Exercise Mustang

In November 2008, a series of terrorist attacks took place in Mumbai (India) when an Islamist terrorist organisation carried out coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across the city. A total of 175 people died (including 9 attackers) and 300 were wounded. The attacks drew widespread global condemnation although they seemed a long way from the UK. Surely things like that don’t happen here at home, do they?

In 2015, a gunman killed 38 people on a beach near Sousse in Tunisia. Twenty of the deceased were British nationals. The gunman was subsequently killed too. Although not on UK soil, these attacks felt like they were getting closer to home.

Wind forward to 2017 and the answer to the question posed above is yes, this type of terrorist attack can happen in the UK when we saw the unthinkable happen on our streets.  Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park. Well, that’s in the cities, but surely things like that don’t happen in quiet rural places like Wiltshire, do they?

Let’s hope not, but in the 1980s Wiltshire did experience several IRA related terrorist incidents but, to date, we have not seen any Islamic fundamentalist terror attacks in the county. However, the possibility is that we could, and we must prepare for such an eventuality. Complacency is not an option!

Wiltshire has a large military footprint including MOD Corsham which houses the Global Operations and Security Control Centre (GOSCC) that supports UK and overseas military operations. Consequently, the LRF has previously developed a close working relationship with the establishment over the last decade. We have collaborated to run several joint exercises including live exercises to test our response to incidents such as a crashed helicopter at the site and tabletop exercises testing the response to a terrorist incident. Perhaps unusually for some, it is the civil authorities that would take primacy in dealing with such an emergency at the site. 

To run a ‘live’ counter terrorism exercise at the site was a significant commitment for the LRF and goes further than anything we have done before. Such an event provided a unique opportunity to test the combined response of local civil responders and an opportunity for MOD Corsham to exercise their internal business continuity arrangements. 

A dedicated and experienced multi-agency team was assembled to plan a two-day exercise called Exercise Mustang (after the name of a building on the site at the centre of the exercise). It was run over two days in early October 2022. The planning took nearly 15 months from conception to delivery and a critical role was played by MOD Corsham’s Business Resilience and Security Manager, being the interface between the MOD and the LRF. The first day was operational live play involving a marauding terrorist attack by two individuals armed with firearms, and the second day involved a tactical desktop exercise with commanders from a number of local agencies. These people would be brought together to deal with the wider consequence management of such an incident.

Day 1

The exercise started with the report of a road traffic collision outside the site. Two occupants had run off and subsequently attacked the establishment itself. Initial response was provided by the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) supported by Defence Fire and Military Guard Service personnel all based at MOD Corsham. They requested the support of civil responders such as Wiltshire Police, South Western Ambulance Service and Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service. The attackers entered buildings at the site and opened fire killing some members of staff and causing many wounded casualties. Additional Police firearms resources were brought to the site to locate the terrorists and neutralise the threat. At the same time, the Ambulance Service Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) treated the casualties and survivors were triaged through a Survivor Reception Centre, which saw Police and Council colleagues working together. This day saw a total of 216 external personnel going onto site at different times and being moved to multiple locations. 

This part of the exercise concluded at lunchtime leaving players, directing staff and observers with healthy appetites. Lunch for over 256 staff was provided by the charity Rapid Relief giving them the opportunity to test their catering arrangements should they be called out to support responders during any real emergency.

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Day 2

This was a desktop exercise to test the considerations and decision making of multi-agency tactical commanders who would come together to manage the wider consequences of such an incident. They convened together as a collective known as a Tactical Coordinating Group (TCG) chaired by a Wiltshire Police Superintendent. This enabled MOD Corsham to consider its business continuity arrangements at the same time.

In parallel to this, Wiltshire Police tested their Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) arrangements which involved forensic recovery of the dead. This is a meticulous and time-consuming process undertaken by specially trained officers and is done methodically and with great dignity.

It is emphasised that this was an exercise and not a real event! It was important that local residents did not become alarmed by the exercise mistakenly believing it to be real. Letters were delivered to them prior to the exercise, and they were spoken to by MDP officers to provide reassurance.

Hopefully, wider reassurance is provided by holding this ambitious exercise, designed to test and rehearse processes and procedures should the unthinkable happen and Wiltshire is attacked by those wanting to cause harm to our communities. It also consolidated relationships with the Military, which is a key partner within Wiltshire & Swindon LRF. We always want to support our military colleagues.

Exercise Mustang builds upon the strong relationship that already exists between the LRF and MOD Corsham. Initial findings suggest it was a success and met its aim and objectives. The LRF has a culture of learning and continuous improvement, meaning that a full multi-agency debrief was undertaken in December when agencies again came together to reflect upon what went well, not so well and to identify any lessons for improvement.

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