By Julie Straw
When Northpark Mall closed down Sunday night, law enforcement and emergency crews took over. Ridgeland Fire Department, the FBI, and several other agencies are taking part in an overnight emergency response training. The elaborate exercise was several months in the making. The circumstances may be fake, but the preparation is very real.
A terrorist attack at Northpark Mall. A nerve agent has been released, contaminating the air and every one inside. Emergency crews work tirelessly to lead the victims to safety and give them medical care. But this is not real. This is a training exercise for law enforcement and emergency response crews. This is the most elaborate training exercise most of them have ever encountered.
"It's very realistic. We have 50 role players inside playing the parts of victims. We gave assignments of symptoms. Some of them are over here right now. They've being deconed. We have another group on the other side of the mall," said Allan McCluer, training officer for the Ridgeland Fire Department.
Ridgeland and Madison Fire and Police Departments responded to the call. It was announced as a training exercise, but the scenario is unknown. They do not know an mock terrorist is lurking inside the mall, and his trailer sits in the parking lot armed with a fake explosive device.
18 agencies, including Ridgeland Police and Fire, the Jackson Bomb Squad, FBI, and Homeland Security participate in the training exercise just as they would if this was a real crisis. The agency leaders were in talks with each other and Northpark Mall during several months of detailed preparation.
"Training like this is important. It's a necessary thing and unfortunately it has become more necessary in recent year so we're just happy to participate," said Audrie Thompson, Northpark Mall General Manager.
Officials say you never know when disasters, natural or otherwise, can strike. When emergency and law enforcement agencies can work together in a training exercise, they will be that more prepared to protect mississippians in the future.
"That's what we're training for. If we reach the point where we can work together and communicate with each other then we're going to be able to better do our jobs, get out here quicker and protect the people here," said McCluer.
The training exercise is expected to last into the early hours of the morning. Then each agency will be evaluated on their performance.