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Preparing for the Worst

Anyone driving past the Northpark Mall in Ridgeland, Miss., early one March morning saw a nightmarish scene. About 50 people were strewn on the ground, being helped from the property by emergency crews as a veritable army comprised of mall security, government agencies and local first responders attended to the sick.

Fortunately, none of it was real.

In an exercise designed to emulate a worst-case scenario, mall management and security personnel worked with the Ridgeland Fire and Police Departments, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, to run a mock terror drill at the property. During the exercise, 50 volunteer “victims” pretended to be struck by a nerve agent. And first responders were put to the test.

It's not the first time the one-million-square-foot property has hosted such a drill. Since 2000, a series of 20 disaster scenarios have been staged there (including a mock car bombing). The property is now owned by Simon Property Group, who gained it in its acquisition of Mills Corp.

Mall security officers worked in conjunction with numerous agencies, informed emergency responders of the incident and helped evacuate the “victims” from the property. Ridgeland Fire Department captain and training safety officer Allan McCluer says he expects mall security to meet them at the entrance and serve as guides inside the shopping center.

“Mall security guards are the very first people we'll be dealing with [in the event of an attack] and it makes things better for everybody when they know how we work and we know how they work,” says McCluer.

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