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‘Active shooter’ drill tested hospital and emergency services Saturday

The situation was this: a man armed with a Glock handgun enters the Emergency Department of Peconic Bay Medical Center at about 8 a.m. Saturday and begins firing at patients and staff members.

There were a total of 25 victims, and it all occurred within three minutes of the shooter — who ultimately killed himself — entering the hospital.

But it was all a drill, as PBMC president and CEO Andrew Mitchell emphasized repeatedly when speaking to media following the exercise.

“Today was a drill on what, for many, is the unthinkable,” he said. “In today’s world, these kinds of things can happen, and it’s therefore incumbent on emergency services providers, law-enforcement, and others to come together to protect society. So today was a simulation of an active shooter in the emergency department of the Peconic Bay Medical Center.”

The hospital does annual drills, but not to this extent, where police, ambulance crews and various agencies from throughout Suffolk County are called in to participate, he said. This type of drill, dubbed Operation Black Swan, only happens on an annual basis, he said.

In addition to the hospital, there was representation from Northwell Health, the Riverhead Police Department, the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance, Suffolk County Police Department, Suffolk County Emergency Services, the Suffolk Sheriff’s office, New York State Police, the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, and others.

Ambulances from Brentwood, Islip, Manorville, Shirley and other areas lined the east side of Roanoke Avenue as actors dressed as blood-stained victims were treated on the lawn on the west side of the hospital.

The hospital remained open and fully operational during the drill, Mr. Mitchell said.

The responders were not told of what was happening beforehand, other than that there would be an active shooter situation, officials said.

A command center was quickly established, Riverhead and other police were on scene in about three minutes, and emergency responders began to triage the injured.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller addresses media following “mass casualty” drill at PBMC Saturday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

“I think everyone did a great job today,” said Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, adding that there were a few “tweaks” that need to be ironed out, such as the fact that not every municipality operates on the same radio frequency, something that is being addressed, he said.

“As a physician, you always remember that your priorities are your patients and their family members and people who care for them,” said Dr. Jean Cacciabaudo, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

“Inside the command center, I would absolutely say that the adrenaline was coursing though all of our systems, and we really wanted to function as a tight, coordinated unit.”

“I was extremely impressed and felt very confident with what was going on in the command center,” said Dr. Amy Loeb, the hospital’s director of nursing and the incident commander for the drill.

Another “victim” of mass casualty, in drill Saturday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

“We practice often but not to this extent with the coordination with so many agencies,” she said. “Truly, we did step out of the box and we did learn and think differently about what we needed to do.”

For one thing, if a shooting occurred in the emergency room, it would become a crime scene and it would be off limits to treat patients, which is why the patients in the drill were cared for on the ground outside the hospital, officials said.

Mr. Mitchell said a total of 21 ambulance agencies and 26 actual ambulances responded to the scene to transport patients to other hospitals, in this case, Brookhaven, Stony Brook Southampton and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.

A helicopter landing zone was established at Riverhead High School to allow the Suffolk County and Northwell Sky Health medevac helicopters to airlift severely injured “patients” in the drill.

Aside from the shooter, none of the patients died in the scenario.

Just some of the many police and first responders on hand at Saturday’s drill. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

“Initial treatment was done here outside the emergency department on the west side of the campus,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Patients were stabilized and transported out to other facilities.”

Due to the nature of the drill, “we were taken outside of our normal command center which is inside the building,” Mr. Mitchell said. “We were going outside the building, so the normal tools and resources we have at our fingertips we’re not there. This was by design.”

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