Preparing for an Active Shooter

Date: 08/07/2019

Far too often we hear of an active shooter, an aggressive assailant, or a violent situation such as those our country recently experienced in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. As one of the largest healthcare providers in Maine, our team members and communities rely on us to be prepared for threats such as an active shooter as well as natural disasters, emerging disease threats, and large-scale accidents. For this reason, we regularly conduct exercises to ensure we are as prepared as possible for any situation we may face. 
“Currently, we’re focusing on emergency response exercises that engage partners in our communities like first responders as well other outside organizations,” explains Kathy Knight, BSN, RN, CHEC II, Northern Light Health system director of Emergency Preparedness.
Kathy notes that while each Northern Light Health member organization has plans in place to respond to a broad spectrum of events, there is always room to improve and update those plans as we learn from one another. In July, a team of employees from Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center performed one of nine active assailant exercises in their off-site locations.
“In addition to our Active Shooter Preparedness HealthStream training for each Northern Light Health employee, we run several active shooter or aggressive behavior training exercises in our inpatient, outpatient, and business locations,” explains Joel Farley, MS, FACHE, associate vice president, Facilities Management for the Medical Center. Joel adds, “The recent training sessions held in the Bangor region are transferrable and are intended to be adapted for use in other locations throughout the Northern Light Health system.”
The overall purpose of these drills is to plan and carry out an event that tests policies, procedures and protocols, communications, knowledge of emergency alarms, and enhances our team members’ ability to respond and recover from an active assailant event.
Sgt-Jason-Stuart-(1).jpgAmple signage warning of a “drill in process,” along with communication with patients, security, and neighboring companies prior to any drill are always part of our process. No weapons are used during these exercises—fake or real—and no sounds are allowed except for yelling. We do not simulate causalities and staff have the option to opt-out by contacting their manager directly.

When each drill is completed, we use the drill evaluations, filled out by a multidisciplinary team, to identify what went well and areas for improvement, including safety and security concerns, and staff education preparedness. “We’re always in a continuous cycle of planning our response policies, testing them through exercises, then evaluation of how we did,” says Kathy. “These exercises help us build protocols that can be rolled out across the system and help protect our communities across the state.”