Gulf County health department hosts active shooter training program by DSI

by Wes Locher

PORT ST. JOE, FL - In an area where most emergency preparations focus on hurricanes, the Gulf County Health Department added an “active shooter” program to their schedule in an effort to be ready for anything.

The exercise, held last Thursday at the Gulf County Emergency Operations Center, was designed to test the knowledge, skills and abilities of multi-agency coordination during a shooting-related incident.

The program was funded and hosted by the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County and brought together Gulf County Emergency Management, Franklin County Department of Health, Gulf County EMS, the Gulf County Sherriff’s Office, Gulf County School District, Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf and Gulf Coast State College to align on policies and procedures.

Using a map of the health department, the active shooter scenario played out in real time throughout the day and the group went step-by-step to share best practices for such a situation from initial contact, to a weapon being fired, to injured employees and hostage situations.

Also explained in detail were police team entry and extraction procedures.

“The program stresses the importance of what everyone is doing to take care of the situation and what to expect from the EOC,” said county Emergency Operations director Marshall Nelson.

The training detailed the process of alerting the necessary emergency departments and creating a funnel for information.

In an active shooter situation, the EOC will set up a phone number to handle all emergencies, freeing up law enforcement to report to the scene and work toward taking the shooter into custody.

Shooter situations often end up on the six o’clock news and Health Education Manager and Public Information Officer Sarah Hinds is responsible for controlling the release of information to the media.

“The public will focus on what they hear first and last and will always accept the negative over the positive,” said Hinds.

Equally important to what is happening outside the building; the training covered the accountability of employees who find themselves inside during a shooting.

Employees were reminded to take care of themselves first and to “not be a hero,” or take any actions that may interfere with police operations.

Attendees were also provided vital information about police tactics and were told that in the scenario, law enforcers would look at hands. If employees were able to escape, they should keep their arms visible and not to carry anything that could be misinterpreted as a weapon.

“Communication is critically important,” said Terry Schenk, exercise director for Disaster Strategies and Ideas, the group that created the scenario.

Throughout the presentation, a representative from DSI took detailed notes, including the answers to any questions that arose and the answers.

Several days after the exercise, a full report is provided that allows companies to update their policies, procedures and can be utilized in future trainings.

“It can make a huge difference if people pre-plan,” said Schenk. “If this scenario happens, this training will give people awareness that could be the difference between life and death.”

The Florida Department of Health in Gulf County had an all-hazards plan but an active shooter procedure was missing.

“We didn’t have a structured plan,” said Marsha Lindeman, Administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Gulf and Franklin Counties. “We train often for weather situations, but there are other threats in this day and age,”

She stressed the importance of such a program for healthcare providers, schools and businesses that are “wide open” to the public.

Lindeman herself had been in a scenario with an active shooter before, and noted that from time to time, companies receive threats and it’s vital that the staff knows how to respond.

“I’m excited to have had such a collaborative exercise,” she said. “It created a great dialogue between agencies.”

Gloria Perryman