Rakes was working at Montgomery Regional Hospital just miles from Virginia Tech when a lone gunman killed 32 people in 2007.
“We had a long-standing relationship with the university, providing care for their students and athletes whenever needed. The event was a tragedy in every sense of the word, and I continue to mark the anniversary every year of April 16, 2007,” she said. “As part of my role with the hospital at that time, I had oversight of the environment of care functions … A significant part of that included preparation and mitigation plans should the unthinkable ever happen. We had always taken a proactive approach to emergency planning, taking every opportunity to collaborate with our first responders and law enforcement agencies in drill scenarios. The ‘drill, drill, drill’ mentality was critical in the timeliness and effectiveness of our response.”
The college mass shooting was not Rakes’ first experience with a gunman while at the Blacksburg, Va., facility.
“Just six months prior to the Virginia Tech shootings, we lost a hospital security guard to an active shooter in the hospital. As you can imagine, this impacted our hospital family in ways that will never be forgotten,” she said.
During Friday’s simulated scenario, a disgruntled former employee, portrayed by BCSO Sgt. Gavin Wilkins, and his wife, played by Deputy Treka Stone, entered CMC’s North Tower. In a matter of minutes they had traveled the 450 feet to Human Resources, pretending to stab and shoot their way through the offices lining the hallway.
Once in the Human Resources maze of offices, the pair took three hostages in a rear office, barricaded in a back room with one way in and one way out.
Officers arrived in minutes, forming contact and rescue teams, but a miscommunication delayed contact with the perpetrators. And, once the hostage situation became clear, a very real-life crisis occurred — the room was locked and a CMC employee with a master key had to be located.
“Remember, that’s the whole reason why we are doing it is to identify what our potential weaknesses in the system [are] and how can we fix those …,” Rakes said during a joint debriefing with staff and law enforcement.
“The primary reason we drill and stage events is to test our emergency response procedures, communication and mitigation strategies to ensure we are as prepared as possible to react appropriately and ultimately reduce risk in case of an actual event,” she said. “We want our medical center to continue to be a place of healing and safe haven and we work tirelessly to ensure our patients, visitors and staff feel safe and protected.”
BCSO Lt. David Prentice, the shift commander overseeing the operation from tactical command outside the building, said Friday’s training offered deputies the chance to learn more about the hospital facility.
“Basically what we will learn from this is, if we have an active shooter or hostage situation in the hospital — we’ve trained more on the schools and we know the layout of the schools — the hospital layout we are not unfamiliar with but we’ve never actually trained inside of it on this scale,” he said. “It’s kind of how we are going to be working with the hospital, how they’re going to react and how their lockdown procedures are going to be so when we move in we know more what to expect.”
Learning from the outside presents its own set of obstacles.
“Radio communications are a little hard. We haven’t really been able to see what is going on; we’re having to paint a picture in our head from what they’re telling us on the radio,” Prentice said. “As the shift commander, it’s kind of hard not to be inside and just let them do their own thing.”
Because of that disconnect, communication is paramount.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s hard to paint that picture in your head of what they are doing. You can only start assuming, and when you start assuming, it gets all messed up,” Prentice said. “If you don’t have proper communication and you don’t know the locations and accountability of the people, then it’s kind of hard to do the mission.”
Rakes’ earlier experiences shaped how she handles training at the Cartersville location.
“An essential element that can’t be overstated is collaboration and open communication with law enforcement. We are very fortunate and count ourselves blessed for the high engagement we see in the Bartow County community with our law enforcement agencies and other first responders,” she said. “In recent years, we’ve continued to enhance our own security department with increased training in de-escalation and response, arming our guards with tasers and increasing staff by employing off-duty deputies with Bartow County Sheriff’s department.
“We collaborate with local law enforcement on joint educational needs, such as crisis prevention training and caring for the patient with mental health needs, to name a few. Additionally, we openly share our drill outcomes and improvement opportunities with drill participants.”
Calling active shooter situations the new “sexy thing” by people looking to make a statement, Prentice sees training exercises such as Friday’s as a chance to grow beyond just the learning experience.
“We can apply it to anything. We can apply it to someone at a house. We could apply it to someone who’s in Wal-Mart, at the school, Ingles shopping center or somebody who’s in a vehicle,” he said. “We could apply that same technique and organizational skill … just different layout, different doors, different pictures.”