A sea of bodies — bloodied and riddled with gunshot wounds — lay strewn across the lawn outside of Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead on Saturday while a line of local ambulances formed along Roanoke Avenue waiting to whisk shooting victims away for treatment.
A gunman wielding a Glock 9mm handgun had gone wild inside the emergency room and now a swarm of grim-faced paramedics were working furiously to prioritize and treat 25 victims. It was a scene of controlled chaos narrated by the sounds of moaning and groaning from victims intermixed with shouts for supplies, “Red tag that one,” and “Get me a stretcher, now.”
But it was only a drill, this time around.
Dubbed “Operation Black Swan,” the drill was part of a mass shooter simulation organized to train law enforcement and emergency responders in preparation for the real thing. Everyone knew they were being tested, just not how or with what.
Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps Lieutenant James Alfano, who commanded approximately 20 emergency responders during the drill, had a feeling the drill might include an active shooter in the hospital, but he still could not be certain what to expect from it.
“You don’t know the number of casualties you are going to have when you get there,” he said, following a re-enactment of the drill for reporters. “You don’t know where they are going to be, if you are going to have to go inside and locate them and stuff like that. Although, we did have some patients inside, we did have a tactical [Emergency Medical Services] team go inside with the police department and retrieve any other patients.”
Altogether 26 local ambulance crews participated in the drill — including Riverhead, Hampton Bays, and Amagansett — as well as 21 other agencies including hospital staff, Suffolk County police, sheriffs, and emergency services departments, as well as Riverhead Town, State Troopers, and Department of Homeland Security personnel.
The actors playing victims were transported to Southampton, Eastern Long Island, and Brookhaven Memorial hospitals. The most serious “patients” were transported via Suffolk Police or Northwell Health helicopter.
Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps Chief Rod Richardson, who was on the planning committee for the drill, said organizers tried to send ambulance crews to hospitals outside of their coverage areas where they might not necessarily go.
“This gave us a chance to work together and learn,” he said.
The drill comes on the heels of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida in which 17 died on February 14, and just last July in New York City, when a disgruntled doctor returned to his former place of employment at Bronx Lebanon Hospital and shot seven people, killing one, before turning the gun on himself.
It’s something that has left an indelible impression on medical professionals and police as the possibility of it happening on their own turf continues to loom in their minds.
“Things in the real world are happening now,” Richardson said, referencing the Bronx shooting. “It’s entirely possible. You don’t want to think about it, but we need to practice because, God forbid, it does happen.”
More recently, law enforcement officials investigated school threats, and made arrests such as in the case of a man last month who was found with a stockpile of weapons inside his hotel room at Jake’s 58 Hotel, and on Saturday, a Lindenhurst man was arrested on multiple weapons charges after he threatened a school upstate.
Peconic Bay Medical Center’s VP/CEO Andrew Mitchell said it was a drill for “what we thought was the unthinkable.”
“Yet, we have learned in today’s world, these kinds of things can happen, and it’s therefore incumbent on emergency service providers and law enforcement to come together to protect society,” he said.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the drill went well, but protocol still needs some tweaks for the future.
“We do operate on different radio frequencies from town to town, so to have us all on the same frequency, would be a big step forward and I think that is something that is happening now, so it will be good,” he said.