Photo by Casey Gomez

On Saturday, Sept. 30, “terrorists” took over the Midtown MARTA station. After an initial explosion, they held the station with gunfire before APD and a SWAT team confronted them. But these terrorists were actors, hired by MARTA in order to challenge employees and other agencies in an extreme emergency preparedness drill.

A few minutes after midnight, an explosion startled actors, playing civilians and MARTA employees. Terrorists armed with guns loaded with blanks crouched against the wall, waiting to throw responding officers into what would be the largest emergency preparedness exercise in the state.

This drill is an annual exercise run by MARTA that involves statewide groups including Atlanta Fire Rescue, Atlanta Police Department, Georgia Emergency Management Services and federal entities like the Department of Homeland Security. According to Keith Parker, the CEO and General Manager of MARTA, this drill involves up to 400 people and takes six months of preparation.

This year, the exercise focused on terrorism, but in the past they have focused on natural disasters, chemical accidents and other kinds of attacks. The goal is to teach employees about gaps in resources, preparedness and communication.

Parker stressed that though the drill could inconvenience people, it helps MARTA and the other agencies be “better prepared in the event something catastrophic happens.” He has no doubt that terrorism is a potential threat in Atlanta. To him, MARTA is especially attractive because of its many trains and buses.

Perhaps due to the rise of the terrorism threat in the U.S., the MARTA drill has increased in complexity over the years. Last year was the first year the drill was a multistation event.

One year, the drill involved a number of  actors dressed in garb so as to resemble clowns carrying M16 assault rifiles. This year, the terrorists wore all black, some with bandanas placed over their mouths.

They advanced into the station, shooting rounds as well as taking hostages from the actors that were playing victims. As the drill advanced, a MARTA employee directed the terrorists to shout out “Trump sucks!” and “Not my president!”

The victims lay down after the initial blast. Covered in fake blood, they called out for help.

At one point, one actor and MARTA employee checked to determine whether another was actually okay and only acting. He had been shaking and grimacing each time that a gun was shot. Fog drifted through the station while MARTA employees directed the actors and filmed the action.

Officer Price, one of the APD officers who responded, believes the drill is a good example of a real life incident. When Price and her fellow officers arrived, they were told there was an active shooter but not how many. As they continued into the station they found one wounded civilian and three officers down. Price and two other officers took out three shooters and continued down the escalator, where they were “shot” by terrorists approaching from across the tracks, out of their line of sight.

Drill activity ended around roughly 3:30 a.m. The footage the MARTA employees shot will be used in a number of training videos to further help employees and responders learn from the drill.

The Technique will be posting of a video of the drill online at the Technique Facebook page.