Health First Partners With Law Enforcement and First Responders to Stage Live Active Shooter Drills

By  //  June 22, 2022

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true-to-life active shooter drills designed to educate and prepare participants

WATCH: Health First Director of Security Robin Rice, and Brett Esrock, CEO Hospital Services at Health First, talk about true-to-life active shooter drills designed to educate and prepare participants on best practices and response tactics during a real emergency situation.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – More than 600 associates and clinicians at Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center today participated in true-to-life active shooter drills designed to educate and prepare participants on best practices and response tactics during a real emergency situation.

Health First officials partnered with local law enforcement and first responder organizations to create five half-day drill programs over the summer – one for each hospital and a clinical office facility.

In today’s scenario, participants are asked to perform simulated tasks identical to their assigned work duties. They must follow life-saving instructions despite the noise and confusion occurring at the scene. Associates who voluntarily participate in these drills have (like all associates) annually reviewed active-shooter instruction as part of their required e-learning activities – but many have not participated in a live-action drill of this capacity.

This event has been developed to be as realistic as possible, including use of hostile language and tone, simulated chaos, and the use of real weapons by both law enforcement and the shooter that fired (very loud) blanks.

Health First utilized an unused wing of the hospital for this activity, and safety officials took every precaution, including soundproofing the wing, overcommunicating to staff, visitors and patients – including signage throughout the facility – that ensured our valued patients and visitors were not affected or exposed to noise or activity in any way.

Robin Rice, System Director of Security, briefs the news media at the conclusion of today’s active shooter drills at Holmes Regional Medical Center. (Health First image)

“These drills are an opportunity for us to not only help keep our patients and visitors safe – but our associates, as well. We’re very pleased with the rate of participation and eagerness our associates have shown. It demonstrates their dedication and commitment to protecting our most vulnerable – as well as themselves,” said Robin Rice, System Director of Security for Health First.

“We have, in consultation with our law enforcement and first responder colleagues, designed this drill to be as true-to-life as possible. It does involve the discharge of real guns (with blank ammunition.) It does include language, tone and conduct one might not ordinarily expect to see in a public setting – but very well may in a dangerous and hostile scenario. We will be videotaping each drill and playing it back with associates after they complete their turn – walking them through their actions and responses. We have many visitors with us today from healthcare systems across the state and Southeast U.S. I am proud that this program will serve as a model for other organizations to follow,” Rice continued.

“As we have all seen in recent months, acts of violence can and do occur anywhere, and when least expected.  We understand that some – perhaps many – associates will be frightened. That is a major reason we are conducting these drills – even though they expect something truly out of the ordinary, no one really knows how they might respond until it actually happens,” said Brett Esrock, CEO, Health First Hospital Division.

“As a healthcare organization, we are tasked with being prepared for the worst at all times – whether it’s a hurricane or other natural disaster, a traumatic multi-vehicle Interstate accident … or a global pandemic. We are expected (and we expect of ourselves) to be prepared to respond. We last staged similar drills in 2019 – before the COVID-19 pandemic and the response by associates then was overwhelmingly positive. I am very proud of the robust, true-to-life program our security team has created,” Esrock continued.

Nearly 40 percent of all Health First associates have signed up to participate in one of the summer drills.  Health First has been communicating with associates for weeks about the upcoming drills and providing sign-up opportunities, providing extensive information with associates about the nature of the drill and what they might expect during it. However, many associates said actually going through a live simulation was a much different feeling and experience.

One of more than 25 groups of Health First associates prepares to enter an active shooter drill staged on an empty unit of Holmes Regional Medical Center. (Health First image)

Dorothy Dammer has been a volunteer with Health First for over 15 years, currently supporting visitor and patient registration at Holmes Regional. She decided to sign up for a drill due to what she sees all too often on the evening news. Dammer was anxiously awaiting her scheduled drill prior to being escorted to the drill location.

“I think it’s wonderful that Health First is offering these learning opportunities and going through such detail. It’s very sad that something so terrible can happen, and we see it on the news frequently. But Health First wants to make sure I have the knowledge and tools to protect myself and others, and I wanted to make sure that I took advantage of that opportunity.”

Of those who participated in some of the first drills Wednesday morning, there was a consensus that frequent communications with staff in advance of the drill, while helpful, simply couldn’t replace the reality of the scene they would soon find themselves in.

“You’re overwhelmed. You don’t really know what to do. I never thought to move the bed to block the door, for instance – or even shut the door! It was a scary feeling, but it was good to play back video and discuss what we had just gone through – what we did right, wrong, and how to improve our reaction,” said Sally King, a longtime volunteer and people-mover operator.

“I had the feeling that this would be real – I actually had that anxiety. But I think it was wonderful training,” said Deidre Runyan, a Holmes Regional operating room nurse. “Even though it’s a scenario, it was nice to put yourself in a situation that is so real. So that if it does happen, I can remember that I went through this.”

King hid in a bathroom and held the door shut with all her weight, while Runyan closed herself in a patient room and rolled a heavy, locking patient bed behind the door to block it and provide extra resistance.

“They said, ‘Hide.’ All I could think of was to hide,” King said. “Get out of the way.”

“Run and block. Hide, and if you have to …  fight,” Runyan said.

Law enforcement clear out a patient room during today’s active shooter drills at Holmes Regional Medical Center. (Health First image)

Today’s event participants at Holmes Regional Medical Center included law enforcement and first responders from:

■ Melbourne Police Department

■ West Melbourne Police Department

■ Brevard County Sheriff’s Office

■ Brevard County Fire Rescue

■ Melbourne Fire Department

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