Active shooting drills are becoming more common in healthcare facilities due to the rise in mass shootings. These drills help staff prepare for and respond to emergencies, but one hospital is being called out for the way it conducted the drill.
Brandon Woodruff, a laborer and assistant to the skilled trades workers, claims he was asked by his supervisor at Hawthorn Center in Michigan to pose as an armed intruder during an unscheduled active shooter drill. He is now suing the facility because of the trauma he was forced to endure as part of the exercise. According to the suit, Woodruff and his wife were expecting a child and he was afraid of losing his job if he refused to participate.
He joined a white male colleague and posed as shooters for the purposes of the drill. They were told to walk around the facility and ensure every room was locked and that the people inside were hidden. The pair was dressed in winter clothes and walked through the facility without weapons or objects.
During the exercise, two announcements were made. The first stated that there was an active shooter in the building and the second said that there were “two active intruders, one Caucasian and one African American male, armed with AR 15s, shots fired.”
Woodruff says few of the staff were aware of the drill. The police were also not aware of the event. But several staff members called 9-1-1 to report an active shooter. Twenty-two officers from four departments then arrived on the scene in full tactical gear.
Woodruff and the other faux intruder completed their assignment and walked outside to find a small army of police officers waiting for them. They were told to get on the ground. The officers searched them and kept them handcuffed for 30 minutes until the police could get to the bottom of the situation.
“Woodruff did his best to comply with the anxious, sometimes conflicting orders from the police officers, getting down on the ground, then moving slowly towards them with his hands raised, and finally lifting his shirt and turning around several times to show that he was not armed,” the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit adds that hospital director Victoria Petti sent an email to staff the next day.
“This morning an active intruder alert was announced on the overhead system,” she wrote. “Although this was a drill it was not announced as such. Understandably, many in the building became frightened and some contacted 911. A tactical team responded to these calls and arrived armed and in full gear. I want to convey how deeply sorry I am that this occurred and for the stress it’s caused.”
The employees hiding in locked rooms were also traumatized by the event.
“I couldn’t stop crying, tears rolling down my eyes, I couldn’t stop shaking, I was trembling uncontrollably,” one of the employees told a local news outlet. “It’s created anxiety, trouble sleeping. Every time this is mentioned, it’s like reliving the event.”
Woodruff said the event caused him trauma and resulted in depression, panic attacks, and even suicide ideation. He is seeking financial compensation and the lawsuit accuses Hawthorn Center of gross negligence, international infliction of emotional damage, and false imprisonment.
“The health and safety of our staff and patients is our top concern,” said Lynn Sutfin of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services understands that our patients, staff and community were affected by the incident in December. We commend our staff who worked quickly to engage law enforcement partners and the responding agencies who worked to resolve the situation. The Joint Commission requires the state psychiatric hospitals to conduct a hazard vulnerability analysis at least every two years to identify potential emergencies, including active shooter drills. MDHHS is working with township law enforcement and the Michigan State Police on an improved active intruder training and drill process as part of updating its emergency operations policy.”