Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ruminations on the shooting at Hopkins Hospital--a watershed event for hospital security?

Buz followed closely the shooting of a surgeon at the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital as it unfolded via Twitter and news reports.

So, he has some random, eclectic, and iconoclastic thoughts: mostly, of course, from the safety of hindsight, but also with an interest in security matters. Hopkins has a special place for me since I am a native Baltimoron, my mom worked there fro more than 20 years, and she died there holding my hand, and I worked there, briefly, in security, during the winter of 2004-2005.

  • Oddly enough, the shooter and I had some things in common: like him, I spent the last couple of nights in the hospital, one or two overnight, to be by my mother's bedside during the last couple of days of her life.
  • And, like him, I was armed, being a member of the Bmore Po-leece.
  • And though a doctor came and told me the day before (I still remember his face, but not his name), that medicine had nothing further to offer her and the end was near, I differed from the shooter inasmuch I didn't even think of shooting anybody. And though he seemed nervous, I thanked the doc, and appreciated that he didn't sugarcoat anything. In fact, she died the next day.
  • Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, I was working home at this computer when I saw a tweet coming over that a doctor was shot at JHH. Immediately, Justine Fenton and Peter Hermann began making crime tweets and reports, along with lots of otehr people.
  • Of course, initially, neither Hopkins staff nor the police knew what they were dealing with and many institutions have been haunted with the specter of Columbine and Virginia Tech.
  • However, we followed tapes of the 911 calls, and a number of calls were received pinpointing the location of the shooting and even the building and floor. (We wish the 911 Communications Assistants were not so abrupt and demanding when at the end of the call they said: what's your name!? Um, couldn't you, ladies, say it a bit more nicer than that?
  • We wish the shift commander, when the call went out over police radio, and several Eastern units announced they were responding, didn't say: what was that call? I know, lieutenants are in meetings and busy and stuff, perhaps preparing for Comstat. But wold have loved to have heard, instead: "I'm en route; units advise what you have asap".
  • Nevertheless, on the police channel, Eastern District units were on the scene of the correct building, on the correct floor, and were broadcasting the exact room number of where the shooter was, and that they had the floor in and the room covered---in about 3 minutes and a half after the call went out!
  • All the rest was hurry up and wait, as, unbeknownst to everyone, the suicidal/homicidal patent's son, immediately after shooting the doc, went into mom's room, shot her in the head, and then himself, and lay there for 2 hours, while he bled to death.
  • As with most incidents of this nature, the drama was over and done with quickly. But the officially mandated military-like, cover-all-bases drama went on for several hours, with the arrival of SWAT teams (including one from Baltimore County?!) [Research on school shootings, for example, shows that the vast majority are over and done in less than 15 minutes--usually with the shooter(s) killing themselves. Columbine's killings actually were over and done in 14 minutes, I believe.]
  • When the police's Mr. Data finally entered the room, it was clear what had happened hours ago.
  • These things can be very chaotic to manage and control from a command perspective. Just managing responding police and fire units, crowd control, evacuation, and traffic control, not to mention possible contingencies and exigencies, can be mind-boggling.
  • Buz doesn't think so much of Columbine, as he does of Mumbai--and that's the possibility departments must think about.
  • But it was good practice in emergency management for Hopkins and BPD, in an environment where realistic practice tests are hard to carry out.
  • Why the Baltimore County SWAT team? Are we in the city so short of personnel in that area? Is the depth of our units so low?!
  • Missing out of the main coverage of the story was: what happened to the doctor after he was shot and collapsed on the floor after dumb-dumb went into the room and did himself? Who were the hero or heroes at grave risks to themselves who got the doc on a stretcher/gurney, and then, somehow got him down to the ER, no doubt with assistance of JHH security and other staff. Buz would like to really hear more about him/her/them! Why'd they do it? Weren't they afraid? (I heard one of the them was a medical sales rep of some kind: no commission for that gig, though).
  • It was interesting hearing my old boss from both SED and JHH address the press mob after the incident and hearing him responds to questions, particularly the question about use of metal detectors. His answer was well thought and reasonable.
  • Wonder what other two hospitals that he knows of in the country have metal detectors. Why? How big are they? How do they manage them? Ah, questions, questions.
  • I was really pleased that right after this incident Police Commissioner Bealefeld chaired a meeting of security personnel and others and coached them on updating their emergency plans.
  • The Sun then comes out with an editorial saying Hopkins should "do some research" and learn what works best at keeping guns out and managing crowds. And they chastised the Security Director because, they would say, that airports handle a lot more people, per day, than the hospital does. Well, yes, but your tax dollars are paying for both the TSA guards doing the checking and the MDtA Police at the airport--who are both regularly present and heavily armed.
  • Buz has stood, on a number of afternoons and evenings at the main Wolfe Street entrance to the hospital--in the evening, and it can be chaotic with lots of people coming in and leaving every moment. Including Hopkins employees who either don't display their badge till asked or have it turned with the back displayed--and then still have to be asked to see it. It will take a whole culture change to switch to metal detectors and a lot more staff, believe!