Discussion initiated by the countywide active shooter focus group a year and a half ago has moved into the final phase of the plan outlined upon its inception — outcome. To reach the outcome community organizations are hoping for should any such incidents occur in the future, Harvey County Emergency Management Director Gary Denny is leading trainings to prepare for that exact scenario, the first of which was held among local representatives of the medical discipline on Thursday.
"You don't know how good a policy is, you don't know how well you're trained or if you trained in the right method until you put it to use, and we certainly don't want to wait for an event to put it to use," Denny said. "So, in lieu of an event we put together exercises."
Training to implement and policies to adopt were addressed in early phases of the active shooter focus group's discussions, but Thursday marked the first theoretical measure of community readiness as Denny led employees from Newton Medical Center, Prairie View, Health Ministries Clinic, the Harvey County Health Department and Harvey County dispatch in a tabletop exercise, presenting those gathered with a hypothetical active shooter situation to address.
In approaching the exercises, Denny said the goal is to get the community partners to think critically about how they would handle such a situation in their own facilities to test each organization's core capabilities — particularly as it relates to the incident command system and ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) training.
For Newton Medical Center, President and Chief Executive Officer Val Gleason said the hospital is continually training on ICS internally — even on issues as minute as changing a circuit in the electrical system — and regularly sends staff to nationwide conferences. No matter the discipline (firefighter, police, doctor, etc.), she said repetition can be crucial to effectively employing those measures in the case of an incident.
"The more you keep it top of mind, the more you drill," Gleason said, "the more it becomes a learned response rather than a reaction."
On top of understanding their own policies, the exercise helped build a bridge between the medical entities present so they could get a sense of each others' strategies. Since the beginning, Denny noted a driving force behind this conversation has been to get all the community partners on the same page.
Gleason said that is a focus within the hospital and she was glad to have that opportunity to see what other health organizations are doing. While there is the potential for regional and national agencies to get involved in the case of a large-scale incident (i.e. a mass shooting, national disaster, etc.), she also noted it is important to take charge locally and felt Thursday's exercise helps the community partners do that.
"We need to be leaders in this community in saying that we're ready. This is a large organization and our patients depend on us and the people who are in here visiting depend on us to know what to do in any eventuality," Gleason said. "In the end, we're all in this together and no one's going to race in to Harvey County to save us. We have to be ready to take care of ourselves at any given moment. These kinds of things help build a trust in each other."
There is still work ahead for the community partners, as Denny pointed out more tabletop exercises are planned for the disciplines of education and government in the next few months. In addition, his department continues work on mobilizing these strategies elsewhere in the community (i.e. the business discipline) and even around the state.
Denny noted the idea behind the tabletop exercises is the have the partner organizations from each identified discipline address a hypothetical situation and see where their own policies and practices may need work. While this was the first such scheduled exercise, the conversation stemming from it had Denny optimistic about the community's overall standing as it pertains to preparedness.
"I believe Harvey County is miles ahead of the average jurisdiction or average county in the state of Kansas, and I would say that holds true to the health care environment," Denny said. "That's what we'll find out with the education discipline; we'll find that out with the government discipline."