Amid yet another year of frequent mass shootings in the U.S., local emergency responders held their first active-shooter preparedness exercise last week.
Kalispell Regional Medical Center (KRMC), North Valley Hospital (NVH) and the Whitefish Fire Department conducted the May 7 drill, with collaboration from the Flathead County Office of Emergency Services, Montana Department of Disaster and Emergency Services and the Western Region Healthcare Coalition.
The exercise tested disaster medical control centers at KRMC and NVH, as well as their communication with emergency organizations across the state. The drill helps the hospitals evaluate their preparedness capacities and capabilities, including emergency communications, systems and personnel, to respond to such an event.
Although the exercise’s subject matter was an active shooter scenario at a local high school, no physical simulations or entities such as schools were involved.
Chelsia Elmore, KRH’s emergency preparedness manager, noted that mass shootings in the U.S. have increased this year, with 174 since Jan. 1 in which 259 people have been killed and 670 injured.
“Since there has been an increase in these types of violent situations, we thought it would be best to prepare for these types of events,” Elmore said.
The exercise involved the fire department notifying the hospitals of an active-shooter situation, and then the hospitals coordinating individual action plans and preparing to simulate patients at the two facilities.
As the highest-level trauma center in the area, KRH would become the disaster medical control center (DMCC) during a mass-casualty event in Flathead County, according to Joy Fortin, KRH’s trauma nurse coordinator at KRH and associated hospitals.
Fortin said KRH would coordinate with NVH to decide how many patients need treatment as well as the acuity of their injuries, initiating triage and utilizing communications between emergency services and the hospital. The hospital would also identify any additional resources that may be necessary.
Fortin said KRH has previously held similar functional exercises involving multiple-vehicle crashes and potential incidents at Glacier Park International Airport, but “this is the first exercise that we are drilling on an active-shooter situation.”
All local first responders were informed of the exercise, and all communications throughout the drill were clearly defined as exercises. Such drills are required by the Foundation for Healthcare and Medical Readiness to train and prepare the healthcare and medical workforce in real-world situations.
Elmore said the “operational-based functional exercises are complex events that require detailed planning,” and they are “evidence that local hospitals, public health and emergency management are committed to preparedness and resilience.”
“Exercises such as this one allow us to assess our abilities to receive and share real-time information and maintain shared situation awareness between impacted facilities as well as the public,” Elmore said. “Practicing these events helps us uncover opportunities for improvement and be prepared for real-world emergencies.”