When a distressed father of two teenagers pulled up in front of the emergency room at Oak Hill Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, no one could have predicted what was about to happen.
The man, evidently angry from a fight with his wife, who sat beside him in the passenger side of the vehicle, was screaming profanities and growing more hostile by the second.
In a flash of chaos, the man pulled out a hand gun, aimed at his wife and pulled the trigger. She fell to the ground. Within a few blinding seconds, the man had then turned the gun on innocent bystanders, shooting a child and her mother before turning the gun on his own children, a security guard responding for assistance and then finally himself.
The above scenario was part of a mock disaster drill Wednesday at Oak Hill Hospital. With multiple victims lying in imaginary pools of blood, the Oak Hill disaster team broke into high alert and began working through the protocols that were tested for accuracy and effectiveness during a planned moment of organized pandemonium.
The purpose of this drill, the first of its kind to include an active gunman and threat to public safety, was to help Oak Hill disaster personnel identify and resolve any problems with their current system. By working through the episode as if it were playing out in real time, the team would get a unique perspective, putting them in a position to fix any discrepancies.
Catherine Edmisten, Director of Emergency Services at Oak Hill, said the drill had been planned for about two months, choosing a scenario that is becoming all too common at public facilities. Using several volunteers with scripted situations, the exercise posed real life dangers to civilians and hospital staff while also testing their reactions to various levels of injury.
Before the exercise commenced on an even busier than usual afternoon at the ER, volunteer victims and staff were briefed about the event. A security guard on staff, who would take an imaginary bullet in the abdomen after responding to cries for help, was encouraged to think about his own systems and how he might react to different conditions.
“If you saw someone in obvious distress, you would probably walk up to them to assist,” Edmisten explained. “But if you knew it was from a gunshot, you probably wouldn’t. This is to help you test your systems as well.”
The Emergency Team runs through several drills at different times that pertain to actual disaster scenarios as part of their ongoing training.
“But this was the first time we used a gunman scenario,” Edmisten said.
Several volunteers, including two of Edmisten’s step children, played the roles of victims in various levels of injury. Wearing information cards around their necks, hospital staff was able to assess injuries and make decisions that were in the best interest of saving lives while protecting staff and patients at the ER. Victims were color coded using wristbands to categorize the severity of their injuries. Personnel was then encouraged to role play different situations.
The scenario was paused at certain points and real questions were posed to the triage nurses, intake nurses and attending physician, who participated in the exercise on his day off. And glitches in the hospital protocol for disaster events were analyzed and resolutions were considered based on participant input and problem solving.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that our operations focus on the safety of everyone,” Edmisten said.
The mock disaster was played out while the hospital maintained a normal business day, and scaled down to protect patients from undue distress. Several times staff members yelled out that this was a drill while others attended to patients in and out of the ER as needed.
Because of the unusual demands on the staff, some were unable to participate in the exercise as planned.
And that might just be the best case scenario that made this “mock scenario” even more successful. Real, unseen obstacles can happen in real life at any time, increasing the importance of utilizing role playing as a viable resource for setting effective disaster planning.
Knowing such drills are being performed at regular intervals to insure the safety of patients and innocent civilians is an important part of Oak Hill’s commitment to the community it serves.
The event will be evaluated for the next few weeks, looking at how things were handled and making adjustments where needed.
For those participating, it was a good opportunity to gain insight into how real disasters should be handled.
“Everyone might just think a little harder about what they would do in a real situation,” Edmisten said.