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How Northeast Georgia Health System trains for security threats
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Steve Williamson holds Andy Vargas hostage during a simulated active shooter drill Friday, Nov. 15 at Lanier Park in Gainesville. Instructors led the Northeast Georgia Health System security teams through different scenarios to prepare for potential threats. - photo by Nick Watson

When facing an active threat, a security officer’s sidearm is not the most important piece of standard-issued equipment.

“You have radios for a reason. Arguably, your radio is your strongest tool, better than your gun. Use it. Get more people on the scene. Get help. Communicate where you are and what you know,” said instructor BK Blankchtein during training Friday, Nov. 15.

Blankchtein walked more than a dozen officers through a variety of scenarios — one shooter, multiple shooters, hostage-takers — and gave feedback on their responses.

The training usually kicks off with 20 to 30 minutes on theory and going through the trends seen in the field.

“Most hospitals that we work with around the country, they wait for something to happen and then we have to do something about it. This hospital, specifically for the past 10 years that I’ve been working with them, they are always looking (like), ‘OK, this is going to happen at some point. Let’s get ready for it now,” Blankchtein said.

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Andy Vargas points his mock weapon during a simulated active shooter drill Friday, Nov. 15 at Lanier Park in Gainesville. Northeast Georgia Health System security teams conducted training as part of annual efforts at threat abatement. - photo by Nick Watson

The security team had a chance to use this annual training in the real world on Sept. 20 when a caller told 911 a man was waving a gun in the area of 1075 Jesse Jewell Parkway at Northeast Georgia Physicians Group.

The man, Adam Paul English, 21, of Oakwood, was shot multiple times by two Gainesville Police officers, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. English was transported to NGMC, where he was pronounced dead. 

Since then, Northeast Georgia Health System Director of Security Jamey Moore said there has been renewed training including their law enforcement partners.

“I think that that threat came right at our doorstep. … That kind of catapulted everybody wanting additional training in active threat, active shooter response,” NGHS security manager Darrell Townsend said.

Blankchtein said security officers must be able to go “from zero to 100 in a fraction of a second” and then return to normal just as quick.

“They have to be ready to operate in that environment. It’s chaotic. It’s never going to be perfect. They just have to make the best of the information they have and the tools they have at that point in time,” he said.

Hospital security officials said one of the callers in the Sept. 20 incident had recently gone through training and was able to relay vital information.

“If you go back and listen to the first 90 seconds when our officers get there … we already knew what he looked like, what he was wearing, what bag he had, what he was doing,” Moore said.

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Members of the Northeast Georgia Health System security teams pose questions to BK Blankchtein, right, during training Friday, Nov. 15 at Lanier Park in Gainesville. Blankchtein led the officers through different mock scenarios, sometimes mirroring real-world events. - photo by Nick Watson

The doors were locked at the Northeast Georgia Physicians Group surgical associates building within two minutes of the call to hospital security.

Within seven minutes of the call, the emergency department was on lockdown.

NGHS security officials sent out surveys to employees regarding the response to the Sept. 20 incident.

“All of those situations that came back as being a positive or a negative, we have addressed them and have actually been tested because we had a bomb threat about a week ago. What we put in place worked flawlessly,” Moore said.

Police said the Nov. 7 bomb threat report was a patient who had called 911. Law enforcement determined it was a false alarm. 

One of the main negatives that came up was communication, as parts of the emergency department did not know what was going on until the Sept. 20 incident was over.

The health system uses a “critical event management system” known as Everbridge in addition to “overhead paging systems, email (and) computer screen alerts,” Moore previously told The Times.

Nearly 10,000 employees are connected through Everbridge and able to receive communications.

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