D-H Stages Shooter Drill
Medical Center Prepares for the Worst
Bruce H. King, a employee in the Dartmouth Hitchcock Secrurity department, is led out of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Heater Road Facility in handcuffs by Lebanon Police Officer Nicholas Alden Lebanon, N.H., on April 30, 2014. King was acting as the shooter in the active shooter drill staged by Dartmouth Hitchcock and Lebanon and Hanover first responders, using air horns to simulate gunshot noise.
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Doctors and nurses work with a model patient during an active shooter drill in the Trauma Unit at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., on April 30, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon Police Officer Nicholas Alden, left, and Hanover Police Officer Matthew Ufford run to the entrance of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Heater Road Facility in Lebanon, N.H., during an active shooter drill on April 30, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — Some 15 minutes into Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s emergency drill on Wednesday morning, two police officers led a tall, sturdy man out the back of DHMC’s Heater Road facility with his hands cuffed behind his back and a gleam in his eye.
“I got four!” cried Bruce H. King, a DHMC security officer in real life. “I got four!”
Actually, the “active shooter” in this exercise— wielding an air horn in each hand as his weapons — was a better marksman than a mathematician: He “got” eight victims in all.
Seven “victims” of his rampage through the primary-care and dermatology departments were lying on the floor of the small lunchroom at the facility’s bottom level. One actor had a bleeding head wound, a few were moaning or breathing with difficulty, and another was twitching. The eighth “victim,” a woman in a blue shirt spattered red from a fake wound to her upper arm, sat on the floor in the hallway describing the shooter as wearing a camouflage shirt and an orange cap.
Around these “standardized patients” — actors who play a variety of roles in the training of medical providers — swirled real-life chaplains, office staff and clinicians of D-H and first-responders from Lebanon, Hanover and Hartford, practicing triage techniques for a moment they hope never to confront.
“Exercise ambassadors” guided regularly-scheduled patients and visitors through the simulated mayhem to and from appointments.
“The idea is to see how we handle multiple traumas at once,” DHMC Emergency Management Coordinator Jim Alexander, former police chief of Lebanon, said after the exercise. “That’s quite a skill set for every department to do.”
Meanwhile, staff from around the D-H system and from several area hospitals watched and documented the exercise, one of the regular drills that the medical center, the state’s lone Level-1 trauma center, conducts to meet the accreditation requirements of The Joint Commission, a national nonprofit that evaluates more than 20,000 health-care organizations nationwide.
“This is when the minutes seem to take hours,” said John Prickett, exercise director and emergency preparedness coordinator for Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia, N.H. “You look at your watch, and it’s only been minutes.”
Once ambulances had hustled the patients to DHMC’s main campus up the hill, the time warp switched to the emergency department, where six clinicians surrounded faux patient James Sherman, of Bridgewater Corners.
“We have two wounds,” emergency doctor Katelin Engerer said during the examination of Sherman’s bloodied left thigh. “I don’t know about entry and exit.”
Alexander said that DHMC last practiced dealing with a surge of emergency patients about 18 months ago.
In the most recent real-life crisis to test the medical center’s incident-command system, a fuse melted in an overheated power transformer, knocking out electrical systems for several hours and shutting down email and paging systems as well as the website.
Eric Martin, a trauma doctor and one of the medical directors for DHMC’s incident-command team, said that the team met twice a month for six months setting up the drill. As the date approached, Alexander informed neighbors of the Heater Road complex, including Genesis Healthcare’s Lebanon Center, before the exercise began. Genesis staff practiced their own lockdown drill during the hour-long manufactured crisis.
For additional insights, Alexander said, he was looking forward to seeing the shooter’s-view video that Bruce King recorded with a GoPro camera harnessed to his chest during his pretend rampage.
“It was good footage,” said King, a retired Marine and former Lyme police officer. “It came out real good. I was surprised. It’s a good experience for all of us. Good training.”
Lebanon Police Capt. Tim Cohen described the drill as a good chance to “put our part of things into play,” including posting notices and signs about the drill, identifying safe areas for staff not involved in the rescue effort to resort to during the crisis and procuring from New Hampshire Emergency Management the blue plastic training rifles that five Lebanon officers carried into the building to confront the shooter.
“A thing like this is invaluable,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, it’s a necessity in today’s society. Not just in Lebanon, but anywhere. Sadly, it’s become a fact of life. The more you hear about incidents like this, it isn’t just the big cities. You’re hearing about it in small towns. Nobody is necessarily exempt from this.”
David Corriveau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 603-727-3304.