A symposium held last week regarding active shooters at hospitals had been planned for months, but became especially relevant following a false alarm early this month at Mercy Hospital Southwest in which someone reported an active shooter.
That marks two active shooter scares — the other being an actual shooting that took place at Bakersfield Heart Hospital — to occur in Kern County hospitals in the past nine months.
Administrators have taken notice, and have implemented steps to help prevent or better deal with future incidents.
“Actually before these local incidents, we made a conscious decision last year to change our emergency ‘code’ for an active shooter," said Sharlet Briggs, president of Adventist Health Bakersfield.
"The crucial overhead announcement is no longer just a color code. We would now simply state the words: ‘active shooter,’ followed by a location in our facility; this would be done three times in a row and repeated as needed."
Briggs said Adventist Health believes the more specific alarm will provide additional time for people to evacuate or shelter in place. And by not using a color code, everyone — not just hospital employees — in the facility will be aware of the situation.
"We also want to keep finding ways to communicate across all the local hospitals for finding solutions and sharing experiences," she said.
Bakersfield Heart Hospital — where a gunman shot his way into the facility and pointed a rifle at several people before leaving — has installed a number of new security measures.
Michelle Oxford, the hospital's chief executive officer, said at the symposium an additional 30 security cameras have been placed throughout the facility and its grounds, covering every hallway and entrance. The glass doors that were shot and which the gunman entered through have been replaced with doors made of high-grade steel and protective glass.
She also said they learned the importance of providing specific locations when calling in an alert. There was confusion during the incident over exactly where the gunman was first spotted.
The hospital announced a "code silver" — indicating a situation involving a weapon — after two staffers saw a man acting strangely at the employee entrance. One of them noticed the barrel of a gun sticking out of the man's coat and notified others who issued the alert.
That alert, however, was never updated to reflect that the man, later identified as Brandon Clark, had fired the gun, Oxford said. There were some staffers, including Oxford, who were uncertain if the man was in the hospital or had left.
She said accurate, rapid communication is important in these situations.
Most facilities appear to follow the prominent "run, hide, fight" model on what to do in an active shooter situation.
First, it's recommended to get as far away from the shooter as possible. If escape routes are blocked, hide in a locked room, behind a desk or any other item that can provide protection from bullets. Barricade the door.
As a last resort, fight. Use fire extinguishers, chairs, anything that will inflict injuries if used as a weapon.
When a report of an active shooter was announced at Mercy Hospital Southwest on Aug. 1, staff sheltered in place with patients, making them as comfortable as possible under the circumstances until police cleared the facility three hours later.
No gunman was found.
It remains unknown whether a staffer, patient or visitor placed the call from an internal phone to the hospital's emergency hotline. The staff member who received the call followed procedure and made the "code black" announcement over the intercom.
And while the staff mostly followed their training, Mercy Southwest Chief of Nursing Jen Culbertson said, two secured doors were opened during the incident: a woman left a room to get a patient from another room, and two staffers left a room because they claimed to know how to handle someone with a gun.
She said another deficiency revealed by the alert was that the code could not be heard in certain areas of the hospital. A respiratory therapist and the dietary staff didn't hear the announcement and had to be notified by others as they had stayed at their stations and were continuing to work.
But by and large, Culbertson said, things went well.
"We knew exactly where every employee was, we knew the status of every patient," she said.