Avoid the Active Shooter Trap: Hospital Edition

Just because hospitals don’t experience many active shooter incidents doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem with healthcare facility violence.

One of Campus Safety’s regular contributors, Safe Havens International Executive Director Mike Dorn, advises K-12 schools to not put all of their energies toward preventing or responding to active shooters at the expense of dealing with other risks that are more likely to occur. This advice also applies to hospitals.

I’m bringing this point up now because of a report released in September from Johns Hopkins. The study claims that hospital gun violence is rare and difficult to predict. Although this conclusion may be correct, it doesn’t tell the whole story because the research doesn’t cover violence and other emergencies that don’t involve firearms. I fear that the results, combined with our society’s obsession with active shooters, may lull us into a false sense of security about healthcare facilities.

The authors of the report readily admit that there were limitations to their research, however, those comments could be lost on the general public. Indeed, most of the headlines I reviewed on the topic in effect said, “Hospital Shootings Are Rare.” You can bet that many people will only read that headline and conclude there isn’t a problem with hospital violence.

We must not allow the Johns Hopkins study to lead our country to pay even less attention than it already does to the issues we have with hospital security and emergency management.

For those of you who don’t think hospital security and emergency management is a problem, let me review a few troubling facts:

  • Half of all ER nurses are assaulted at work, including being hit, spit on, pushed, scratched and/or kicked. In fact, more assaults occur in healthcare and social services than in any other business.
  • Individuals who come to hospitals are almost always in a weakened physical and emotional state. They are in pain or they are seeing a loved one in pain. They are scared. Additionally, due to hospital overcrowding, these individuals often must sit in packed waiting rooms for hours before they or their loved ones receive treatment. All of these circumstances make hospitals much more prone to violence than other workplaces.
  • Our nation’s Level 1 trauma centers are not prepared to handle the influx of victims that would result if something like the Madrid 2004 commuter train attack occurred on our soil. Imagine the chaos and mob violence that might ensue if hospital security officers had to turn away victims?
  • Because of cuts to mental healthcare, more and more patients with behavioral health issues are showing up at our country’s emergency departments. Who do you think watches these patients — who, by the way, often act out — for the 12 or 24 or 72 hours that go by before a bed in a behavioral health facility becomes available? Security officers.
  • In 2010, the Joint Commission urged healthcare facilities to do a better job of addressing security because of the increasing rate of crimes at hospitals, including assault, rape and murder.

Most of the situations I’ve just described don’t involve firearms. Still, no one can say that hospital violence is not a big problem. Also, just because a large-scale active shooter or bomber tragedy hasn’t happened at a U.S. hospital yet, doesn’t mean it never will. Hospitals must still be aware and prepared for the possibility.

We must continue to inform the public about these issues so the appropriate resources are dedicated to healthcare facility security and emergency management.

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About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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