Back in late December, the NYPD conducted an anti-terrorism exercise simulating an attack on the city. A simulated team of terrorists unleashed a coordinated series of bombings and attacks around the city in this scenario. The exercise deliberately mirrored the 2008 massacre in Mumbai India. As was reported here on PoliceOne, “It maybe recalled that in the Mumbai terror attack, 10 gunmen attacked various locations, including two luxury hotels, a hospital and a railway station.”
On the night of Nov. 26, 2008, 10 gunmen working in small cells attacked various locations in Mumbai, including two luxury hotels, a hospital and a railway station. The attacks occurred within minutes of one another and stretched on for three days as hostages were taken at several of the location killing 174 people.
Preparation is Key
We in law enforcement have spent much time and effort preparing for an active shooter incident. Since Columbine we’ve developed tactics for effectively neutralizing a lone gunman. In the past decade, several mass murders have been stopped by law enforcement response. However, are we prepared for an all-out terrorist assault?
NYPD is the leader in preparing for this type of event and what they learned from this months exercise is that there is still much to be done. NYPD sent a team to Mumbai in 2008 to gather intelligence and learn from the aftermath. They also have resources available to them that most police agencies don’t.
The NYPD Training Exercise
NYPD’s top brass gathered inside the department’s headquarters in downtown Manhattan on December 3rd, in the NYPD Police Academy, and a third classified location. Forty senior commanders took part, and a facilitator introduced variables throughout the exercise.
The police were given a fictional scenario that began with President Obama visiting New York for a bill signing. At the same time, convicted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was scheduled to appear in federal court. The attacks began with bombings in the downtown area that resulted in 18 dead and dozens injured.
The president continued his business with the bill signing at the World Trade Center site, when another bomb went off nearby. He was secured and evacuated to safety. The attack wasn’t over. Six gunmen piled out of a van at Herald Square and opened fire on shoppers and pedestrians. They then entered the Macy’s department store and took 26 hostages.
The simulated terrorist teams who attacked New York in the December 2010 exercise also targeted police officials visiting wounded officers in a hospital. The exercise lasted most of the day and by the time it was brought to a conclusion, dozens of people had been killed and many more wounded.
NYPD officers had trouble containing and anticipating the terrorists and their small cell tactics. Officers attempted to rescue hostages and were shot by terrorist snipers. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and the Chief of Department Joseph Esposito went to Bellevue Hospital to visit wounded police officers — both were incapacitated when a simulated bomb exploded inside the emergency room.
The use of buses during an attack to shepherd civilians out of a congested city was successful.
The first responding officers to Macy’s shouldn’t have evacuated people and waited for reinforcements — the traditional response in a hostage situation. Instead, the police could have minimized casualties by quickly finding and killing the terrorists who were shooting people.
Maintaining floor plans of the city’s large department stores and of the city’s major hotels and many popular buildings are critical.
Training 375 officers for tactical response situations and arming them with MP5’s and Mini-14 rifles proved valuable and are needed to counteract military weapons like the ones used in Mumbai.
When advising civilians to “shelter in place” many will still flee on foot, causing more chaos for responding officers.
What Does the Future Hold?
In Mumbai, all the facilities attacked were soft targets. At no point during the attack did the terrorists attempt to overcome armed guards. For the most part, the terrorists attacked unguarded targets, and even in places where they could expect security forces, their reconnaissance informed them that those forces would be only lightly armed and easily overcome.
NYPD obviously has a duty to prepare for another terrorist attack and they are high speed/low drag to their approach. However, prior to Mumbai even the best terrorist intelligence officers didn’t predict this style of small-cell combat tactics. The point is this: terrorists have been changing their tactics since the early 1970s and the planners of any future terrorist attack are well aware of NYPD’s preparations. They are also aware that they can get the same body count, press coverage, and shock value at any large American mall, college, sporting event or celebration.
That means that much of the USA is a soft target and they may just attack a suburban location as well as any major city within the USA, which means you will be the officers responding to it!
Inadequate Training and Equipment
To effectively manage a terrorist attack, first responding officers need to have appropriate equipment and training to neutralize or at least contain the terrorists. However, the Mumbai attacks demonstrated how badly prepared the Maharashtra police were to handle a major terrorist incident. Many police officers remained passive and simply allowed the attacks to unfold perhaps because they were outgunned by the terrorists.
Many officers had only been issued plastic protectors that were suitable for riot control but not for engaging terrorists instead of bulletproof vests. Helmets were of World War II vintage and not designed for modern combat, and most of the responding detachments involved in the incidents were carrying .303 bolt-action rifles similar to those used by the British Army in the 1950s.
American law enforcement is better equipped than many foreign militaries however; most of us don’t get the training we will need to do combat with these militants.
The lack of training for American officers engaged in combat with a Jihadist extremist expecting to die while carrying out his attacks — who is well trained by Al Qaeda or other terrorist factions — is the biggest problem facing law enforcement.
I have no doubt that American law enforcement will gladly take on any terrorist willing to do battle with them and that may be the very reason we haven’t seen a Mumbai style of attack in our country. Training for such an event can only further enhance our response and perhaps keep them from our shores.
These words spoken from a true American Patriot says it all. We need to learn from others failures and prepare for the inevitable. Train in the many tactical options available for responding to an all out terrorist attack. Seek out military style small squad tactics training, individual officer response tactics and everything in between.
Shortly after 9/11, my department started its patrol rifle program. I had the privilege to further develop the program in 2002 when the project was given to me. The first thing we did was add tactical movements to the training. This way these patrol officers would not only have the proper weapon system but have the tactics to go along with it. Our officers were trained in various options such as military squad tactics, the diamond formation and individual building and room clearing techniques. Today 65 percent of our patrol officers carry patrol rifles and receive annual tactics training.
Equipping yourself with all the great resources available to enhance your fighting capabilities such as patrol rifles, tactical vests, helmets and extra magazines is probably the most important factor in your response capabilities. Push your agency to prepare for the worst case scenario by providing these essential items. What we have discovered is the extra equipment and training pays off huge dividends on the every day calls for service that can be handled more effectively and lesson civil litigation.
Here’s the deal. When the call gets dispatched to you and your partners because the terrorist planners’ intelligence indicated that a mall, college or any other location in your jurisdiction is a soft target then remember Todd Beamer’s words “Lets Roll” and send your adversaries to their desired ill gotten fate.