“Active Shooter” events have become a reality across the country . . . including within our own industry. We need to be proactive in preparing for the worst.

By John Gonzales

3:00 am. NOC shift. Starcrest Assisted Living Community.

“Come in, Aubrey.”  

Static . . .

“Aubrey, I need you back on the floor – Mrs. Badak needs to be changed again.”

Static . . .

“This is ridiculous, Aubrey.  Longest smoke break ever!”

Static . . .

Lisa walks purposefully down the corridor to the back door of the west wing – the unofficial (but wink and nod approved) smoking area for staff. Two small plastic chairs, a smoking receptacle and a large rock have been there for over a year, and staff have adopted the area as their “Ciggie-zone.” Although against policy, the NOC shift engage in frequent usage of the area throughout the wee hours. Although she is certain the loud bang she just heard was Aubrey slamming the back door shut, she strides angrily down the hallway still intending to give Aubrey a scolding for having taken advantage of their unofficial 15 minute rule.

As she approaches the still propped open door (see “large rock” listed above), she sees a large object on the dimly lit patio. Lisa slows her incensed march suddenly and instinctively. She feels the fear rising deep within herself and then a gradual escalation into full blown panic as she realizes that the object on the ground is a person. There on the shadowy concrete lies Aubrey in a dark and slowly spreading pool of crimson liquid.  

Seeing her coworker lying motionless on the ground just a few feet away trips a fuse inside of Lisa and she shuts down all other rationale thinking . . . for a few seconds . . . until the loud crash down the hall breaks her paralysis. The med cart. Someone is inside the community . . . “Oh my.” 

The loud bang . . . a gun.

Fiction? The details perhaps, but a plausible threat to our industry, is a certainty.  

The Plausible Threat – Active Shooting Events

Shopping malls, schools, churches, nightclubs – all recent targets – and yes, in recent years there have been a number of shootings inside or near senior living communities:

  • Village Shalom Continuing Care Retirement Community in Kansas
  • Algonquin Senior Community in Wisconsin
  • Heritage Court in Wyoming
  • Elmcroft of Valley Farms Senior Living in Kentucky
  • Indian Hills Senior Community in Ohio
  • Senior Suites of Rainbow Beach, Illinois
  • Lifestream Senior Living, Arizona
  • Westchester Senior Living in Arizona

The list above is a small sample of shootings involving employees, residents and outside criminal elements. Although each incident has its own set of unique circumstances, any of these could occur at any community at any time.  

Do You Know What To Do?

So, in our scenario above, what has Lisa been trained to do? Incidentally, she was only hired 2 months ago. Was the training she received in the form of a role play or was it verbal, or did she simply acknowledge with her signature that she’s read the policy? Or perhaps the community conducts quarterly training on this type of situation and it’s scheduled for next month. Oops.

As an aside, allow me to inject my personal bias for experiential or immersion training. There is no more effective way of learning than by actual role playing through various scenarios. Try to teach someone to swim without getting them in the pool – until they have to swim. How much more meaningful and effective to “play out” these situations so that in the event something like this happens in one of your communities, your staff has played this out in some way shape or form.

What is Lisa going to do?  Run back to the noise?  Run away?  To where?  Does she know?  

And what about Becky? Oh, who’s Becky? She’s the aide in the basement doing laundry. Lisa asks herself, “What about Becky?” Does Lisa stay close to the building so she can try to radio Becky, although Lisa knows that the radios don’t work very well in the basement. Does Lisa scream to warn residents, or run into a nearby apartment and lock the door? What has Lisa been trained to do?

What have your employees been trained to do?

If You Fail To Plan, You Are Planning To Fail

As Mr. Franklin is quoted as saying, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

I should tell you now that I do not have a 100% failsafe plan for you to follow – I’d venture to say no one does. But not deciding how to address the issue and hoping nothing like this happens at your community isn’t a good plan. Hope is not a sound strategy.

Click on the following links for some great suggestions:

Long Term Living – Preparing for “active shooter” events: Lockdowns

FBI – Planning and Response in a Health Care Setting

McKnights – Arizona senior living event highlights importance of active shooter prepardness