Operation Mountain Guardian at Park Meadows

Operation Mountain Guardian – Park Meadows Mall Ever wonder what would happen if a major incident occurred in the Denver Metro area?  Say, an organized terrorist attack at multiple locations around the area?  The good news, it appears that the local emergency managers have.

Operation Mountain Guardian, OMG, is the name that was given to the September, 2011 exercise.  I am sure other articles will provide the background and details of OMG.  This article will center on the activities at Park Meadows Mall.

Douglas County Office of Emergency Management was responsible for Park Meadows Mall.  O.M.E.G.A. was asked to help get the role players moulaged as well as assist with check in and check out.  We were asked to be on site at 3:30 AM.  This is a very early start to the day, but we were to be out of the mall by 10:00 AM.  Early start, early finish.  We had three volunteers on site for this task: Donita Hilfinger (O.M.E.G.A.), John Grahn (O.M.E.G.A.) and Kevin Bruer (Castle Pines CERT).  Upon arrival, we checked in and were directed to the moulage area.

The role players would be split into two groups: one to stay at Park Meadows Mall and one to head to Sky Ridge Hospital.  Rumor had it that Sky Ridge did not know how many “victims” were coming.  Finding the Douglas County Emergency Manager, we asked about sending a person on the bus to the hospital to keep track of the role players.  She agreed with this suggestion and Kevin volunteered.  Kevin and nineteen role players boarded the bus and headed to Sky Ridge Hospital.

The remaining role players were placed within the Mall.  A few role players were placed in the food court, which was the site of the suicide bomber.  Others were placed in the mall hallways.  One uninjured person was to hide behind the counter in J.C. Penney.  Upon the start of the event, there were explosions and gunfire.  Mall security began walking around and checking on the injured.  They even got the first aid kit for one woman.  What surprised me was that they walked around casual as can be without concern of the terrorists finding them.

When the SWAT teams arrived, they didn’t take it on face value that the guards were the good guys.  I thought that was pretty smart.  Upon getting the security guards checked out and patted down, they began asking questions and found out there were at least a couple terrorists in JC Penney with a female hostage.

SWAT does not extract the injured.  Their job was to secure the facility so that others could come in and get the injured out safely.  One of the role players had an injured arm.  It was extremely painful and he had a hard time moving the pain was so bad.  He continued to call out to the various SWAT teams to try to distract them.  We did let the controller know if he was being too much of a distraction, let us know and we’d reign him in.  The controller let him be.  An injured woman was asked to leave her jacket and backpack and crawl to the SWAT unit.  She was then escorted out.  Her backpack was later searched and determined to be safe and returned to her.  Another woman with severe injuries from bullet wounds was asked to roll toward the SWAT members since she could not crawl.  Her injuries were severe enough that she died while trying to roll to safety.

Those injured personnel that were in the food court where the suicide bomber detonated his device, taking seven officers with him, were allowed to go out to the medical area and warm up.  Laying on the stone floor gets very chilly.  The role players were asked to leave any bags or personal items in their vehicles.  Most did, but some did not.  One woman had left her bag behind.  The officers emptied it to make sure there were no explosives hidden inside.  One victim was shot in the leg and positioned behind one of the vendor carts near the stairs.  As a terrorist with a gun approached him, he did not call out.  The terrorist shot at the approaching officers and then ran off.  As SWAT approached, they realized that there was an injured person behind the vendor cart.  The same location where someone had been shooting at them.  The injured party was searched, questioned and then hand cuffed since the SWAT personnel were not sure if he was an innocent bystander or a terrorist.  Talk about wrong place at the wrong time!

There was also a group of observers from various areas that would follow the SWAT personnel from a distance and observe what was being done.

As the role players were escorted from the building, they were to check in with the medical area.  Unfortunately, not all role players checked in at the medical area.  I got a call from the emergency manager asking how many role players were still inside the building.  Letting her know that only two were still inside, she seemed concern, because only a handful had checked in at medical and there did not appear to be any role players roaming around.  I checked the credentialing area to see if they had signed out without going to medical.  Counting role players who had not checked out yet, I started to get a little concerned.  I was missing one somewhere.  I accounted for the two in the building, the nineteen on the bus at Sky Ridge, myself and John.  I was still short one.  It finally dawned on me that Kevin had said there were nineteen role players on the bus, not nineteen people.  The nineteen did not include Kevin.  Ha!  All role players were accounted for.  I left a message for the emergency manager.

Eventually, all the role players were escorted from the building.  A short while later, the bus returned from Sky Ridge Hospital.  It appears they were there longer than anticipated because one ‘patient’ was missing.  It appears that one of the role players had been sent to radiology and then set aside.  Finally, someone realized that he was with the group of role players and sent him back down to join the others.

It was a great exercise and I enjoyed being in the midst of it to see how the professionals work.  Given a chance to participate in such an exercise, I would suggest jumping at the chance.

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