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Active Shooter Drill Shows Strengths and Weaknesses

Campbell County Health applicable staff must have the COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 6 or it could lose Medicaid and Medicare funding.

(Gillette, Wyo.) It was shortly after 8 a.m. when Susan Chambers, nurse manager at Campbell County Memorial Hospital, heard the announcement over the hospital public address system.

It was a code silver, which means a person in the hospital is acting violently and a weapon is involved. She grabbed the “red book,” which provides policies and procedures for all types of emergencies.

Following her training, she “sheltered in place.” She hid under her desk and waited for emergency workers to tell her it was safe to leave.

When police are dealing with an active shooter, depending on circumstances, it may be better to stay put. Anyone the police encounter could be the killer.

“They’re going to treat everyone as a suspect,” said Matt Sabus, director of IT at the hospital.

Fortunately enough, the code silver today was just a drill and Chambers was expecting it to come sometime that morning.

Unlike other types of emergencies it’s hard to direct people exactly what to do with something like an active shooter. With a nearby exit, a person might want to run. If the shooter is nearby, a better option may be to hide or fight.

Chambers said she was inundated with phone calls while she huddled under her desk.

“I received 13 calls in 5 minutes,” she said. She was trying to contact police to alert them to the emergency and get information herself.

The police were also part of the drill.

Practicing chaos

Hospitals have a series of code colors for the multitudes of emergency situations staff might deal with, such as the more well-known code blue, which is called when a patient’s heart or breathing stops.

There’s also a code yellow, which is a situation where the hospital’s resources are heavily taxed by a serious event. Campbell County Memorial Hospital practiced a code yellow back in June, with a mass casualty drill simulating a airliner crash.

There’s also a code red, which is a fire. In a fire, the building needs to be evacuate, and people rendezvous at a set location. It’s a lot easier to plan for such an event and direct people what to do.

With an active shooter, having everyone meet in one location could be deadly. Just as it’s hard to direct people what to do in such an emergency, it’s hard for emergency planners to practice drills to respond to such a scenario.

On one hand you want participants to take it seriously, but to avoid creating a panic over a simulation, the fact it’s a drill needs to be communicated clearly.

The hospital also has to continue caring for some patients during a drill. So some staff have to keep working. Making sure everyone knows their role in the drill and coordinating that response is a monumental task for a hospital with hundreds of people working at any given time.

There are also patients and visitors coming and going from the hospital as the drill is going down. It’s not easy to enroll them all in the drill.

Good drill

The hospital also got to practice communications in such a scenario. In today’s social media environment, information can spread quickly. People might come down to the hospital to investigate, and patients would show up for scheduled appointments. During an active shooter, the hospital’s communications staff would want the public to know to stay away.

Members of the media participated in the drill, calling in and posting on social media to respond to vague tips. Hospital public relations then simulated how they would respond to these inquiries, as the media members carried out their duties according to their normal professional procedures.

The leaders of today’s drill said it went well. Some things went wrong, which is fine. It’s better to find out what isn’t working in a drill rather than a real life event.

“I think any drill is a good drill. It’s not a pass/fail situation,” said Lt. Adam Boothe, director of hospital security.

Boothe said one security camera spun around out of control. They also discovered the code silver emergency alert button didn’t work right. There were a lot of questions as to what doors need to be locked and when.

Some things went well. In dialysis, the doors were locked and the windows were covered. Staff in one of the offices all gathered in a single office and locked the door.

With information they gathered today from the drill, staff will go back and refine their procedures. Hopefully, they’ll never need it, but should the day come when such a scenario arises, they will be all the more prepared.


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