‘Armed Terrorists’ at The Mall

June 12, 2015

by Bob Gibbs

Just as the Rockingham Mall was closing on a Sunday evening four armed men with handguns, high-powered assault rifles, and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) took several employees of the mall hostage.  As Salem Police were called out to control the situation, it became clear that more manpower was going to be needed.

The Southern New Hampshire Special Operations Unit was called to respond to the scene.

This was not a real situation, but a training exercise for the local police and fire departments as well as the SNHSOU.  The SNHSOU unit is responsible for providing a specialized police response to the nine member communities.  Made up of specially trained officers from Salem, Londonderry, Windham, Hudson, Hampstead, Pelham, Raymond, Litchfield and Derry.  These towns have pooled law enforcement resources for the purposes of forming a Regional Special Operations Unit.  The unit is managed and run by a Board of Directors, which encompasses all of the member agencies’ chiefs of police.  The communities involved have signed an Interagency Mutual Aid Agreement and have formulated a comprehensive set of standard operating procedures that regulate and govern the unit.

Cumulatively, the unit is responsible for providing a specialized police response to the nine communities.  An example of specialized police response would be to serve a high-risk search warrant, or serving a high-risk arrest warrant where there is likelihood that the person(s) sought may be armed.  The bulk of the work has been the service of drug search/arrest warrants.  The unit also responds to situations that rapidly exceed the normal capabilities of the member communities’ law enforcement resources, such as a barricaded gunman/hostage-taking incidents among others.

The unit has been training to respond to criminal terrorist incidents and is working closely with the Southeastern NH Hazardous Materials Mutual Aid District, Hazmat team in furthering that goal.  Joint training operations are conducted on a regular basis among the units to promote tactical interoperability.

Also, taking part in the training tonight was the Salem Fire Department, with acting Fire Chief Paul Parisi observing the actions.  In the case of a real action, the fire department could be called to the scene to provide EMS as well as fire suppression.

As Chief Parisi stated the EMS teams are now expected to go into warm zones of action to aid injured civilians and police.  These are areas that have been secured for the moment but may not be totally cleared of danger.

For the training this night, several mall employees and volunteers acted as hostages and terrorists.  Several of the actors were secured to chairs, while others were kept in a confined area of the mall food court.

Also, empty propane tanks with wires were used to simulate the explosive devices.

Organized by Salem Police Sgt Smith and Sgt Keating, the group of more than 35 specially trained officers was organized around a communications and support vehicle.  Only a few of the team had any idea of what the situation inside was going to be like.

The unit sets up a unified command made up of officers from the towns and departments that are involved in the action.

The officers all suited up in protective equipment, including helmets, many also carried a full complement of the tools they may need for any given situation.  All of the officers were given special training rifles and blank ammunition.  Having been given their orders, the teams began to make their way into the mall.

A large part of the training exercises is safety.  Each officer involved is searched for any real ammunition that could get accidently used in the heat of the battle.  Also, each one of the actors that is given a weapon is checked.  For the safety of all involved, there are always officers on the scene, but not involved in the training, that are armed with real and lethal munitions.

In a real situation, often the officers would not all be on the scene at the same time.  Therefore, in this training exercise the officers were sent in to the scene in small groups, as if they were arriving from their own home communities.

First into the scene were uniformed Salem police officers who were the first to encounter the armed terrorists, played by training officers.  From their placements, they could see one of the armed men along with a hostage.  The hostage was duct taped to a chair and placed between two IED’s.

The Special Operations unit began to go in.  Making their way inside they encountered a terrorist that was using hostages in an attempt to get out of the mall.  The terrorist began to open fire on the police and the running hostages.  The terrorist was shot and incapacitated.  Although the hostages were wounded, all eventually were carried or helped out.

The Special Ops unit continued to make its way closer to the scene.  Once the terrorist was contacted by Special Ops, the terrorist demanded a cell phone.  At first, he demanded to speak to the president of the United States.  Eventually, he did make contact with a police negotiator located in the operations vehicle on the scene.

The terrorist began to shoot his hostages, as they tried to escape.  This caused the special ops unit to attack the scene and take out the terrorist.

During the frontal attack one of the officers was shot.  The other officers were able to drag the injured officer to safety.

Once the bad guys were cuffed and secured, the special ops unit made a sweep of all the storefronts ensuring that they had everyone and the area was safe.

All this took over two and a half hours.  This was a controlled situation where no one was hurt.  However, the men of the Southern New Hampshire Special Operations Unit showed that they are prepared for the time when the real thing might happen.