Health & Medicine

January 18, 2013

Sacramento hospital workers get tips on dealing with a gunman

Barbara Brooks watched as an officer, posing as a scowling, hooded gunman, swept an assault weapon across the crowded room, and her mind began to race.

Barbara Brooks watched as an officer, posing as a scowling, hooded gunman, swept an assault weapon across the crowded room, and her mind began to race.

"What would I do?" thought Brooks, a teacher at the Shriners children's hospital in Sacramento. "How would I protect my students?"

It was all part of a new staple in modern-day survival training.

Generations of Americans learned the "stop, drop and roll" drill to snuff out fires. "Duck and cover" was the mantra during the Cold War, when children dived under their classroom desks during air raid drills that signaled the threat of nuclear attack.

Today, in a stark sign of the times, teachers, office workers and hospital staffers are preparing for the increasingly imaginable scenario of an armed intruder invading their schools and businesses.

"Run, hide, fight," are the 21st century's buzzwords for survival.

"Someone with a gun could walk through that front door at any time," Tim Hunter, a member of the UC Davis Police Department's "active shooter survivor" education team, told a group of more than 100 workers at a lunchtime workshop Thursday at the Shriners hospital.

"What are you going to do?"

It is a question that needs to be asked, he said, in the aftermath of mass shootings at a high school and a movie theater in Colorado, Virginia Polytechnic University and, most recently, Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

Those crimes claimed dozens of lives and brought saturation news coverage. On a lesser scale, "active shooters" regularly invade the lives of everyday Americans, he said. Earlier this month in Sacramento, for example, a gunman terrorized employees of a Jack in the Box restaurant in a three-hour standoff, before police sharpshooters killed him.

"We've got to talk about it," said Hunter.

UC Davis Police Chief Matt Carmichael developed the "active shooter survival workshop" following the massacre in 2007 at Virginia Tech, when a student gunman killed 32 people and injured 17 others before committing suicide. Since then, his team has presented it for free to school districts, colleges and police departments across California and around the nation.

The audience for Thursday's lecture included employees from UC Davis Medical Center, as well as dozens of Shriners' staffers. The turnout was among the largest for a lunchtime presentation in recent history at Shriners, said spokeswoman Catherine Curran.

"Ten years ago we would probably have never thought of bringing a shooter survival workshop to Shriners," said Allan Johnson, who coordinates emergency response and disaster planning for the hospital. Previous topics for the lunchtime lectures have included healthy eating for the holidays and clinical issues, he said.

"This is part of our effort to keep our patients and our families safe, and recent events make it very timely," Johnson said. "All hospitals are certainly more aware of security issues these days."

Hunter warned his audience Thursday that the presentation might be disturbing, and the hour that followed lived up to the billing. At one point, the officer-turned-gunman burst to the front of the room, shrouded in a black hoodie, and pointed an assault weapon at the crowd. At another, they listened to an eerie 911 call from a teacher trapped with students in the Columbine, Colo., library.

"Under the table, kids. Under the table!" she screamed over and over.

Hunter's overall message: Be armed with a plan.

"Have a warrior mind-set!" Hunter told the group. If a gunman invades your workplace, assume that the weapon and threat are real. "Do something. Don't just sit there like a deer in the headlights."

He urged listeners to try to disarm a gunman if he is close by, and demonstrated techniques for turning a weapon toward a potential assailant and away from victims. "Attack the attacker," he said.

Lunging for the gun might be risky, he said. "You might get shot. But you have to try to do something about the person who is trying to hurt you, trying to make your wife a widow, trying to leave your children without a father."

As she took it all in, Beryl Gilbert, who works in a laboratory at the UC Davis Medical Center, said she was thinking about her workplace and colleagues. She took copious notes and said she planned to share what she learned with her colleagues, and form a solid safety and escape plan at work.

Although no one wants to think about the possibility of an Adam Lanza or Dylan Klebold storming their workplace, she said, "someone you know knows someone who knows someone who is going to be in a situation like that, and we should all be prepared."

Related content




Editor's Choice Videos