If you’re in your sixties like me, how’d you like to lose forty years in exchange for two fingers? I had this opportunity in a simulated way, when I participated in a SWAT team active shooter scenario yesterday. Here’s the setup: a man walks into a hospital emergency room, upset in thinking that his wife (a nurse) is having an affair with a doctor. He goes berserk and starts shooting people. I’m playing the part of a twenty-two year old emergency room technician and get shot, losing the fourth and fifth digits of my right hand. Blood (Halloween special) is all over my hand and I sit there in simulated pain, while the SWAT team bursts into the emergency room with weapons drawn and take down the shooter. Then the hospital staff shifts into gear to triage the wounded and take us off for treatment. This was all an exercise to train the SWAT team on how to handle a hospital active shooter event and to train the hospital staff in dealing with a major crisis.
Several interesting things happened. There was only one shooter, but in the heat of the battle, word accidently was communicated that there were two shooters. Once the shooter was down, the SWAT team then went room to room to try to find the second shooter (who didn’t exist). I was sitting on the floor watching this. They neglected to check a restroom where a victim was locked in. If there had been a shooter in there instead, it would have been a real problem (this was discussed in the debriefing afterwards). The major lesson learned by all parties was the need for better communications. The scenario had the head nurse in the emergency room being shot, and there was confusion after that about who was in control there. Then emergency phones didn’t work within the hospital, and there was miscommunication between the SWAT command post outside the hospital and the hospital staff. During the event an amber alert for the emergency room was issued over the loudspeakers in the hospital, meaning no one was to enter the emergency room. Needless to say, several hospital staff members came moseying in while the shooter was still “alive.” Fortunately, this being a simulated event, these problems now are being addressed. As a “victim,” it took half an hour before my wound was assessed. I was classified yellow while the red victims were carted off to surgery. Since I could walk, I was led to a room in the day surgery area with other yellow-classified victims, where hospital staff came to treat us and determine when we could go to surgery if required. After another half hour I was led to a room but the staff there was confused about what to do with me. (Another opportunity for improved communication). Overall, the SWAT team and the hospital staff operated in a very professional fashion and now know where to work the kinks out of their various communication systems. After the debriefing one of the other victims told me that he had started acting obnoxious, been taken off for a psychiatric evaluation and then given a meal to calm him down. With my “two missing fingers” I never was given anything to eat. Afterwards I scrubbed the fake blood off, my fingers magically reappeared and I was happy to be my age again, thank you.