PITTSBURG — An active shooter drill at Pittsburg State University Saturday was unfortunately timely, with news over the weekend of a shooting Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in which at least 26 people were killed and 20 other wounded.
The active shooter drill at Pittsburg State University prepared emergency responders, law enforcement, two area hospitals, and PSU nursing students for an active shooter emergency, should one happen here.
"We'll be ready in case something to this extent happens for real," said Crawford County Emergency Manager Jason VanBecelaere.
The drill began when a PSU Theatre student portraying a shooter entered McPherson Hall, home to the Irene Bradley School of Nursing. Students portrayed by other PSU Theatre students milled in the hallway, and a faculty member lectured to nursing students in a classroom. Acting and the use of moulage (the art of applying mock injuries) provided first responders with a high level of realism.
A call went out on dispatch, and University police were contacted. Officers responded and neutralized the shooter. One officer was "wounded" in the process. EMS was called in, and PSU nursing students went to work tending to the wounded officer and students while ambulances and paramedics were en route.
Those students gained experience tending to arterial bleeds and head wounds, triaging the victims on scene according to severity. Crews from Midwest AeroCare and MedFlight Nevada were on scene to assist, but helicopters that had been scheduled to fly were grounded because of the weather.
Crawford County Health Department and Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas also participated. Health Department personnel helped on site, and additional patients were triaged on scene and sent to CHC-SEK's walk-in clinic.
Patients were transported to Via Christi Hospital and Girard Medical Center. At both hospitals, personnel went through a live action ER surge. That piece was particularly important, VanBecelaere said, both for accreditation and for experience.
“We did this to test the medical surge effectiveness of our hospitals,” he said. “An active shooter situation with mass casualties is one of the most stressful events our first responders and hospital staff will experience. These types of drills help us learn what we’re doing right and where can improve.”
Jessica Cobb, nurse manager of Via Christi Hospital’s emergency department, said they triaged the patients as they came in and activated the incident command system, which involves the administrative team.
"We don’t wish a tragic event on any member of our community, but we want to be as prepared as possible to respond if and when one does occur," she said.
The scenario was the same at Girard Medical Center.
Following the drill, everyone involved returned to McPherson Hall to review the experience. Cheryl Giefer, director of the School of Nursing, deemed the event a success, despite it being a sobering one.
"It's such a hard topic to even think about, let alone simulate, but in today's world, we must all be prepared, considering we practiced this on Saturday, and look what happened on Sunday in Texas," she said. "It's a part of our world and it takes a united county effort to handle it."
"It was an eye-opening experience, and I couldn't bear the thought of it when we first decided to do it, but everyone who went through it said it was valuable. In health care, that's how we prepare of emergency situations – we practice."
VanBecelaere said the subject wasn't pleasant, but it was valuable.
"Every time you do a training like this, it's a positive experience in terms of preparing us," he said. "We found we all worked well together. There were a few hiccups but we overcame them."
Agencies taking part include Pittsburg State University, Crawford County EMS, Girard Medical Center, Via Christi Hospital, Midwest AeroCare, MedFlight, Crawford County Health Department, Crawford County Emergency Management and the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.