Swatara, Lower Paxton and Susquehanna Township Police, Fire, and Crisis Response Units Conduct Three Training Exercise Sessions at Harrisburg Mall 

Swatara Exchange
Swatara Exchange

Owner St. John Properties, Inc. provides space to local emergency response teams to help simulate and better prepare for public crisis situations

HARRISBURG, PA – Emergency responders from Swatara Township, Lower Paxton Township, Susquehanna Township, and the Dauphin County crisis response teams utilized the Harrisburg Mall site on three separate occasions recently to conduct situational training sessions for the county’s police, fire, and rescue teams. The exercises were completed in portions of the unoccupied enclosed mall that remain during the ongoing demolition activities. St. John Properties has commenced plans to transform the former mall into Swatara Exchange, a new mixed-use business community. Representatives from seven Dauphin County municipalities made use of the space to conduct training exercises involving drones, police K9 teams, and fire department operations. Following an extended demolition strategy, St. John Properties intends to commence construction on the redevelopment in 2025.

The Dauphin County crisis response team is comprised of police officers from multiple county police agencies including Harrisburg City, Derry, Lower Paxton, Lower Swatara, Susquehanna and Swatara townships, and Dauphin County Probation and Parole.

“It is a rare occurrence to receive full and unfiltered access to a building or retail venue in order for our team to simulate real-life crisis situations and train our team,” explained Lt. Timothy Shatto, Field Services Division, Swatara Township Police Department. “Every emergency is different, and there is no replacement for assembling our team in a public environment to execute best-practice protocols and react to fast-changing conditions. We deeply appreciate and thank St. John Properties for allowing us access to this space. During our three training exercises, we significantly sharpened our tactical responses and had the opportunity to react to rapidly-shifting conditions. The general public is the true benefactor of these sessions.”   

Taking advantage of the two-level space featuring a blend of common spaces and individual store cavities, the teams practiced situations including hostage-taking, an active-shooter, a small fire, and other emergency cases. The response personnel had the opportunity to cut and remove portions of the mall roof, forcibly remove doors and windows, interact with hostage vehicles, fly surveillance drones through the premises and help train the canine unit. The group practiced team entries and movements and performed body searches. Each of the units had the opportunity to record the exercises with the intent to produce training videos for future review and use.             

“St. John Properties’ generosity and support have provided our team with invaluable opportunities to enhance our skills and readiness in a realistic environment,” stated Swatara Township Fire Chief Michael Ibberson. “Training in such a facility is essential for our preparedness and effectiveness in real-life scenarios, and St. John’s willingness to assist us has made a significant difference. We appreciate the company’s partnership and commitment to the safety and well-being of our community.”

“The local police, fire and emergency response teams provide invaluable resources and support to both the business and residential communities, and we are especially grateful for the first responders who provide selfless services for the good of the region,” said Tom Nelson, St. John Properties’ Vice President, Interior Construction. “When presented the opportunity to give something back to these teams, and help them better prepare for emergency situations, we did not hesitate. Each of the three sessions was expertly coordinated with a safety-first approach. We thank everyone for their diligence and efforts throughout the planning and execution of this training.” 

At full buildout, Swatara Exchange is expected to support up to 1,000 new jobs in its nearly 550,000 square feet of space, and contribute approximately $1 million in tax revenue annually. Twelve new buildings will be constructed, with the current Applebee’s and Bass Pro Shops staying in place.    

The Swatara Exchange plan includes the development of nearly 50,000 square feet of complementary inline retail space and two new retail pad sites that will be marketed to restaurants, financial institutions, medical providers, convenience stores. Four multi-use/flex buildings, totaling nearly 200,000 square feet will also be constructed to attract companies big and small looking for space within the Harrisburg area. The former Toys R Us building at 3405 Paxton Street is being marketed for sale or lease and is attracting interest from both retail and non-retail businesses.

Founded in 1971, St. John Properties, Inc. is one of the nation’s largest and most successful privately held commercial real estate firms. The company is distinguished by its commitment to customer service, achievements in green building, and top-rated workplace culture. Throughout St. John Properties’ 53-year history, the company has developed more than 24 million square feet of flex/R&D, office, retail, and warehouse space, and has investments in over 3,000 residential units. The company proudly serves more than 2,600 clients in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Utah, and Wisconsin. For more information about the company, visit www.sjpi.com.