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Being prepared for the unthinkable: Hospital, police and EMS stage massive active shooter drill in Riverhead

Photo: Denise Civiletti

In an age when mass shootings are in the news on an increasingly regular basis, law enforcement, emergency services and hospital personnel have to be prepared for tragedies of unthinkable proportions.

Preparation requires practice — and that’s exactly what more than two police and emergency services agencies did this morning at Peconic Bay Medical Center, the location of a massive training exercise simulating a mass shooting incident at the Riverhead hospital.

The scenario: A shooter armed with a Glock 9mm handgun enters the emergency room and opens fire. Within three minutes, 25 people — patients and staff — are shot and injured, some seriously. Riverhead Town Police respond to the scene in less than a minute, locate the shooter in the hospital and shoot him dead. He is the only fatality. EMTs from Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps and rescue units from all over the county descend on the hospital where victims are triaged, treated, stabilized and packed into ambulances for transport to other area hospitals. A few of them are taken to a landing zone at Riverhead High School where Suffolk County Police helicopters pick them up for a flight to Southside Hospital or Stony Brook.

Photo: Denise Civiletti

Victim-actors, mostly student volunteers were transported by ambulance to Brookhaven, Southampton and Eastern Long Island hospitals. No one was actually transported by helicopter.

Hospital, law enforcement and emergency officials all said they were very pleased with today’s result.

Overall the response to the scenario — the specifics of which were kept secret from all involved to preserve the element of surprise — was effective and efficient, said PBMC president and CEO Andrew Mitchell at a press conference convened after the drill concluded.

The police arrived “within a minute,” Mitchell said.

The drill tested the ability to bring a lot of resources into Riverhead in short period of time, Mitchell said.

Photo: Denise Civiletti

“We learn from these drills, assess our response and improve our procedures to address deficiencies,” Mitchell said. “Operation Black Swan” is the hospital’s code name for a large-scale emergency drill. It’s conducted once each year to test response to different emergency scenarios. “The hospital conducts other, smaller-scale drills throughout the year,” Mitchell said, but nothing as massive as “Black Swan.”

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said radio communications remain a challenge for first responders, many of which are still on different radio frequencies. That’s a situation being addressed county-wide, he said.

PBMC chief nursing officer Amy Loeb, who was incident commander, said communication with the families of people not injured in or affected by the incident is an area the hospital will look to improve.

Photo: Denise Civiletti

Another thing to improve on is handling the media — where to locate the media to keep them away from victims’ families, Loeb said. Media were not allowed onto hospital property while the drill was in progress. After the press conference, EMTs and victim-actors re-enacted the simulated triage and treatment on a grassy area outside the hospital to allow media to take photos of the activity.

“It’s important to be prepared for events like this that no one wants to think about,” Northwell Health director of emergency planning Mary Maloney said. 

The drill itself took place in a simulated emergency department, located in an administrative wing of the hospital so as not to disrupt patient care.

“The hospital, including the emergency department, remained open and fully operational for the duration of the drill,” Mitchell stressed.

He commended the police and emergency workers for their professionalism and expertise.

“They’re the ones rushing in when everyone else is trying to get out,” Mitchell said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.