In April of 2015, the NERAC Training & Exercise Committee approved a request from the Natick Police and Fire Departments to fund a regional tabletop exercise focused on the response to an active shooter incident at the Natick Mall. NERAC supported the exercise by hiring a consultant to develop, document, and facilitate the planning and execution of the exercise, and also provided backfill and overtime support to non-salaried police and fire personnel that attended the event.
The exercise was designed to test the ability of MetroWest communities and their regional, state, federal, and private partners to respond to a mass casualty event involving armed intruders with hazardous materials. Over 70 individuals participated in the exercise, including representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Army National Guard Civil Support Team (CST), Massachusetts State Police (MSP), Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), and Police and Fire departments from Natick, Framingham, Holliston, and Sherborn. Representatives from General Growth Properties (GGP), Nordstrom Corporation, and Lord & Taylor attended to participate on behalf of the Natick Mall and to provide insight into their own safety and security protocols. Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett and Homeland Security Undersecretary Patrick McMurray were also in attendance on the day of the exercise.
The exercise occurred on September 16th at the Massachusetts Army National Guard Readiness Center in Natick. In the scenario, a trio of Sovereign Citizen Extremists armed with semi-automatic handguns attacked the Natick Mall on a busy Saturday afternoon, first setting fire to a vehicle laden with chlorine, then firing into crowds within the mall and taking hostages. Participants spent the day talking their way through this extremely complex scenario where they had to deal with multiple threats simultaneously to effectively preserve life and property at the mall. Participants identified appropriate strategies to address the hazardous car fire, overcome the assailants, provide emergency medical services to victims, and work with members of the media and public. The Mier Consulting Group, who was hired by NERAC to facilitate and evaluate this exercise, identified several significant strengths during the discussions, including the early establishment of on-scene command and control, strong responder safety practices, and well-established, collaborative relationships between the local responders and mall employees.
Several months of work and collaboration by the planning team contributed to the success of the exercise. The planning team consisted of representatives from the Mier Consulting Group, General Growth Properties (GGP), the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), and personnel from the Framingham, Holliston, Natick, and Sherborn police and fire departments.