Patrol cars and ambulances flooded Urgent Care in Clinton Thursday morning just moments after a man wielding a handgun fired random shots as he scoured the facility for his estranged wife. The man’s search continued at Sampson Regional Medical Center, where more shots rang out, before he ultimately was killed in a stand-off with police.
Witnesses at both locations reported hearing multiple gunshots as the man yelled for “Lisa” during a rampage that claimed two lives and injured five others. Four people were shot at the Urgent Care facility, resulting in one death, and there were three gunshot victims at the hospital, one of whom suffered fatal injuries. The shooter was the third death, shot when he turned his gun on police bearing down on him.
None of it really happened, despite what people may have read on Facebook or heard from others shortly thereafter. It was a training exercise, but a very realistic glimpse that aims to give hospital and rescue personnel, as well as local law enforcement, practice should a dire emergency situation involving an active shooter actually take place.
“It’s scary, but it happens,” Sampson Regional CEO David Masterson said. “You never know when something’s going to happen. We have to stay fresh on all this. With an active shooter situation, we never want to see that and we’re not inviting it, but we have to be realistic.”
As a stipulation of its accreditation by the Joint Commission, the hospital must hold a certain number of drills each year, some of which are smaller (fire, etc.) that involve only the hospital, while two drills must be conducted that are larger in nature and involved other agencies, like Thursday’s. The drill was the hospital’s, but the Clinton Police Department, Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, Sampson County EMS and others offered assistance.
“This was coordinated by the hospital, with the help of partners,” said Amber Cava, vice president of marketing and community relations at Sampson Regional. “We felt like we needed to test our active shooter policy and our ability to respond to that.”
Many lauded the coordination and response to the simulated shootings, and preached continued improvement and better communication — something officials said would come with work and practice.
Doug Haas, area coordinator for N.C. Emergency Management, witnessed the event from the Incident Command (IC) center, where efforts were coordinated.
“There were a number of things done very well,” said Haas. “It’s obvious they have practiced, have a clear understanding of the procedures and know what to do. I thought they were trying to do all the right things. There was a lot of good discussion at Incident Command and a lot of good information shared. Communication is key.”
He said needed modifications should be noted and implemented, then walked through again, leading up to another simulation.
“Something like this is pretty dramatic,” said Haas. “You’ve got a real good basis, a real good groundwork, just develop it further and make sure it’s effective, and make sure it’s walked through.”
Clinton Police Lt. Tim King has done similar training for the last decade, and said he was impressed with the readiness of everyone involved.
“I must say, this one went smoother than any I’ve been involved with,” King said. “It was just phenomenal. Everybody was extremely professional. Urgent Care and the hospital, I can’t say enough about them. Even officers commented on how professional everyone was.”
Hospital officials said they were proud of how seriously the drill was taken by staff. Masterson and others said while there was room for improvement, having the training was a solid way of identifying problem areas that need to be addressed.
Among them, Masterson noted some kinks with the hospital’s overhead paging system, which could not be readily heard within the Emergency Department or the Incident Command post inside the hospital’s administrative wing. The radios also were not working within Incident Command, with information forced to be relayed from hallways or even outside the facility. Some in the exterior buildings, including Woodside Professional Building, were not immediately notified.
The result in some cases was conflicting or delayed information, Masterson said.
Some of that communication could be improved in the simplest ways, many said. Haas suggested, along with several others outside the hospital, that Sampson Regional’s “Code Silver” alert, said many times over radios and paging system, be changed to the more direct “Active Shooter.”
“Communication was the main downfall,” King said, echoing the feedback of many who gathered for a critique following Thursday morning’s exercise. “When radios don’t work, you need to have cell phone numbers.”
The urgent care facility and hospital were the main locations of the shooting, however King said future exercises should not only be held at a different time of day, but could also be focused at the Obstetrics or Emergency Room, which are often site of problems that are less frequent in other areas of the hospital. Different times of day would mean different people working, highlighting the importance of cross-training, King said. Masterson agreed.
“We shook it up from previous incidents,” said Masterson. There were some key hospital officials who have held major roles during prior exercises absent from Thursday’s, whether because of retirement or out for vacation.
“We tend to be reliant on key people. We need to realize that those key people might not always be here,” Masterson said. “Not every disaster is going to happen at 10 a.m. It might happen at 2 a.m.. We need to have the personnel ready.”
Masterson, who has worked at two other hospitals where active shooter situations occurred, said it is a reality that any care facility can find themselves thrust into — while the hope is that it will never happen, hospital personnel need to be prepared in case it does.
Mike Gilpin, vice president for human resources at the hospital, stepped in as IC director Thursday, filling in for Masterson, just so that redundancy of efforts can be accomplished.
“It was stressful,” said Gilpin. “I’d rather have a tornado or a hurricane any day, but having drills like this really helps. I’m going away having learned more.”
Masterson said there also needs to be a back-up plan for the IC location should the shooting happen in the hospital itself. Many modifications to the response plan would be worked on internally, discussed and then practiced.
“Practice, practice, practice,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. Everybody did a great job internally, externally and across the board. This was a learning experience and an opportunity to improve. Everyone had a role to play and this was about learning from this experience.”
Gary Tew, security director for Sampson Regional through contract company Old Dominion Security, said learning is a process for everyone involved, and he felt that was a success Thursday.
“We’ve got a lot that we have to improve upon, but that was the key to the drill, to see the areas where we need to improve — and we will improve,” said Tew. “I thought people reacted well, locking doors, staying out of the way of the situation and doing what they were trained to do.”
Tew said he was impressed well before Thursday’s exercise, when members of hospital staff were asking questions leading up to the drill. That is a good sign, he said.
“They wanted to be prepared,” Tew remarked. “You want people to ask questions. If they’re doing that, they’re learning.”
The training exercise was filmed so that Old Dominion can use the video for training purposes at other facilities where it provides security.
“There’s always room for improvement,” said Tim Quist, corporate director for Old Dominion Security, “and that’s why you have the drills. I thought it went well. Coordination going on between law enforcement and hospital was excellent.”
“You’ve got to work hard on it doing situations like this,” Haas added. “The best part about it is they’re doing it, and they’re working on it.”
Simply conducting a drill is a positive step forward, Masterson said. Coordinating efforts with local law enforcement and collectively critiquing those efforts afterwards, he said, was an even more important and positive stride forward in local readiness involving Sampson Regional Medical Center.
“To hear from law enforcement that everything went beautifully is great to know,” Masterson said. “There are a number of opportunities to improve. Until you practice it, you never know where those areas are. Now we can go back and fine-tune it. There are still a number of things we still need to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.