Hospital staff trains for a frightening possibility

With mass shootings making headlines disturbingly often, many employees have considered the possibility of a shooter terrorizing their workplace.

Employees at the Dallas County Hospital in Perry, Iowa, have gone beyond thinking about this frightening prospect. They’ve practiced for it through an active shooter drill.

The safety committee at the 25-bed hospital worked with local law enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and the hospital’s SFM loss prevention representative to hold an active shooter drill in the summer of 2016. The fire chief from nearby Waukee, Clint Robinson, played the role of the shooter, using a whistle to signify gunshots. Employees who’d been “shot” were handed a piece of paper.

In just seven minutes, the shooter had nine victims and had made it through the entire facility. This was especially disconcerting because staff had been warned of the day the drill would take place, said the hospital’s Support Services Manager Julie Smith, who also chairs the safety committee.

“The whole day and into the next day, staff were still talking about it,” she said. “They were talking in terms of what they’d do differently if it really happened.”

For example, some staff members learned they would have been better off to shelter in place than to try to escape, she said. The actor who played the shooter wore an action camera so the safety committee could analyze video from the drill.

Drill required months of preparation

Although the drill went quickly, it was a long time in the making.

The hospital began planning last fall, starting with a risk assessment conducted by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security protective security advisor, which led to creation of an action plan to reduce the risks where possible. The hospital also required all staff members to take the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s web-based active shooter training course.

To train employees in every area of the building on what they should do in the event of an active shooter incident, the committee created a video showing the options to exit the building or shelter in place in locations throughout the hospital.

“It was worth the time and effort,” Smith said. “Until you practice things, all of your policies and procedures are just words on paper.”

More employers training on workplace violence

Dallas County Deputy Sheriff Max Roll, who worked with the hospital to plan the drill, said the department is getting more requests to assist with similar types of training.

“We would recommend that anybody that feels the need for their business to do it,” Roll said. “It’s always a good thing to have, especially in today’s environment.”

Roll said the department learned a lot from being part of hospital’s drill. Law enforcement has always trained on these types of scenarios, but organizations conducting similar training is a relatively new phenomenon, he said.

The hospital’s SFM Loss Prevention Representative Jason Clausen agreed that nowadays many types of employers should be thinking about providing this type of training. He said the hospital not only trained its staff on responding to an active shooter situation, but also provided training on de-escalation tactics to prevent tense situations from becoming violent whenever possible.

“Violence prevention is an extremely important component of any safety training on workplace violence,” Clausen said. “It’s admirable the hospital is working so hard to protect its employees.”

For more information on de-escalation tactics see these SFM resources:

Resources from the federal government to protect against active shooters in the workplace

Following are two resources provided by the federal government that SFM's loss prevention representatives sometimes recommend to employers who want to do more to prepare for workplace violence:

  • The Department of Homeland Security's Protective Security Advisor program
    Through this program, government security experts work with organizations in government and the private sector to protect the country's critical infrastructure. They conduct threat assessments, hold outreach activities, respond to incidents and provide training. Depending on the risk level, a protective security advisor might even tour your facility and provide suggestions for improving security. For more information, or to contact your local protective security advisor, email
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency's active shooter training
    This free online course trains you on how to recognize potential workplace violence indicators, what to do in the event of an active shooter situation and how to prevent and prepare for such incidents. The course takes about 30-45 minutes plus time for the post-test. If you'd like to take the test and receive a certificate, sign up for a student identification number  before you take the course.

Another option you may want to consider is reaching out to local law enforcement for guidance.

Every organization is different, and there are many other resources available if these aren't a good fit. It's an unfortunate reality that nowadays organizations of all types and sizes must take steps to prevent and prepare for a violent situation in the workplace.

This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

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