Within two minutes of the first 911 call Saturday, Howard County police had arrived at The Mall in Columbia.
Though an event such as the shooting in which three died had never occurred before in the county, police say they were prepared because of joint training between police and mall security.
"Our law enforcement train and are prepared, and they did exactly what they prepared to do," said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.
Late Saturday night, reflecting on the day's events, Ulman said that while the shooting was a "scary incident," responders were prepared.
"Because we know the mall is such a public place, we've trained here," he said. "Our (tactical) teams have trained at the mall with the mall security folks, we know where the surveillance cameras are. We know how to get in an out. We've done this kind of training. We've briefed their management, each of their store managers about 'here's what you do.' And a lot of that happened. We're going to go back through after action and see."
Shortly after police arrived, the mall was placed on lockdown and tactical units began the task of locating trapped shoppers and mall employees who scattered after the shots rang out in the mall.
Howard Police Chief Bill McMahon said officers were able to get inside and canvass the mall "very quickly." According to police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn, the SWAT team was in the area of the mall on another case when the shooting was reported. Details of the other case were not made available by police.
Ryan Miller, director of Howard County's Office of Emergency Management, said the mall, which is owned by General Growth Properties and is staffed by private security, allows county police and fire agencies to conduct drills on the property, including active shooter drills, a training tool he said is invaluable on a day like Saturday.
"For years we have done exercises and training at this mall," Miller said. "I've been here at 1 a.m. when we've done exercises. ... For [the mall] to open the doors to allow them to orient themselves to the facility is so valuable."
Still, it took hours to clear the mall of customers after the shooting, and SWAT teams worked until about 3:30 p.m. Saturday searching for people sheltering in place.
"If you can imagine how many rooms, how many back offices, dressing rooms and nooks and crannies there are in the mall," Ulman said. "The tactical team went through every one in the mall and it has been cleared."
McMahon said police would be at the mall "as we have been, until this incident is resolved," and would be assisting the mall with security.
Even with the training, technology such as metal detectors are not in place at the mall. And during winter months, when people are wearing heavy coats, it could be easier to conceal a weapon. On Saturday evening, police would not speculate on how the shooter got a shotgun into the mall.
Mall security officials also were not available for comment. The mall will remain closed on Sunday as police continue the investigation.
Officials said Sunday the mall would reopen Monday at 1 p.m., and Ulman said he was going "back eating in the food court and shopping here.
"We're a tough community and we're going to get back to normal very, very quickly," he said.
The Mall in Columbia opened in August 1971. It has more than 200 shops, restaurants and kiosks. The "anchors," or largest stores, are JCPenney, Lord & Taylor, Sears, Nordstrom and Macy's. The building is run by General Growth Properties, which purchased the mall from the Rouse Co. in 2004.
The mall is a major part of Columbia, the planned community, created by developer and urban planner James Rouse. It is a focal point of the town, which was founded in 1967.
In January 2013, developers broke ground on the mall's latest redevelopment. The project, which saw the end of the LL Bean store, added 40,000 square feet and turned the former outdoor catalog store into an open-air streetscape with two rows of restaurants and retail with a courtyard and new mall entrance. The first stores opened in November 2013, including the intimates retailer Soma and gourmet food store Secolari. The second-floor entrance near the new development is the closet entrance to the Zumiez, where the shooting occurred.
The mall has grown over its 42-year history. In 1981, a 370,000-square-foot addition added the food court and Sears. In 1998, Lord & Taylor opened its doors on the east side of the mall. With the new department store came two new parking garages. The Nordstrom opened in 1999 as part of a 60,000-square-foot addition that included about 40 other retailers. LL Bean opened in 2000, followed the next year by the restaurant plaza that now includes P.F. Chang's, Uno Chicago Grill and Champps Restaurant and Bar.
In 2003, a 14-screen AMC movie theater complex opened near the restaurant plaza — the same theater whose lobby was used as a shelter-in-place hub Saturday.