North West Ambulance Service will take part in a massive counter terrorism training exercise staged in Manchester tonight involving as many as 800 volunteers.
The mock terror strike will be staged at the Trafford Centre at midnight- Britain’s second largest shopping centre - with the team of volunteers playing shoppers at the mall.
Residents nearby have been warned they could hear loud bangs and will see emergency crews taking part in the test.
Dozens of officers from the North West Counter Terrorism Unit, Greater Manchester Police and Merseyside Police will race to the scene to take action.
They will be assisted by Trafford Centre staff as well as the fire service and the North West Ambulance Service.
The exercise is part of a three-day operation taking place across the north west - dubbed Exercise Winchester Accord.
Following deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels, the terrorist threat remains ‘severe’ according to MI5.
However, counter terrorism police say there is no specific threat against Trafford Centre, which has been chosen because the exercise can take place away from the public at that time of night.
Similar operations have taken place around the country including one involving 1,000 police officers in London last year.
None of the emergency services taking part in the exercise nor the volunteers have been told precise details of the scenario which will unfold, although they know it will involve some sort of terrorism attack.
The Trafford Centre will be open for business as normal on Monday and Tuesday.
The exercise, which has been planned for five months, will continue until 6am on Tuesday at the Trafford Centre and then at other locations in the north west, concluding at Red Bank Community Home in Newton Le Willows on Wednesday.
Although the exercise is just staged, Manchester has suffered from the threat of terrorism in the past.
In 1996, an IRA bomb injured more than 200 people and devastated Manchester city centre.
Security services also thwarted an Al Qaida terrorist atrocity planned for Manchester’s Arndale Centre and St Ann’s Square at Easter in 2009.
'No specific threat'
Speaking ahead of the training operation, Assistant Chief Constable Rebekah Sutcliffe said: “There’s no specific threat that the Trafford Centre is a target.
However, the geography of the Trafford Centre and the fact we have a really good working relationship with (owners) Intu means we are able to exercise there in a manner that causes minor disruption to the public and enables a number of agencies to simultaneously test their contingency plans. I wouldn’t want the public to read any significance into the fact it’s the Trafford Centre.”
She added: “We are telling people about it so they’re not worried about it and so they know it’s not real.
“Whilst of course the fact we are having this process is going to be a cause for concern for some people, I also hope people do feel we are exercising in this manner to provide reassurance that our response to an incident - in the unfortunate event it does occur - will be as effective as possible.”
Trafford Centre general manager Richard Paxton said: “The police and emergency services do an extremely important job keeping the public safe. This training, planning and preparation to deal with all eventualities is essential and we had no hesitation allowing them to use our facilities for their exercise while the centre was closed.”