Training for a Complex Attack Incident

May 1, 2014

Shots fired. Victims down. Gunmen on the run.

It’s all part of a field training exercise taking place in a local shopping center in the dead of night. The goal: to test how local police, the FBI, and first responders can best react, communicate, and work together effectively in the midst of violent chaos.

The FBI’s Portland office teamed up with the Tigard Police Department and the management of Washington Square Mall to plan the simulated attack. Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue joined in to test its ability to triage and recover injured victims from an attack scene.

“Law enforcement, collectively, experienced the deadly assault at Clackamas Town Center in December 2012,” said Gregory Bretzing, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon. “We’ve seen similar attacks in the U.S. and across the world. We have to make sure we are ready to respond quickly and effectively. Lives depend on it—and that is a responsibility we take very seriously.”

Role players—many of them who are members of the Portland Division’s Citizens Academy Alumni Association—served as victims, hostages, and bad guys through the course of the exercise.

“I appreciate that they have this kind of simulation before it happens for real,” said Luann, a “bad guy” role player. “It’s an incredible experience and valuable for our community—preparing for an event that we hope will never happen. We learned what the officers are up against,” said Jude, another “bad guy.”

Other role players were emergency management students at Portland Community College. One of the students, Jim, played a shopper in the scenario. “We all wanted to come out to see what we could to do help and learn a little about emergency planning ourselves.”

Over the course of several hours, the FBI tested the ability of its SWAT team to respond and assist the Tigard Police officers who were first on scene. The FBI’s Evidence Response Team processed the crime scene, identifying and collecting components of a suspected improvised explosive device (IED), while an FBI’s bomb tech responded to reports of another IED inside the field of play. Meantime, the Hostage Negotiation Team worked with the “bad guys” to help develop crucial intelligence. Dozens of other players supporting the front line teams, as well as exercise controllers, command staff, and observers all took part.

FBI Complex Mall Attack Initiative

Starting in 2013, all FBI field offices across the country started hosting facilitated discussions—or tabletop exercises—with public safety and private sector partners that focused on preparedness, response, and recovery efforts necessary to effectively address such an attack. This training exercise represents the current phase of the FBI’s Complex Mall Attack Initiative, which was developed to promote preparedness and strengthen public/private partnerships.

Learning Tools for the Community

The FBI’s Active Shooter and Mass Casualty Incidents web page serves as a primary resource for both law enforcement and the general public to learn more about critical incidents involving mass casualties. Of particular interest, an instructional video—Run, Hide, Fight—teaches the average person how to respond in an active shooter incident.