Although it was a training exercise, officials at Tomah Health say a full-scale active shooter event held Oct. 18 was very close to what could occur in real life.
Hospital employees along with Tomah Police Dept., Tomah Fire Dept., Tomah Area Ambulance Service and Monroe County 911 Communications Center responded to the mock incident just after 9 a.m. that involved a man who entered the hospital’s specialty clinic and began shooting at hospital staff, visitors and patients.
“It went very well, people acted and responded appropriately,” hospital emergency preparedness specialist James Newlun said of the exercise which resulted in seven fictitious shooting victims, four who were treated for injuries and three casualties including the shooter who took his own life.
Tomah Police Sgt. Chris Weaver said law enforcement was fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate and learn some lessons that be used in the future. “We understand that nationally, research has shown that one of the best ways to mitigate loss of life or injury in an active shooter event is to minimize the time it takes for law enforcement to get on scene and either isolate, distract or neutralize the shooter,” explained Weaver.
It took police four minutes to make contact with the pretend shooter. “Our officers did a very good job of the initial response, now we are working on transitioning into being able to secure the scene quicker in an effort to get EMS (emergency medical services) resources to treat injured people,” said Weaver.
The exercise was a follow-up to ALICE training completed by hospital staff last spring. ALICE – which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate – is the nation’s first training program for citizens to increase their survival chances and save lives, if faced with a violent intruder or active shooter.
Hospital environmental services coordinator and ALICE certified trainer Steve Loging said staff responded very well during a high stress exercise.“We had staff that barricaded themselves in place, there were staff that evacuated the area; they did everything they possibly could to limit the amount of impact that was presented to them,” said Loging who along with and hospital medical / surgical coordinator Jessye Buswell, RN, are certified ALICE trainers at Tomah Health.
Newlun said hospital staff, along with representatives from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Dept., Sparta Police Dept., Monroe County Emergency Management and Northwest Wisconsin Healthcare Emergency Readiness Coalition provided insight as exercise observers. “When you have all your emergency services and local partners at the same table working on a common project to improve a response and something so important to the local community, that is a huge win for everyone,” said Newlun.
The event wrapped up with a tabletop exercise to evaluate the incident and discuss recommendations.
“Like any other incident or exercise, you’re always going to find something that you need to improve upon,” added Newlun. “One area for us is going to be communications and look at how we can do that, not just verbal communications but radio type communications.”
Weaver added that the exercise builds relations that make the community safer. “It gives us the opportunity to interact with our community partners at the hospital, EMS, fire and really come together because those relationships transcend whatever the emergency is and makes us much better prepared for a whole host of emergencies that could happen in the community.”
Newlun said officials plan to hold a similar event at the new Tomah Health facility before it opens in October 2019.