Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center updates security measures following shooting

by Jacob Chalif | 1/30/18 2:20am

Officials at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center are finalizing changes to the hospital’s security and emergency coordination policies in the wake of last fall’s fatal shooting according to DHMC director of security Daniel Dahmen. These changes, estimated at a cost of $400,000, aim to increase the visibility of security personnel, upgrade existing security technologies and better prepare employees for emergency situations.

On Sept.12, Pamela Ferriere, 70, was shot and killed in the intensive care unit at DHMC by her son, Travis Frink. Frink, 49, was indicted in December on charges of both first- and second-degree murder.

Following a peer-reviewed study with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, both of which have experienced shootings in the past, DHMC’s security team drafted policy changes and planned equipment upgrades to help it respond to or prevent future emergency situations, said DHMC’s emergency management coordinator Jim Alexander. DHMC is also coordinating with Lebanon Police Department for additional safety measures.

Communication is one emergency response component the hospital aims to improve. When Frink fired shots in the hospital, a Code Silver, which according to DHMC Institutional Safety indicates “life-threatening workplace violence,” was issued over the intercom. But according to William Baddoo ’19, who was inside the hospital when it was evacuated, very few people knew what was going on.

“It would’ve been smoother if people knew exactly what was going on,” Baddoo said, adding that the hospital should enhance communication channels in emergency procedures.

Addressing this issue, the hospital is looking at ways to improve its communication with DHMC and College employees and students who might be at the hospital. On the day of the shooting, students, faculty and staff received four email alerts about the unfolding situation; the first was sent about 40 minutes after the Code Silver announcement.

Alexander said that the hospital will be opening up access to its Alertus system, which will allow College personnel to see the same emergency alerts that employees do.

Additionally, DHMC is improving its security force. There will be a temporary security officer in the ICU until the hospital can find a permanent receptionist to fill that position, according to Dahmen.

Security officers’ patrol routes are being changed in order to be more visible in high-profile areas, though this measure was in planning “well before” the September incident, he added.

The hospital is also looking to upgrade its security equipment. According to Dahmen, DHMC has ordered bulletproof vests to increase officer safety and some security cameras are being upgraded, though these upgrades are more routine.

DHMC is working to better prepare their employees for emergency situations. Every year, each Dartmouth-Hitchcock employee must pass a series of 12 training recertifications, according to Mike Barwell, the hospital’s media relations manager.

To ensure proper emergency response, the hospital ordered 1,000 one-page emergency pamphlets that will be easily accessible anywhere in the hospital. According to Alexander, employees will also be getting “badge buddies,” emergency directions that will hang from their ID. These pamphlets and badge buddies will tell employees or readers what to do in the first minutes of an emergency situation.

The Lebanon Police Department’s main concern following the shooting was a lack of useful maps. According to Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello, the maps available to police officers that day were engineering maps that show superfluous information, such as water and ventilation systems, which is not pertinent to first responders’ needs.

Mello said he is working with the hospital to develop maps that are “more tactical in nature.” He added that these maps would be “better suited to show us where things are, where closets are, where accessways are and things of that nature.”

After consideration, the hospital chose not to pursue certain safety measures, specifically arming its security officers and installing metal detectors at all entrances. The question of arming guards is reviewed annually, and Dahmen decided that the need is not great enough to necessitate armed guards.

There is an inherent difficulty in maintaining an armed force. The cost of training officers and the liability of having armed officers would both be substantial, so it is not a decision to be made lightly, Mello said.

“You’re dealing with a private force that has no academy training, no police training,” he said. “That’s a tall order.”

The hospital also decided not to implement metal detectors at the hospital entrance.

They “would certainly be intrusive to the populations we serve,” Dahmen said.

Nicole Knape ’19, a hospital volunteer who was at DHMC on Sept. 12 before the shooting, agreed with the hospital’s decision not to install metal detectors. She said that metal detectors would slow access to the hospital and would foster fear of a security risk.

“The hospital is supposed to be a safe place for people,” Knape said.

Looking back, the hospital security staff and the police are both pleased with their emergency response to the shooting. Mello called the police and fire department’s response to the incident “outstanding.”

“I’m quite proud of how the institution responded to this event,” Dahmen said.