LOVINGTON — It was cold, calm and quiet outside Nor-Lea Hospital Saturday morning. Inside the hospital’s clinic, however, was pandemonium.
A “gunman” moved through the building shooting patients and hospital staff. Outside was silence, except for a lone broadcast across the hospital’s PA system, “Code trigger.”
Within minutes Lovington police cars sped into the parking lot, lights flashing but sirens mute. The only sound was that of officers’ feet on concrete as they rushed into the building, orange AR-15 rifles and blue pistols in hand.
Only a few minutes later, but what may have seemed an eternity for those inside, the incident was over and two officers escorted the handcuffed gunman to a police cruiser.
The first active shooter training inside a hospital in state history was over.
For Nor-Lea CEO David Shaw the training experience was chilling. As he watched the entire event play out on a monitor and even with a knowledge of firearms, what he saw that morning was disturbing.
“I shoot guns all the time and it is not an unfamiliar sound to me, but when they are walking through and playing their role right, it was tough to watch,” he said. “They gave me a vantage point where I could watch this guy walking down the hall doing it all and it was very unsettling.”
Despite having rehearsed the scenario several times, many of the staff and Lovington drama students who participated in the training were disturbed as well.
“There were a number of the actors who forgot what they were supposed to do when the shots when off,” Shaw said. “It scared them and they ran out of the building.”
The “gunman” carried a .22-caliber starter pistol, firing realistically loud blanks, and it was with surprise that organizers and hospital staff realized the sounds didn’t carry to other parts of the building.
“One thing we learned is we thought it would be so loud you could hear it in the whole hospital,” Shaw said, “but Registration (which was nearby) couldn’t really hear it.”
Despite its proximity to the Professional Physicians Center, the sound of the gunshots did not carry to the registration desk, nor to the ER next door and all was quiet outside the building.
That made it reassuring that the hospital’s reverse 911 system was working sending a text to every employee warning them to flee the building because of a “Code Trigger.”
Shaw said the hospital worked with state emergency officials on the drill and to their knowledge this is the first such active shooter training to ever be done in a hospital in the state. He said the training was filmed and will be used to future trainings.
“There have been a lot of stories in the news about active shooters and with the opioid problem across the country we have had agitated and upset patients where we have had to call the PD down to deescalate the situation or we’ve had to do it ourselves,” Shaw said. “We saw it as an opportunity to continue to develop our partnership with the PD.”
The “gunman” was a nondescript patient who entered the hospital through the front doors, signed in and then gained access to the physicians center when a nurse went through the secure doors.
Shaw said it was difficult for some staff to do what they were supposed to.
“We had people who didn’t do the right thing. Instead of running like they should have, they tried to hide,” he said.
One thing many found hard was to leave behind patients who couldn’t walk or be moved and save their own lives, he said. However, that is essential as well because after the shooting comes the emergency response and everyone would be needed to return and care for the injured, which was the second part of Saturday’s training as staff cared for 10 wounded “victims” left behind by the “gunman.”
Lovington Police Det. David Miranda said the training is a great one for the department.
“Some of the newer officers were chosen because they may not have had as much of that training,” he said of those officers who participated. “It has unfortunately become all too common and it can happen in a small town. Hopefully, we can have more of these trainings in the future.”