By Valerie Baldowski
Police responded recently to a hostage situation at Henry Medical Center, but despite appearances, the event was merely a training drill staged by hospital officials and local authorities.
The drill, conducted Tuesday, involved a standoff between officers and a distraught gunman, and lasted most of the morning.
According to information from the hospital, Henry Medical Center employees and staffers at the Laurel Park nursing home participated in the drill, along with Henry County Police, sheriff's office and fire department personnel.
The Henry County Police Department's SWAT team, hostage negotiators, Emergency Management Agency personnel, the county's 911 center, and Georgia Emergency Management Agency personnel were also involved.
The drill began at 8:30 a.m., and took more than two hours to complete. Henry County Police Lt. Jeff Maddox said the event progressed smoothly.
"It went very good," said Maddox, who was in charge of the SWAT team.
The scenario for the drill involved a patient being discharged to an extended-care facility. The patient's son, agitated with the case worker unable to find a room for his mother at Laurel Park, takes the case worker hostage at gunpoint, in the scenario. As they leave the hospital, the hostage-taker knocks down an engineer and shoots a hospital security officer before taking off in the security officer's vehicle, according to the scenario.
After fleeing to Laurel Park, the gunman takes more hostages and takes cover in an office near the lobby.
The exercise was a learning tool for all involved, Maddox explained.
"This was a mock training disaster that was set up to bring together the police department, the sheriff's department, the fire department, 911 communications as well as the hospital staff," said Maddox. "In the event of a hostage situation on hospital property, the hospital staff would know how to react."
Amanda Miller, director of pharmacy at the hospital, said the drill uncovered some areas where the hospital staff needs to review procedures on when to call police.
"Inside the hospital, we've learned that we're going to have to make sure that we revisit the training about what phone number to dial when there's a problem," she said. "In addition to that, we need to do a little bit of work on how our hospital operator communicates with the rest of the facility when only a part of the facility knows what's going on."
The hospital is required to conduct a certain number of drills per year, explained Miller. For example, Henry Medical Center regularly conducts fire drills, as often as one drill per shift per quarter, she said.
Although hostage drills take more manpower and involve more employees, Miller emphasized the importance of staging those types of training exercises occasionally.
"That is a concern, tying up people who have other jobs," she acknowledged. "But at least once a year, we should have a drill of this scale, that involves multiple departments, and multiple agencies in the county, in order to build relationships and learn to coordinate our response."
Since 9/11, Miller explained, most government agencies have taken an "all hazard approach." That type of approach is the basic structure used to respond to any event, whether it is an earthquake, a tornado or a hostage situation, she continued.
The goal of Tuesday's drill, Maddox said, was to teach those involved in emergency situations who to call for help, what to do, and how to lock down the hospital to protect the patients.
"It's obviously very important to be prepared all the time for situations like this," he said. "You never know when they could happen, or where they might happen."