Simulated crisis to test first responders Wednesday

"Be Prepared." The Boy Scout motto grows more meaningful with every new crisis that makes the news. In a split second, an unanticipated event can turn business-as-usual into a crisis.

That's why Regional West Health Services, in partnership with local law enforcement agencies, Scottsbluff Fire Department, Panhandle Regional Medical Response System, and Valley Ambulance Service, will conduct a full-scale active shooter exercise the morning of October 16.

The mock crisis, which will run from about 9 to 11:30 a.m., will put emergency preparedness training to the test for each agency as they respond to a report of active shooter at St. Mary Plaza, 36th and Avenue B, Scottsbluff. The exercise will involve a simulated "shooter" and will include police and ambulance response.

The exercise will serve as a learning opportunity for players to implement emergency response plans, policies, and procedures involving an active shooter.

For the past several weeks, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator David Edwards has been meeting with staff at St. Mary Plaza to outline plans for the exercise and to answer their questions about the event.

"It's important that all employees know about the exercise, not only to prevent panic on the morning of October 16, but also to inform and reassure patients, visitors, friends, family, and others in the community that Regional West will simply be proactively testing its preparations for dealing with an active shooter on campus," said Edwards.

Regional West Health Services will use many communication tools to advise the public of the upcoming drill, including interviews with the local media, posters, fliers to homes and businesses in the neighborhood, and Code Red announcements. All communication related to this event will be accompanied by the written or spoken statement: "This is an exercise."

On October 16, message boards will be posted along Avenue B to make passersby aware that the emergency vehicles that arrive at St. Mary Plaza are participating in the exercise.

Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer is one of several law enforcement and emergency services representatives who have been working with Regional West to plan the exercise.

"We want to be sure that the community understands that the person designated as the shooter will use blanks during this exercise," said Spencer. "If you are at St. Mary Plaza during the event, you may hear shots that will sound authentic, but will be part of the planned exercise only."

Response to the Active Shooter exercise will begin around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, October 16 with an overhead announcement at the hospital stating: "Code Silver." All employees who are at St. Mary Plaza at that time will actively participate in the exercise.

If a real-life emergency would happen to occur during the exercise, participants are advised to respond to the emergency and forget the exercise.

"Safety takes priority over exercise events," said Edwards.

For an emergency that requires assistance, participants will use the phrase "This is a Real-World Emergency." Exercise controllers can stop the exercise for a real world emergency. If the emergency requires the exercise to be suspended, all exercise activities will immediately cease.

Once the "Code Silver" announcement is made, all doors at the main campus will be temporarily locked down as part of the exercise.

"This full-scale exercise will allow law enforcement, first responders, and our medical center to simultaneously perform as if lives depend on the situation. It will be a serious test of our response, even though we hope never to repeat it in real life," said Spencer.

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