Home News Stories 2014 May Terrorist Incident Response Training

Terrorist Incident Response Training

The FBI and DHS are hosting complex attack response exercises for our partners.

FBI, DHS Offer Partners Terrorist Incident Response Training
Coordination Among Agencies is Key


Last September, al Shabaab gunmen attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing more than 70 people. In response, the FBI secured operational resources to assist Kenyan authorities.

Not long after, the Bureau—in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—formulated plans for a training exercise series to ensure that American law enforcement, other public safety first responders, and private sector entities had coordinated, effective response plans in place in case this type of complex terror attack ever occurs at a U.S. public venue.

These exercises aren’t in response to any current threat but are simply part of our continuing mission to share information and work with public safety and private sector partners to improve overall threat response capabilities.


Portland Threat Response Exercise

FBI Portland Holds Threat Response Exercise

Our Portland Division, in partnership with DHS, is just one of our offices that recently hosted a complex attack training scenario at a local mall to test the response of law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, and private sector representatives.

- More information and photos


The first two phases of this training series took place last fall. Tabletop exercises were held with FBI field office personnel; federal, state, and local public safety officials; and private sector partners—including mall managers and owners—to discuss a hypothetical terror attack on a local mall and gain a clearer understanding of each other’s capabilities and responsibilities. A second exercise was more inwardly focused, concentrating on FBI field office response plans and the effectiveness of our capabilities to communicate vital information to our own personnel and external partners.

After the training last fall, more effective responses to several subsequent public venue incidents—including an active shooter situation at a Maryland shopping mall this past January—were reported.

Lessons learned from Phases I and II were integrated into the third phase of the training, which is actually occurring now and over the next couple of weeks. During Phase III, FBI field offices—with DHS—are hosting a boots-on-the-ground exercise with regional federal, state, and local public and private sector partners at shopping malls outside of regular business hours.

This exercise scenario, like the first two phases, involves a simulated terrorist incident with numerous attacks, improvised explosive devices, and multiple victims and witnesses. Participants gather to discuss what’s about to happen, run through the exercise, and finish up by reflecting on what worked and what didn’t. After the several-hour exercise and the formal after-action review, participants will take the lessons learned and modify their own agency’s response plans as needed to ensure they mesh with those of other agencies.

A few FBI offices have already conducted their Phase III training and can attest to its value.

For example, Monica Miller, special agent in charge of our Sacramento Division, said that her office’s exercise “ensures unity and strategic collaboration among federal agencies, first responders, and private sector partners during a crisis” and also offered the opportunity to “make improvements well in advance of a real-world incident.”

Also supportive was the general manager of the mall where the Sacramento exercise took place. “We take our participation in training exercises such as this one seriously,” Eddie Ollmann explained, “because we know they help prepare our community to respond to potential emergency situations.”

So far, all of this training has been regionally based. Later this year, the FBI will host a capstone exercise to incorporate national assets and resources into the mix in the event of a public venue attack with broader implications.



Another Training Initiative:
Active Shooter Response Training

The complex mall attack training initiative is just one example of ongoing efforts by the FBI and DHS to provide assistance and resources to public and private sector partners working to ensure the safety of their communities. Another example is our active shooter response training initiative.

Since the Sandy Hook school shootings in December 2012, the FBI has been working with the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to provide tactical active shooter training to law enforcement agencies across the country. To date, we’ve trained more than 9,600 senior state, local, tribal, and campus law enforcement executives at conferences hosted by FBI field offices, and we have trained more than 6,300 first responders through tabletop exercises designed around situations similar to recent school shootings. We have also provided the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training course, an active shooter training program, to officers from more than 600 agencies so far.

Why the separate training initiatives for responding to active shooter incidents and complex attacks in public venues? According to Special Agent Jim Ammons, chief of our Crisis Management Unit—part of our Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG)—the complex attack training complements our active shooter training, going beyond one or two perpetrators with guns to multiple perpetrators with multiple weapons—including improved explosive devices—and the possibility of many more casualties. “Law enforcement and other first responders might come to the scene operating under their active shooter response plan because that’s the information they’re working with,” Ammons explained. “But as they gather additional information, they may have to switch gears and institute their response plan for a more complex attack, which has a different set of protocols.”

CIRG developed and supports both the complex attack training exercise series and the active shooter training initiative.

- More on FBI active shooter efforts

For the Public: Responding to an Active Shooter Crisis Situation

This video, recently produced by the Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, dramatizes an active shooter incident in the workplace. Its purpose is to educate the public on how to respond during such an incident. Warning: The initial sequence in this video may be disturbing.

- Watch Video