Police and fire personnel converge on Tuality in Hillsboro for mock shooter drill

Twenty-six police officers, 22 firefighters and six ambulance drivers converged on the Tuality Community Hospital campus in Hillsboro Wednesday night after reports of a lone gunman opening fire inside the health care facility came over dispatch phones around 10 p.m.

When the melee stopped a half-hour later, five people had been killed and a dozen wounded, six critically.

Fortunately, reported Sgt. Craig Allen of the Hillsboro Police Department, the “dead” were merely volunteers serving to make a mock emergency drill much more realistic than it would have been otherwise.

“Theatrical timing worked well in this case,” said Allen, training division supervisor for HPD, who teamed up with Tuality Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Amanda Madrigal to plan and execute the exercise, designed to test the hospital’s preparedness in the event of a real shooter entering the building.

Participating under cover of darkness in the mock emergency scenario were personnel from Tuality’s security department, Hillsboro Police, Hillsboro Fire, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Metro West Ambulance.

Allen’s team has been involved in two other large-scale emergency response drills in recent months, both in Hillsboro: one at South Meadows Middle School on Northeast Davis Street and the other at Movies on TV, a theater located on Southwest Tualatin-Valley Highway. Though the exercises aren’t being staged as “a direct result” of several high-profile cases involving gunmen and multiple deaths across the U.S. this year and last, Allen said those tragedies play into his thinking.

“Tuality Hospital reached out to us and said, ‘Would you guys be willing to stage an active shooter scenario so we can test ourselves?’” noted Allen. “This was in the planning process for three months.”

Madrigal said that overall, she was pleased with the drill.

“We were able to identify some areas of strength and some key areas that need improvement,” said Madrigal. “It allowed us to put into practice our hospital response plan and have an understanding of police and fire’s response to Tuality Healthcare in a crisis event.

“We were able to integrate our operations with the outside entities with the combined goal of mitigating the disaster.”

More than 40 volunteers

As the drama unfolded last week, Hillsboro Police spokesman Lt. Mike Rouches kept an eye on the action from a safe distance, helping reporters document the faux incident, which involved wounded “patients” spattered with “blood” being wheeled out to waiting emergency vehicles for transport to area trauma centers.

Inside Tuality’s hallways were several “corpses” over which white sheets had been draped.

“This is really something,” said Rouches. “We have more than 40 volunteers here, many of them from the Community Emergency Response Team, acting as patients. You actually have to grab them and move them.

“We’ve got most of the patients out of there, and now we’re in the investigation phase,” Rouches announced outside the hospital around 10:30 p.m., adding that the “gunman” had been found in the basement.

A LifeFlight helicopter was scheduled to land atop the Seventh Avenue medical building, but low-hanging fog kept it away, added Allen.

“The demographics of this shooting were pretty complex,” he said. “We wanted to devise a crime scene inside a working hospital while working to mitigate loss of life.”

Conducting the exercise at a facility that’s open 24 hours a day presented a unique challenge, Allen said.

“Police officers can take out a shooter, but we wanted to know what we’d do with these other people — the new wounded and patients actually in the hospital,” he said. “What we found out is that an adequate response requires the introduction of firefighters on scene. That’s an issue we’re pushing strongly.”

Next exercise in 2013

Allen said his teams clocked 1 minute, 15 seconds from the time of the original dispatch to when police arrived and 68 seconds from police arrival to neutralization of the shooter.

The last “patient” had been evacuated 35 minutes into the exercise.

“We’re real pleased with that,” Allen said. “That’s not to say there aren’t things we can improve on, but it’s safe to say we learned a lot.”

In the past, said Rouches, similar exercises have taken place “inside empty warehouses,” where simulating a real-life emergency was tougher to do. “We set up at a school, a movie theater, and now a hospital,” noted Rouches. “These are some of the points where we would have multiple victims.

“We’re just trying to make it as safe as we can.”

Another change, Rouches said, involves police officers training with fire departments. In the past, he noted, simulations of earthquakes and plane crashes have seen emergency responders acting independently of each other.

“We never used to do these together, but a variety of challenges is what we’re after,” he said. “The same things apply here as if this was a natural disaster.”

After debriefing with Madrigal and other stakeholders in the drill, Allen said he and his squad will begin planning for another large-scale emergency management exercise, likely in early spring 2013.

Allen “dreams these things up,” said Rouches, who predicted such drills will become the go-to trend among emergency service organizations across the country. “He understands the dynamics so well — he’s really golden.”

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