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Coulee Medical Center drill pitted "active shooter" against local responders


Police and others respond to a report of an "active shooter" in the hospital during a training exercise in November. - Scott Hunter photos

It had never been done here before, but by the time they pulled it off, about 250 hospital employees were trained in what to do if an "active shooter" ever enters Coulee Medical Center.

No one knew exactly what scenario would play out or how long it would take Nov. 5, when the hospital's parking lot looked like a law enforcement/fire/EMS show of force. Multiple agencies from across the region wanted the chance to learn how to respond to such an event in a facility like a hospital, which cannot lock many of its interior doors, by law.

CMC had put the word out to local agencies about the planned "active shooter" drill, but word spread, attracting Grant County Emergency Management, and the Multi-Agency Communications Center in Moses Lake, which wanted to do the dispatching. Other hospitals also attended the exercise, for which it wasn't easy to get an OK from a nervous insurance company that could foresee all kinds of real disaster resulting when an apparently armed man starts shooting, even blanks, in a public building.

"From the time he walked in the door and started shooting," said Beth Goetz, whose main job is as obstetrics and emergency nurse manager at CMC, "there wasn't one of our staff that didn't do what they were trained to do."

Goetz and facilities manager Bryan McCleary presented a recap of the day to the Grand Coulee Dam Rotary Club at Siam Palace last Wednesday.

This wasn't their first coordination rodeo. Two years ago, CMC put together a community disaster plan committee to get all the disparate local agencies - police, fire, emergency medical service, including Colville Tribes and Bureau of Reclamation responders - together to plan for the kind of disasters most people don't want to think about.

"Bringing all those people together, we identified a lot issues we never thought of," McCleary noted.

A team of four CMC staffers recieved Homeland Security training in Spokane this year for big events, most of the recommendations from which the hospital had already accomplished independently, McCleary said.

Last month, CMC was the first hospital in the region to try an active shooter drill.

Coulee Medical Center's parking lot, and beyond, was full of police, fire and EMS vehicles as agencies took part in the training event, which had not been done elsewhere in the region.

At 9 a.m., five hours after McCleary and others had begun scouring and locking down the hospital to preclude anyone from hiding in it before the drill, a law enforcement officer trained in such trainings started shooting.

"You think you're aware of your surroundings, and you're so not," commented physical therapist Rick King, who had been standing at the front desk. "And I even knew what was going to happen."

CMC had trained its staff in a "Run, Hide, Fight" protocol, which Goetz noted can't be enforced in an actual situation. If employees ever decide to attempt to attack an attacker, they're encouraged to make it a team effort.

Hospital patients were not exposed to the exercise, and anyone entering the building had to be cleared through a metal detector. "Victims" were taken by stretcher to one of several triage stations outside.

Goetz said lots of photos and video was taken, so that the training can be put online and shared with others.

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