In the concrete chambers of the Boston City Council Saturday, a volunteer acting as a disgruntled civilian with a pretend firearm took hostage six mock elected officials.
Eight SWAT team members burst into the room with simulated rifles and vests that lit up when they were “hit,” yelling instructions as they tried to find and arrest the gunman, ensure that civilians inside the chambers were not a threat, and free the elected officials.
The training program Urban Shield, which started in 2011 in the Boston area, drew about 2,000 police officers, medics, fire officials, and other first responders from 60 agencies. for 24 hours of simulations, the largest security training exercise in the city’s history.
“We saw in the Marathon, it’s critical for the bomb squads, the SWAT teams, EMS, to be coordinated in what they’re doing, to be able to talk to each other,” said Rene Fielding, director of the city’s office of emergency management.
No actual councilors were among the mock hostages during the drill at City Hall.
Other simulations tested first responders with a school shooting in Brookline, a gunman in a Cambridge workplace, explosives in an MBTA training center, and a rescue from a confined space on Moon Island.
“We’ve had positive feedback,” Fielding said in the early afternoon. “The teams get done, they’re hot, they’re sweaty, their adrenaline's rushing — it’s really good training for them.”
In City Hall, the SWAT team’s rifles and vests resembled sophisticated laser tag equipment. In other sites, teams used simulated ammunition with paint, like paintball for police officers, which those running the event would later have to clean off the walls.
In Cambridge late Saturday morning, SWAT teams ran into a workplace where an employee had supposedly shot and injured six co-workers and a police officer who responded.
“This site is for coordination, trying to get medical personnel into a scene that’s maybe not as secure as it could be, where there’s a suspect still wandering around the building,” Cambridge police Lieutenant George Sabbey said.
Five SWAT teams cycled through each site Saturday, and the volunteer playing the gunman alternated between using a handgun and a rifle, said Christina Maryland, a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management in Boston.
The training, Sabbey said, is “probably as real as it gets.”
Last year, police had planned a drill in which a domestic terrorist organization called “Free America Citizens” planted bombs around the city. Two months before the training, however, two real bombs went off near the Boston Marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds. Organizers canceled that year’s drill, Fielding said.
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