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Rowan Regional and emergency responders takes on mock drill

SALISBURY – If you think you saw a SWAT team Tuesday at Rowan Regional Medical Center, you did.

Multiple emergency, law enforcement and hospital personnel were at the hospital for a mock “active shooter” drill.

The Salisbury Police Department’s SWAT team members were on hand, in full tactical gear, throughout portions of the hospital, including the emergency department. Some of the hospital’s staff participated as “victims.”

“It’s part of our constant readiness program. We do at least two drills a year,” hospital President Dari Caldwell said.

When the hospital has a drill, it works with other local agencies, “so the drills are as real as possible,” Caldwell said.

A mock exercise also allows the hospital a chance to test all of its systems, she said.

The Salisbury Police Department’s SWAT team, the hospital’s public safety and some staff members, Rowan County Emergency Management Services, and Nucare Carolina Ambulance Service were participants.

The initial planning for the exercise began a year ago with the Rowan County Local Emergency Preparedness Committee, said Alan Lyerly, manager the hospital’s public safety department.

The hospital is a part of a subcommittee that schedules drills.

Some of the participants were given little notice of the exercise. Some of the “victims” in the exercise were certified nursing assistant students from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. Lyerly said those students found out they were participating 30 minutes prior to the exercise.

The process usually begins with a planning conference among the involved agencies, and incorporates a couple of other meetings before the drill.

“We knew it in a broad sense. We know generally what they would do,” said Ken Mowery, manager of the hospital’s plant engineering services.

One of the things the planning team observed during the exercise was that, although the staff were “actors” in the drill, they put their patients needs above their own.

“The staff automatically put their patient’s safety first,” said Ken Shaw, emergency preparedness manager for public safety at Forsyth Medical Center.

Shaw spoke of a staff member who although she was acting really was selfless.

“She epitomizes the whole process. When asked why she didn’t run, she said, ‘it’s my job,’ ” Shaw said of the hospital staffer.

The agencies involved create a plan, enacted the plan and debriefed afterward to determine improvements, Shaw said.

The Emergency Management Services division’s role was to observe and assist in coordinating the exercise as it unfolded, said Director Frank Thomason.

“The exercise went very well. Any time that we do a multi-jurisdictional exercise like this we expect the exercise to point out any of the weaknesses that each agency needs to improve. No exercise is perfect,” Thomason said.

Salisbury Police Chief Deputy Steve Whitley echoed Thomason, saying there were a few minor snags, but those are always expected.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to work together in a stressful environment,” he said.

Organizers intentionally performed the drill while the hospital was active, he said, because the hospital is a business that never closes and if an incident were to occur, the hospital would remain open.

“We wanted to keep it as true to life as possible because that’s how these things happen,” Whitley said.

The members of the SWAT team were in the dark about some of the scenario, he said.

“Our guys knew it was an exercise. They didn’t know what would happen and where they were going,” he said.

The officers responded to the call as if it were real.

“At the end of the day, you want a plan that is solid. You want it to work,” Whitley said.

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.

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