How prepared is your health care facility for the unimaginable? No one wants to think an active shooter situation could occur on their hospital campus or in their medical facility. But, the more prepared you are, the better your outcomes can be in such extreme circumstances.

Health care facilities have unique challenges when it comes to emergency situations, explains Emily H. Wein, attorney with Ober|Kaler. “Because health care facilities serve a wide variety of populations and sometimes, one or more of the services delivered by a provider can be seen as controversial, these facilities can be potential targets for someone trying to instill fear and create turmoil.” 

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First, What Exactly is an Active Shooter?

The FBI definition of an active shooter is: “Somebody actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

Did you know?

  • 98% of active shooters act alone.
  • 90% end their own life at the scene.
  • Most do not take hostages.
  • Most don’t have an exit strategy.

Zachary D. Wein, Baltimore City police officer explains, “The shooter is looking to create chaos in the most populated areas of the hospital or health care facility. Police intervention is the most effective way to end an active shooter situation. Response time is crucial – every minute of an active shooter situation can mean eight victims.”

Plan for an Active Shooter Situation in Your Health care Facility – Top 3 Steps

1. Create emergency policies and plans specific to an active shooter in your facility.

Involve security personnel, clinical and administrative leaders and other key decision makers in the development of a plan and policies for an active shooter situation. This may include instituting an internal code to alert all staff of the situation. Have a way to communicate the code to staff without tipping off the shooter or creating panic. Communication of the policies and codes from the top down is critical. Everyone must know how to prepare for an active shooting situation and the steps to take to ensure everyone’s safety under extreme stress.

2. Establish an internal security team

Designate an on-site leader and a back-up leader to take charge in this type of emergency situation. It’s also important to have a predetermined liaison to work with police officers who knows the emergency plan, as well as the ins and outs of the facility to help guide officers so they can take immediate action.

3. Training your people is key to active shooter planning and response.

  • Conduct regular drills to help employees understand codes, policies and plans for an emergency situation.
  • Develop and communicate plans for evacuation and lockdown procedures.

Regular emergency drills help your facility’s lead security team as well as all staff know what to do in an active shooter situation. It’s also a good idea to train staff on characteristics of an armed shooter and what to do if someone or something seems suspicious.

Responding to an Active Shooter Situation

In an active shooter situation, what is the best way to respond? Following are lifesaving tips to share with your facility’s employees:

  1. Run. This is the most important response to remember and communicate to your team.
  2. Hide. Create as much distance between you and the shooter. Encourage your team to get to a safe location and bring others, such as patients or co-workers, only if possible. Seek shelter in a room that locks. Many patient rooms do not have locks on the doors, but interior bathrooms do lock; individuals should turn off lights, silence cell phones and stay out of sight.
  3. Fight. While this is not the best option, it may be the only one available in a difficult situation.

The First Responder’s Role in an Active Shooter Situation

  1. Find and stop the shooter.
  2. Secure the area.
  3. Assist the injured.

“A police officers’ first priority is to get inside the facility and stop the shooter. It’s important for staff to understand that law enforcement may not be able to immediately help the injured. Their first priority is to stop the shooter,” adds Zachary Wein.

Providing officers accurate information is vital to stopping the shooter. Law enforcement on the scene need to know:

  • The location of the shooter.
  • Number of shooters.
  • Description of the shooter (physical appearance, type of clothing, etc.).
  • The type of weapon the shooter is carrying.

4 Important Steps to Take in the Aftermath of a Shooting

  1. Have a mass casualty plan in place. The more triage areas the better to ensure your facility can handle mass casualties and injuries.
  2. Have plans with other area hospitals to care for the wounded, if necessary.
  3. Follow detailed notification procedures. Designate a communications professional and have a plan and script ready for notifying the outside world and family members of the current situation.
  4. Make sure your facility offers counseling resources. Oftentimes, emotional wounds are far more difficult to heal than physical injuries. Have counseling resources in place for your people who have experienced the physical and mental trauma of an active shooting situation.

The time to get your health care facility prepared for an active shooter is before it happens.