A knife-wielding attacker was neutralised by armed gardaí during a simulated multiple-stabbing attack and hostage standoff inside a Cork City nightclub — believed to be the first emergency services exercise of its kind in the country.

Gardaí stressed that yesterday’s critical incident exercise, codenamed Operation CorkCitySafe, was not designed to test the response of emergency services to a terrorist attack. But they said the lessons learned would help inform the response to potential terrorist incidents in the future.

Sgt Peter Murphy, who is involved in emergency planning in the southern Garda region, said such exercises are vital.

“It would be very naive to ignore what’s happening on the world stage and the types of threats that exist,” he said.

“We need to stop talking about what we might do and we need to start planning, practicing and training for what we are going to do. The only way we can find out what shortfalls there might be is to get stuck into the training environment.”

Inspector Finbarr O’Sullivan said while some of the operational components used in the exercise may form part of the initial response to a terrorist attack, the overall tactical and strategic response to a terrorist incident would require a very different set of skills and priorities.

The exercise was organised following requests from business owners involved in the city’s nighttime economy and was staged in the Reardens complex on Washington St, involving Garda units, HSE paramedics, and the fire service.

With Assistant Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon and Chief Supt Barry McPolin looking on, students from UCC and the Cork College of Commerce acted as nightclub revellers before five people were knifed by a lone male attacker on the dancefloor. The incident sparked panic and confusion before nightclub staff took control and rendered first-aid.

Two unarmed uniformed gardaí and HSE paramedics arrived and requested armed support when it emerged the attacker was still on the premises.

Two members of the Garda regional support unit, armed with conventional and non-lethal weapons, arrived prompting the suspect to take a woman hostage at knife-point.

The gardaí engaged in initial negotiation and called for trained negotiators.

A second two-person armed Garda unit arrived, one holding a ballistic shield, the other holding a 40mm launcher which fires a sponge round — an impact projectile designed to disable a person from a distance.

After a tense stand-off, the hostage was released but when the suspect pointed the knife at his throat, he was disabled using the impact projectile and arrested.

Inspector Danny Coholan, of the southern regional armed support unit, said his units were not fully briefed ahead of the exercise to ensure they were faced with a realistic and testing scenario.

“The gardai gave very clear and controlled instructions and commands to the suspect to drop the weapon and release the suspect. We will learn from this and spread the learnings through the other crews,” he said.

Rearden’s owner, Paul Montgomery, said there have been many violent incidents in London, the US, and Paris in recent years — 49 people were killed in the 2016 Orlando nightclub attack, and 39 people were killed in an attack on a Turkish nightclub earlier this year.

“We are not immune to that. I don’t want to frighten people away, but everyone is looking at where trouble could occur — it’s going to be where crowds gather. That’s the reality,” he said.

“Security might seem excessive at nighttime, and people often give out about security, but you can see from an incident like this that you have to have a good security presence and people switched on.”

Jess O’Sullivan, operations manager of AOS Security, one of the largest private security companies in the region, said she hopes the exercise will lead to the development of an emergency planning training course for employers and employees involved in security.

Dr Orla Lynch, a psychologist at UCC’s department of criminology who works with victims of and first responders to terrorist attacks, said planning for psychological intervention in the wake of such events is critical.

“What we don’t want is an individual suffering clinical symptoms in the longer term, such as post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said. “We want to mitigate that potential impact by getting in there in the short term and giving psychological first-aid. Given the attacks across Europe and in the US over the past 12-18 months, there is an awareness that this has to be an integral part of any major incident planning.”

A full debrief will take place in January.


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