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Sign of the Times: Active Shooter Drill at UVa Medical Center

courtesy Robert Truoccolo

In response to recent mass shootings, the University of Virginia Medical Center has begun implementing “Active Shooter Drills” in both their main hospital and outpatient facilities. WMRA’s Kara Lofton reports.

[Sounds of loudspeaker]

The hospital appears deserted as I walk through the upper floors with Robert Truoccolo, one of the University of Virginia Medical Center’s Emergency Management Coordinators. Lights are dimmed, doors shut, patients and personnel hidden in curtained rooms. They are practicing for what Truoccolo thinks is an unfortunate inevitability, an active shooter in the hospital.

ROBERT TRUOCCOLO: So unfortunately we’ve had a rise in these types of incidents throughout the country, not just in healthcare environments, but academic professional settings, even unfortunately on live television. It’s just been a spike all over the country in violent, aggressive incidents involving firearms and so we feel the importance in drilling annually, much like a fire drill, to build that muscle memory to use that run, hide, fight concept, we always hope we will never have to use it in a real event, that something like that will never happen here, but unfortunately a lot of law enforcement professionals believe its not an “if” question, it’s a “when” question.

Truoccolo says that UVA is teaching its staff to Run. Hide. Fight. – a model developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as the most effective way to survive an active shooter event.

TRUOCCOLO: Past incidents reflect that shooters go after the easiest target and they are constantly moving.  It’s not a scenario where you see someone holeing up in an office space. They walk around, they go through the environment and they go after line of sight. So if you are within their line of sight you may become a target.

The announcement of the drill came from both the hospital loudspeakers and through a page to personnel. In some wards, while patients’ doors were shut, staff faces could be seen in the luminous reflection of computer screens. In a real scenario, he explained as we walked through the floor, all operations would stop. But even in a true active shooter event,

TRUOCCOLO: Any critical, lifesaving events would continue as best as possible because we are in survival mode. So obviously even though it is a life-threatening situation we still have patients that require constant care so it’s a balance of providing the needed care and protecting our staff.

This is the second Active Shooter Drill that UVA Medical Center has run. By all appearances, it went smoothly. Out of more than 50 possible hazardous scenarios the hospital could experience (many, such as volcano eruptions, are considered too remote a possibility to drill for), the Active Shooter Drill is in their top five potential hazards along with fires and tornados.

TRUOCCOLO: People that fail to accept that the event is happening or that it can occur are likely to become a victim more than not. A lot of times people will freeze and not know how to react because they can’t grasp that it’s actually happening, it’s a very traumatic event. And so doing this drill, having it on their minds helps staff become confident, become prepared and more able to respond should an event like this happen.

Kara Lofton is a photojournalist based in Harrisonburg, VA. She is a 2014 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and has been published by EMU, Sojourners Magazine, and The Mennonite. Her reporting for WMRA is her radio debut.