What may have seemed to be a routine exercise in years past was soberingly realistic Monday morning as all the area law enforcement agencies, local emergency services and hospital personnel acted out an active shooter scenario at the new Urgent Care facility at Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC) Monday morning. Bodies were on the floor inside the facility and bodies were on the sidewalk outside. People inside the facility locked themselves in rooms and closets and tried not to exhale as they hid from their assailant.
What may have surprised some people was the tactic used by law enforcement. With the recent shootings, a new tactic has been employed.
“I was talking to the first law enforcement victim and he told me he just went in,” Larry Dale Mullins, an information officer with the Scioto County Emergency Management Agency (SCEMA) said. “I guess that’s what they’re teaching now instead of holding back. They looked back at Columbine and they kind of realized if they had gotten in there to mitigate the danger they probably could have saved a lot of lives.”
Mullins said what made the scenario even more interesting is that Portsmouth now has a Tactical EMS Unit.
“They’re medics in the Army, Air Force Pararescue, so instead of waiting for EMS and stand off until the whole scene is cleared, they’re right in there with them,” Mullins said. “They’ve got the body armor on, the kevlar helmets, so they’re able to extract people and start treatment under fire.”
Mullins said local emergency people have talked about having such a unit for several years because they are in many larger cities.
“Through creative financing through the (Scioto County) Prosecutor’s Office, the Police Chief here in Portsmouth, they were able to get these medics, out in the streets to react to some of these crises,” Mullins said. “For a city this size to have that kind of a resource – hats off.”
Emergency Department Clinical Coordinator Angie Hodge, was, as in all disaster scenarios, right in the middle of the action.
“It has worked very well,” Hodge said. “There’s been lots of collaboration between the response partners and our employees have been well trained. So it’s been wonderful exercise. We get together and think what the worst case scenarios are, and we plan every day together. So this is just looking at our planning and seeing how it works in a real life situation.”
Several members of the Portsmouth Fire Department and the Portsmouth Police Department, as well as the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio State Highway Patrol, were taking care of business as the scenario evolved.
“The seriousness of an event like this hopefully will never occur in our community, but it does all over the country,”Scioto County Sheriff Marty V. Donini said. “We can’t have enough training. It’s never going to be perfect. It’s not a science. But the thing is doing this training allows our people to gain a little confidence because they’re actually going through the motions and it won’t be something totally foreign in the event it does occur.”
Police Chief Robert Ware said his staff treats such an exercise as if it was a reality at the time.
“As we’ve seen across the country and the world for that matter, you never know which community it’s going to be in, which facility it’s going to be in,” Ware said. “It’s in big cities. It’s in small cities. So it’s important that we’re as prepared as we can be to react to whatever threats may be out there.”
In a way, it was the same group of people responding to Monday’s scenario as respond to all scenarios and real emergencies.
“Remember Notre Dame?” Fire Chief Bill Raison said.
In 2008, the estranged husband of a Notre Dame Elementary fifth-grade teacher at a Portsmouth grade school attacked her in front of her students, then killed himself at his home during a standoff with police.
“Pretty much everybody you see here today that was everybody in play that day,” Raison said.
Afterwards, the participants gathered in the lobby of the Urgent Care and were debriefed, with the more technical debriefing to follow behind closed doors.
Watching things develop was Darren Price MEP, Southeast region Supervisor for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.
“We look at the community response as far as all the agencies coming together and working in partnership with the hospital,” Price said. ‘And we like to be prepared for these types of situations. We hope they will never occur, but if they do, this environment today provides an excellent opportunity to train for that type of incident.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.