During the May 2011 Urban Shield Exercise, the Metro-Boston Region will test its ability to effectively respond to a large-scale terrorist attack, similar in scope to what occurred in Mumbai, India.
On November 26, 2008, 10 gunmen attacked multiple locations in Mumbai, including two luxury hotels, a hospital and a railway station. The attack stretched for three days as hostages were taken at several locations. In the first wave of attacks, two young gunmen armed with assault rifles entered the city’s main train station and sprayed bullets into the crowd. The gunmen continued their rampage outside the station, ambushing and killing five officers located in a police van.Gunfire and explosions rang out into the morning. Hours after the assaults began, the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel was in flames. Guests banged on the windows of the upper floors as firefighters worked to rescue them. Fire also raged inside the luxurious Oberoi Hotel as seven attackers were holding hostages there as well.
Attackers had also left bombs in taxis, while they targeted a popular restaurant, the Cama and Albless Hospital, and the Nariman House, which is home to the city’s Chabad-Lubavitch (Jewish) center. Ultimately, 174 were killed and 308 were wounded during this assault and massacre. Unlike previous attacks in India consisting of just anonymously planting bombs, this terror attack consisted of assailants who were exceptionally well armed and very confrontational.
Similar to the Mumbai massacre, was the 2004 tragedy in Beslan. Here, a platoon sized terror element attacked and held a school in the small town of Beslan, North Osetia (Russia). During a three-day hostage siege, 700 people were wounded and 338 killed, including 172 young children. Terrorist tactics have shown they are shifting from bombings to mass hostage siege situations, where a group of terrorists take and hold a structure, stabilize the target area and hold a prolonged hostage event. Terrorists are conducting raids using military tactics in which speed, surprise and violence of action are used by a smaller force to harass, shock, and keep a larger force off balance.
The Metro-Boston Homeland Security Region understands that the threat of an international terrorist attack of this magnitude in our country is possible. As a result, the Boston region has incorporated a large-scale Mumbai type scenario into the Urban Shield Exercise. Regional government, law enforcement, fire, EMS and emergency management personnel, along with federal agencies including the FBI, ATF, National Guard, Coast Guard, among others are meeting, communicating and taking proactive steps to counter potential terrorist efforts.
During this scenario, hundreds of regional first responders including SWAT, Bomb Squad, K9, Fire, Urban Search and Rescue (USAR), EMS and others will converge on a large facility, which has been taken over by a group of heavily armed terrorists. Arriving command officers will follow the Incident Command System to form a Unified Command structure. Intelligence and communication systems will be utilized to gain situational awareness. As first responders arrive from throughout the Metro-Boston Region, they will be assigned to deal with a series of complicated issues including heavily armed suspects, hostages, explosions, secondary explosive devices, fires, partial building collapse, injuries, and more. During the Urban Shield Exercise, all entities will work together to handle the situation as it unfolds, and will be forced to integrate new tactics. For example, SWAT teams may operate alongside EOD techs to mitigate IED’s encountered during the assault. In addition, EMS and Fire may be escorted into “warm” zones to facilitate immediate rescue of critically injured persons while the gun battle continues in a different area of the facility.
During the drill, the Boston Region will gain valuable experience related to conducting a well-organized response against a fortified position. In addition to receiving excellent training and experience, the scenario will provide the Region with critical information related to current policies, capabilities, equipment, assets, command and communication systems, and emergency operation centers. In addition, this exercise will incorporate future technologies and equipment that will be field tested and evaluated to determine effectiveness and overall functionality.