Healthcare News & Insights

The right prescription to mitigate active shootings in hospitals

ThinkstockPhotos-78744819Most people would consider hospitals a safe haven for patients. Unfortunately, hospitals are just as likely to experience an active shooting incident as commercial buildings, regardless of whether a security guard is present. In this guest post, Damaune Journey, VP of Security Solutions, SST, a global leader in gunfire detection and location technology, gives hospital executives a brief overview of tools that can help mitigate and manage these risks.


Due to the alarming increase of active shooter events in hospitals, administrators are taking a closer look at their security procedures around the country.

In the past 18 months alone, there have been 14 active shooter incidents at hospitals in our nation. This doesn’t include the countless violent acts in emergency rooms and hospital grounds that could have led to gunfire.

FBI statistics show that all “active shooter” incidents, in hospitals and elsewhere, have jumped from 6.4 per year between 2000 and 2006 to 16.4 per year between 2007 and 2013.

Is there a cure for this?

Not completely, but there are some remedies including new technology solutions that can help equip hospitals to better prepare, prevent and respond to these events.

Physician death prompts action

Earlier this year, Americans were shocked to hear the news of the death of cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Michael Davidson at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who was working at the time of his death. In the month before Dr. Davidson was killed, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a guide to help healthcare facilities incorporate active shooter planning into their emergency plans.

Accreditation already requires planning for active shooters. Yet, active shooter events in a healthcare setting present unique challenges: a potentially large and vulnerable patient population, hazardous materials (including infectious disease), locked units and unique equipment such MRI machines which contain large magnets that can cause issues with firearms.

Early detection challenges

Recent active shooter research tells us there’s a substantial time continuum of possible threat detection beginning when the shooter initially forms the intent to commit mass violence. It may start with the posting of dark thoughts on social media or alerting friends, acquiring a firearm, purchasing ammunition, arriving at the site, and lastly, the final moment at which he actually starts shooting.

Everything prior to the shooter’s arrival at the site can be classified as “early detection.”

Early detection promises the opportunity to interdict an event before it happens, but also presents both tremendous benefits and historically insurmountable challenges. It’s very tricky to detect the intent or planning of a single, lone individual acting within legal boundaries, and with the full benefits of privacy rights and legal protections against illegal search.

There’s now an extensive database of mass shooting statistics that underscores the critical importance of prompt threat detection, the initiation of internal protective measures, and the rapid, integrated response of police, fire and medical units. All three factors are important components of a threat identification and management system.

The most compelling finding from years of research is that minimizing the time between the detection of a threat and the initiation of internal protective measures, the activation of public safety responders and engagement of the threat is the prime determinant of lives saved or lost.

Technology saves valuable response time

Active shooter events, large or small, are almost always sudden and unexpected, which places a huge burden on hospital administration and security personnel to manage these risks without creating a prison-like environment.

During an active shooting attack, critical time is lost as employees and other people on-site first seek to establish the nature of the attack. If there is an attack, many are unable to contact 9-1-1 or trigger internal alerts because they’re fully engaged in protective actions or are themselves under attack.

Innovative technology platforms, such as acoustic gunshot detection, can offer tremendous benefits in mitigating active shooting incidents occurring in a hospital. The data shows active shooter attacks often begin outside the building and progress indoors. Therefore, the first line of defense lies outside a facility, in a zone of protection comprising the entire outdoor area.

An indoor/outdoor active shooter alarm system, functioning much like a fire alarm system integrating a comprehensive site-based police, fire and medical response system, is optimal. It significantly increases the likelihood that active shooter threats will be identified quickly and improves the chances that notification to first responders will occur faster than an event reported manually by persons on-site.

As an integral component of such a system, gunshot detection technology can quickly notify both public safety responders and on-site personnel about the nature and location of the incident. Internal actions can immediately be taken to ensure that employees and designated staff can swiftly implement emergency protective measures.

In addition to verified gunfire alerts, a monitoring center can provide additional contextualized information that’s invaluable to first responders. By understanding sound and reviewing incidents frequently, they can often share details such as the number of shooters or if the shooter is using an automatic weapon − critically important info for first responders rushing into a scene. Given the acuity of the sensor and the speed of the reviewer, the sounds can be identified and provided to first responders as verified gunfire in a specific location within seconds.

Preparedness pays off

While there’s no magic formula for identifying when an employee, a family member or a troubled patient might attack your hospital, there are tools that can help mitigate and manage these risks. Coupling available cutting-edge technology and smart, well-prepared staff and employees can save lives.

Today, protecting your hospital’s staff and patients is the responsibility of both your security team and the hospital administration. Much like preventive health care, preventive emergency planning with the right technology can help save lives.

Damaune Journey is responsible for growing SST’s security business and establishing a leadership position for SST in securing critical infrastructure – hospitals, buildings, utilities, transportation and campuses across the country. SST Inc. is a global leader in gunfire detection and location technology providing trusted, scalable and reliable gunfire alert and analysis solutions. He can be reached at


Subscribe Today

Get the latest and greatest healthcare news and insights delivered to your inbox.

Speak Your Mind