For hospitals, disaster drills are critical to mass shooter response

Abstract photo of a crime scene

Emergency response drills, which have been a focal point for hospitals and communities across the country since the 9/11 attacks, were critical to one Orlando hospital’s response to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) effectively managed two waves of 44 patients injured in the Pulse nightclub shooting. Three months prior, ORMC participated in an annual mock disaster drill involving community, state and federal authorities as well as 15 Florida hospitals. This year’s scenario revolved around a school shooting that injured 500 people.

At the request of ORMC’s trauma medical director, the hospital had also conducted smaller drills three times a month. Those, coupled with the larger community drills, prepared the facility for the flood of patients during a real event.

Although an increase in active shooter incidents has prompted more hospitals to conduct active shooter drills, experts told JAMA there are still preparedness gaps in pockets of the country.

“Right now there’s unevenness in both emergency medical services and hospital-based trauma responses across the country,” Donald M. Berwick, MD, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement told JAMA. “Orlando and Boston were particularly well-prepared, but the next [incident] may not be in a place so well-prepared.”

Meanwhile, national organizations, including the American College of Emergency Physicians, have made disaster and mass casualty response a priority by focusing on ways first responders can provide earlier care to trauma victims. In addition to mass casualty response, hospitals around the country are training employees to respond to an active shooter that enters the facility.

- read the JAMA article