Palm Beach Gardens staff started preparing for the unthinkable but all-too-common scenario: a shooter starts indiscriminately spraying bullets on an otherwise routine day.
On Tuesday, a police officer and a trauma nurse teamed up to teach all 340 employees what to do in case of an active shooter and how to stop life-threatening bleeding before the paramedics arrive. Every employee from golf instructor to city clerk completed the two-hour training session offered at various times the past two weeks.
“The topic of an active shooter is a little morbid, but it is something that we have to contend with, especially in 2018,” Palm Beach Gardens Police Capt. Robert Wilson said.
Last year, when a gunman fatally shot 58 people at a country concert in Las Vegas, it was the deadliest for mass shootings in modern U.S. history. Two sisters from Wellington were among those at the concert, but they survived with the help of a Marine who commandeered a pickup truck to shuttle the wounded to safety. That kind of bystander intervention is becoming more common, Wilson said.
There’s no mistaking the loud sound of gunfire, and if there’s an active shooter, it will be repetitive, Wilson said. The options are to run, hide or fight.
“If you can get out, get out,” he urged.
But, he said, they should have a plan. He advised people to take note of the two closest exits wherever they go. If they do find themselves trapped, they should lock or block the door, turn out the lights and make sure their cell phones are on silent.
When police arrive, their focus will be on stopping the shooter before they start tending to the wounded, he said. Palm Beach Gardens has SWAT medics, firefighter-paramedics who cross train with police. Those paramedics are outfitted with ballistics gear and can treat the injured immediately.
Time is of the essence when people are rapidly losing blood. David Summers, a trauma nurse outreach coordinator with the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, taught the staff how to apply pressure and stop bleeding themselves with a tattered shirt or whatever they have on hand. Employees practiced applying tourniquets to one another.
“Seeing and doing it hands on is definitely a good exercise,” said Alana Ramai, a human resources coordinator.
The techniques aren’t just for the aftermath of mass shootings, Summers said. They’re useful for treating serious cuts at work, stopping bleeding at the scene of a car crash and even saving limbs if a snorkeler or diver is hit by a boat, he said.
A long-held assumption that the use of a tourniquet would require the amputation of the limb isn’t actually true, Summers said. If a surgeon can treat the injury within two to six hours of applying the tourniquet. It could be the difference between life and death.
Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue is working to have “stop the bleeding” kits in each of the 30 or so automatic external defibrillators, or AEDs, in city buildings, Summers said. With the training, all employees will know how to use them.
“The more you know, the more you can help,” Community Services Administrator David Reyes said.