deal to be done.  At first we waited silently listening to the dispatch and the response of the initial officers–after a while training takes over and you begin to think about what needs to be done, by whom and when.  In the initial phases we have limited resources so there was only a handful of us at the command post level to deal with everything from city elected officials who are calling wanting information, to the media and public information, to the needs of reunification of people and victims involved in the event, to the investigation (it is a big crime scene, remember?), as well as the overall fire and rescue aspects.  The event is dynamic and moving very quickly.

Overall it was a big success.  Whenever we do it we learn some things that we think we can do better next time.  We had lots of observers watching and evaluating us.  We’ll get that information assembled in the coming days so that we can review it and consider specific improvements.  But I think we did well overall.  One of the things we wanted to test was the Rescue Task Force.  We recently developed and trained our fire and police personnel to respond together to a “warm” zone  (not totally safe) to treat injured.  We are the first ones in this region to take up this new aspect.  We decided to do it because in some of these incidents like the LAX shooting, Aurora theater and others, victims have died while waiting for medical help because they were down in an unsecured area.  Traditional fire training puts medics in a triage area away from the action with the police bringing victims out.  Of our team of medics, 14 volunteered for the training –they are not armed but they wear ballistic helmets and bullet resistant vests and are guarded by police as they enter “warm” and even “hot” zones to locate and give basic treatment.  We had some local fire chiefs on hand to observe that aspect.

Firefighters gearing up as a rescue task force.
Firefighters gearing up as a rescue task force.

Lt. Miarka, who with assistance from FBI personnel, Oakland Sheriff’s Office and others, set up this mammoth undertaking which took about a year to plan.  He was here early this am, just like usual–( he looks a little tired though.)  Part of the planning was his extensive study of mall shootings around the country to learn what other police said about what happened and how they dealt with it.  He shared with us what he learned.  The event was modeled on some of the other events.  The bad guys keep morphing their techniques and we must do the same.

Rescue task force in action. Officers guarding medics who are helping victims.
Rescue task force in action. Officers guarding medics who are helping victims.

Great Lakes Crossings Mall is a very safe environment, precisely because they enthusiastically partner with us to train and practice for an event we pray we never have to meet.

Even Fox 2 came out to report on our training.

http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/26590126/disaster-drill-held-at-great-lakes-crossing-outlets

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I'm the Chief of Police for the Auburn Hills Police Department.