Anson County honed its rescue training skills during an active shooter drill at the new hospital last Tuesday.
Several agencies met at the hospital and participated in variations of the same drill, with each variation laced with different actions by the “shooter” and other factors that tested the rescue personnel.
Sergeant Mike Smith and Lieutenant Mark Coan with the Monroe Police Department were the law enforcement evaluators. Smith, who was also an evaluator for a similar drill at the high school in October, said the opportunity to drill in a hospital is rare. “We thought it went very well,” he said. “We actually gave kudos to Anson County, especially to [emergency services director] Rodney Diggs and his staff, that they took the initiative to hold this exercise. With this new location being built, they took the opportunity to do a training in an environment that we normally don’t get to train at, since hospitals are normally full of staff and patients. Opportunities like this are far and few between. We normally train at schools, but incidents happen in all kinds of locations.”
Scott White, a spokesman for Carolinas Healthcare System, echoed Smith’s approval of the rare location. “We think it’s very important to have done this. We would all like to think that bad things can’t happen in the hospital, but they can, so it’s important for us to practice with the hospital, local police and EMS so that if the worst does happen, we’ll be prepared. We’ll know what to do and so will they.”
From a law enforcement perspective, Smith said he thought the drill went well. “This kind of training inoculates you to a certain extent,” he said. “Not a lot of people are there when gunfire goes off inside a closed environment. When it goes off in a hallway, it can be hard to tell where it is coming from, so you have to go look for it. God forbid that they have to search for a shooter in a closed area, but now they’ve been inoculated to it for a certain extent: ‘Okay, we’ve been here before, we know what this is, now let’s do the job.’”
Rodney Diggs also said the drill was a success. “This was a multi-agency training,” he said. “Carolinas Healthcare System was very energetic during this. Everything went well for all of the agencies involved.”
Such training can be critical for officers, Smith said. “You would think you would be able to tell where it was coming from and most of the time you can’t,” he said. “A lot of the time they have to see where the smoke is coming from and smell the gunpowder. Most people’s reaction when they hear gunfire going off is to go opposite of it. Our priority is the opposite, to go toward the shooter. When we hear that gunfire, it gives us an initial location to locate that shooter.”
Focusing on the various agencies’ priorities is key, Smith said. While police will go toward the gunfire to locate and stop the shooter, hospital security priorities include protecting potential victims and relaying the shooter’s location to law enforcement. Medical staff will focus on patient care, including triaging victims. After the shooter is disabled, law enforcement help find victims, evacuate the rest of the building, and begin the criminal investigation. “If everyone knows everyone’s priorities, it makes it all go smoothly,” Smith said. “That’s the importance of an exercise like that. They could have just held one with law enforcement, which would still have training value, but they wouldn’t learn about the EMS and medical staff priorities. To have everyone there at one time and to see what they all do was tremendously beneficial.”
Smith said the officers responded well to the drill.”Regardless if they are a veteran or new officer, it always gets your blood pumping,” he said. “You only get out of the training what you put into it. and they took it very seriously. They were sweating, they were breathing hard, they were fatigued at the end of it,and that tells me that they took it seriously. Some of the younger officers hadn’t been exposed to that level of training. Most officers at that level in their career aren’t exposed to that level of training. I had some younger officers come up to me afterward and say they learned a lot and self-identified areas to work on like movement, communications, gun handling”
Doing the drill in a local building was a bonus, Smith said. “Veteran officers took the time to hone their skills,” he said.” They have probably been through this a few times and got to fine-tune their skills. It’s not everyday that they got to operate in that kind of environment. They welcome this level of training, especially being able to do it locally. Its one thing to do it at a school somewhere else, but to do it in your own backyard — where if it happens you’ll be the one responding— your hospital, your school is paramount. They welcome that and understand that.”
Robbie Ossman was the exercise controller. “Overall we learned a lot,” he said. “There’s still a lot of debriefing to do, but from the healthcare side of it, we learned about some of the possibilities. Everybody involved has taken something away from this.”
Smith identified communication and command as key aspects they learned they needed to focus on during the drill. “Communication in an incident like this is absolutely critical,” he said. “We need to be able to talk directly with the responding groups. We identified communication as critical. The other thing that’s critical in something like this is establishing command. As quickly as possible there must be some sort of command set up: someone has to be in charge, and that needs to be established as quickly as possible.”
Smith cited accountability as one reason for the command structure. “You need to be able to account for everybody in the incident: who’s entering or leaving your scene, where they are going,” he said. “Are you still looking for a bad guy or have you located him? Are you still looking for additional bad guys? These things need to be tracked.” Although he said that there are areas that need work, Smith said that overall everyone did an “outstanding job.”
Over a dozen agencies were involved in the drill: Carolinas Healthcare System, the Anson County Sheriff’s Office, Wadesboro Police Department, Anson County EMS, Anson Rescue Squad, Anson County Emergency Management, NC Emergency Management, Anson County Transportation, American Red Cross, Morven Police Department, Wadesboro Fire Department, Brown Creek Correctional, South Piedmont Community College, Anson County 911, and the Monroe Police Department.