The texts and emails started coming in around 6 p.m. Friday evening: CODE BLACK ALERT AT GRU!
Less than 24 hours prior, we had been notified of a Code Black (active shooter) activation at Georgia Regents University’s downtown medical complex, apparently triggered by the accidental discharge of a handgun by one of the guests recently checked into the Children’s Medical Center’s Ronald McDonald House. That was an event that certainly shook up a few folks, but it was a relatively short-lived alert before the all-clear was sounded and an explanation furnished.
So it was perfectly natural that I assumed, for a moment, that Friday’s messages were piling in as a result of some strange internet delay that kept some email in limbo from the night before. But then the calls started coming in, including one from my wife, detailing the posts of a Facebook friend who claimed to be currently hiding behind a locked door somewhere in the GRU hospital as the result of a Code Black lockdown.
An urban crisis on display in the age of social media.
What followed from the hospital administration was a cluster muck of epic proportion.
Rather than getting all that from me, take it from someone who was there and who lived it.
I heard your comments on last Friday’s “Code Black” incident while driving into work at GRU this morning. I am a medical professional at GRU and could not agree more with your assessment: the situation was badly mishandled. I don’t quarrel at all with “code black” (active shooter) activation, which was appropriate, given the facts as they later came out; but the system response was unbelievably inept. I was one of several hundred employees left totally in the dark as the situation unfolded (the “code black” designation is therefore weirdly appropriate).
Like many, I found about the “code black” entirely by accident and with second/third hand information. Friday evening I was in my office across from the CMC, on the phone with one of my co-workers in the hospital. She interrupted our conversation about a patient with, “I have to hang up, there’s a Code Black activation”. Apparently, this was announced by the overhead paging system, but no further information was provided (“active shooter” — where? One? More than one? Was any other information provided, like “stay in place and lock your doors”? Nothing.) I asked who was in the work room with her (another female, a medical student). I asked if they were safe (thank God, yes). I told them to keep the door locked and I would try to find out more.
I called the hospital operator. He confirmed the code black activation by campus security but had no more information than my co-worker, or me.
A dozen of our staff were stuck in our medical office building as they were working after the close of clinic. They also knew nothing.
I recall last year we were asked to provide cell phone/emergency contact numbers with the promise we would be notified and kept abreast in precisely this kind of situation. NO ONE was ever paged (all the faculty and many of the staff carry GRU supplied pagers). NO ONE was alerted by cell phone. The system response: NOTHING.
I kept in touch with my colleagues in the hospital and clinic staff by cell phone. One of our nurses trapped in the clinic called the hospital operator every 15-20 minutes for updates — the updates were, “there is still a Code Black in progress but we have no other information.”
I looked out the window of my office and saw traffic and pedestrians moving along Harper Street (with entrances to the CMC, Emergency Room, Medical Office Building, parking decks, etc). It had all the appearances of a normal day, like nothing was happening.
I heard reports later from other eyewitnesses, that ED staff had as much information as I did (in other words, none). Another physician told me that he was almost run over in the hospital by a staffer, who in a panic, was running down a hallway breathlessly yelling “CODE BLACK, CODE BLACK”.
All the advance planning and hype about “security plans” just evaporated. No one knew what to do, where to get accurate information, who was in charge (no one, apparently), the magnitude of the threat, or even where (GRU campus is a VERY large place).
After 1½ hours of this “mushroom treatment” (kept in a dark place and served heapings of manure), one of our staff called me to say the “code black” had been lifted.
I only found out later the real story: a false alarm, triggered by an off-duty security guard carrying a (permit authorized) handgun in the CMC while on some kind of personal errand. But again, I found this out through unofficial channels and media. Austin, I only heard the full story this morning – 2 days after the event – on your morning commentary. Official word from GRU: (as of Tuesday) still NOTHING.
I hope this serves as a wake-up call to Dr. Brooks Keel (newly appointed GRU President) and “higher ups” in the system. A full explanation and apology would be nice – to say the least. Not to mention credible action – not just empty words – to review and overhaul our security process. This time, I understand the call was a false alarm. (Like I said earlier, I’d much rather someone make the call and be proved wrong, than not call at all). Worse, those of us – hundreds apparently – who were here and remember the confusion from this event may hesitate one day about calling in a potential threat. That hesitation and delay may well prove disastrous if the threat is real. Next time – and there WILL be a next time – God help us if the same “Keystone Cops” response occurs in the face of a genuine threat to the safety and lives of patients and staff here.
I am providing my name — so you can authenticate that I am a professional at GRU and not making this up. You can quote this if you like, but I ask that you not mention my name or department on the air, in print, or on Facebook Twitter, etc. (thanks for this courtesy).
Thanks for your ongoing service to our community. We need watchdogs like you to help protect us, since obviously our own GRU leadership — and it’s their JOB — can’t or won’t.
Many thanks to the GRU staffer who shared that with us. Kinda scary, wouldn’t you say?
It is no secret that GRU Public Safety Chief William McBride was forced into early retirement recently, reportedly after being confronted with allegations of inappropriate behavior in office. The spot has not yet been filled, and here’s to hoping those on that task are paying attention. It is vital that search committee drafts a replacement who is as rich in common sense and proven police leadership skills, as GRU’s medical staff is at creating life saving miracles.
Two men come to mind immediately who could do that job in a second, and their names are Scott Peebles and Jody Rowland. Both men have extensive local experience, and years of federal law enforcement training. Both men are proven leaders who know this area, their own hometown, like the backs of their hand.
Peebles is currently serving as a major in the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. Rowland recently left his position as chief of security at Augusta National after more than a decade on the job there. I am told neither man applied for the GRU job, but if Dr. Keel is as awesome as I have heard him to be, he will put the applications that did come in aside for a few days and seek these gentlemen out for a “sit down.” They are two of the most respected minds in the history of local law enforcement, and they each have decades of proven experience as leaders of police officers.
It is vital that student and faculty confidence in the Public Safety Office be restored, and there are no better men you could name than Peebles or Rowland to get that done.