Despite all that we have come to expect from living in a free and civilized society, tragedies in Newtown, Aurora and other U.S. cities remind us that we should never take safety for granted and must always be prepared to react to the unthinkable. Hospitals and healthcare facilities may not only receive the victims of shootings, they may be the scene of the event. The same is true of any office building or public venue.

Based on guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on how to respond to an “active shooter” incident, HCA created two model policies: one specific to hospitals and one to clinics and offices.

“We need to be prepared to deal with someone in a facility, with a gun, who is intent on hurting people,” said Scott Cormier, Director of Emergency Preparedness and Management. “As part of our overall program of preparedness, we’ve created a model plan to respond to these types of events. We are requiring every HCA facility, clinical and non-clinical, to have an active shooter policy in place by this summer.”

Preparation is key

Teaching us about steps to take if an armed person threatens can help us be prepared. And because of the unique considerations under which hospitals operate, plans must be carefully customized, Cormier said.

“Much of their template focuses on responding to an active shooter in a business center. There are a lot of differences between an office building and a hospital or healthcare center. We are working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fashion guidance so that first responders are aware of issues such as infectious disease, locked units, hazardous materials and the different types of patients they would encounter in a hospital setting.”

Cormier is also serving on a committee put together by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to standardize guidelines for healthcare facilities.

“HCA has worked to develop its own policy, which was done with input from all our facilities,” he said. “Not a lot of hospitals have a policy in place. We think that our policy could serve as a baseline for many of the national guidelines that HHS is looking to put together.”

In addition to learning how to react to an active shooter scenario, each of us can do small things to help to make our workplace safe. Basic rules include properly displaying your ID badge, reporting any suspicious activity and keeping locked areas secure.