You hear helicopters hovering and sirens approaching. Hours later, the choppers are still circling campus. Rumors are circulating of an emergency and soon official work emails arrive listing temporary road and NIH exit closures while “an incident” is investigated.
This was the scene that unfolded the morning of July 6, when someone reported hearing a shot fired at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, across the street from NIH. Although the incident turned out to be a false alarm, the recent shooting at a Navy facility in Chattanooga and the 2013 shooting at D.C.’s Navy Yard remind us that shootings do happen, even in seemingly secure places. It’s important to be vigilant and prepared for a possible “active shooter” situation.
“The biggest danger is at the start of the event and while waiting for law enforcement to arrive,” said NIH Police Chief Al Hinton. “People need to have the proper mindset—the willingness to survive—and accept that it’s happening. Do you stay, help or leave? Only you can decide the course of action you’d take.”
Participating in an NIH fire and police department active shooter joint training exercise last October are (from l) Sgt. Fredric Boyle, Master Firefighter Roy Myers, Fire Tech Patrick Woodburn and Cpl. Brent Robinson.
To the extent you can, plan well in advance. Look around. If you couldn’t safely evacuate, where could you seek shelter? Perhaps you could hide in your office or a storage closet or bathroom, said Hinton, who noted that the occupants of Bldg. 10 have received slightly different active shooter training. If you hide, turn off the lights and barricade yourself, blocking doors and windows. Try to distance yourself from the assailant. If confronted, try to distract the shooter to avoid becoming a target. When it’s safe to do so, call 911 for help.
When police arrive, show your hands and obey directions. Don’t be surprised if the officers seem brusque in such a scenario. Their immediate goal is to stop the threat, minimize casualties and lead everyone to safety.
Remember to stay calm and follow a practical course of action. “A trained, prepared person has a better chance of survival,” said Hinton. “In these situations, a few seconds can make all the difference.”
The same holds true for any suspicious person, package or activity. If you see someone or something out of the ordinary, report it to police. “If you witness or suspect a situation that may become dangerous, document it—if you can—and talk to someone,” said Jessica Hawkins, coordinator of the NIH Civil Program, which is dedicated to preventing violence in the workplace. “Don’t just sit on a gut feeling.”
A shooting or other violent incident can be perpetrated by an outsider or even by a colleague. An ounce of prevention can go a long way. Whether you witness verbal abuse, threats or other aggression, or if you or a colleague are grappling with a possible mental health problem, the Civil Program can coordinate with counselors in the Employee Assistance Program, other NIH offices and, if necessary, the police and other emergency resources.
“If there are behavioral concerns—with NIH employees, contractors, trainees, anyone in the NIH community—call us,” said Hawkins. “We’re a gateway to get people to the right place.”
Hawkins said many calls turn out to be minor, such as an office dispute. “But I’d rather take a thousand minor calls that turned out to be nothing than miss the one call that could escalate and become [an incident of] workplace violence,” she said. Civil can be reached at (301) 402-4845.
During emergency situations, many ICs and outside resources come together to keep the NIH community safe, said Jordan Southers, an NIH emergency management specialist. NIH’s Division of Emergency Management helps facilitate crisis response and continuity of operations during an emergency. The office also runs AlertNIH, which sends updates, warnings and instructions to NIH employees through work email and social media.
“It’s important to know the steps to take if confronted with an emergency situation,” said Southers. “Knowing what to do ahead of time makes you less prone to panic.”
AlertNIH: Get Notified in an Emergency
Don’t miss important updates in an emergency. AlertNIH connects NIH employees instantly across many devices—cell phone, work or home phone or email. Your work email will automatically receive messages from AlertNIH. But you can also connect your personal phones or email too.
To sign up on your personal devices, log in to the NIH Enterprise Directory (NED), https://ned.nih.gov/search/, and scroll to the bottom of your profile to the AlertNIH section. Then click on Edit and select which personal devices you’d like to connect to receive these updates. Make sure your NED profile is current so you have multiple ways to receive important information from AlertNIH.