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When one Oregon hospital conducted an Amber Alert drill for a missing child recently, hospital officials got more of a response than they intended. No one had notified the police that it was just a drill, and so four police cars went roaring to the hospital with lights and sirens.
They got word that it was a drill just before arriving, but the local police chief still was not happy about the mix-up. He issued a statement saying the emergency response put his officers and citizens at risk, and it could have been avoided with a simple phone call.
A hospital spokesman says the Amber Alert protocol requires someone to call the local emergency dispatch center to announce the drill, but apparently the person reported a child abduction to dispatchers without saying it was only a drill. Hospital officials promised to correct the problem in future drills.
A Code Pink drill at another facility, this one in Texas, prompted a police response last year, notes John B. Rabun, ACSW, director of infant abduction response at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Alexandria, VA. The hospital has a local police officer stationed at the hospital around the clock, and when the Code Pink was called over the intercom, he radioed the abduction to police dispatch. No one had notified him of the drill.
"This is exactly why we always advise the local facility to notify their neighborhood police command of a drill," Rabun says. "More often than not, the report has come from an excited new mom in a room on postpartum," who doesn’t know it’s a drill and calls 911 in a panic. So it’s not enough to be sure no hospital employee calls 911 to report an abduction; someone else might do it for you.
Involving the police in the drill can be productive, Rabun notes.
He recalls once talking by phone with a charge nurse immediately after an infant was abducted. She was frustrated that the police has responded so enthusiastically that all the hospital entrances were sealed with yellow crime scene tape and she was being told to shut down all hospital operations. No one would be allowed in or out of the hospiotal until the baby was found.
Rabun asked to speak with the police commander on the scene and pointed out to him that it was about 6 p.m. and new fathers all over the city were leaving work and hearing on the news that a baby was missing from the hospital. He asked the commander if he had children, which he did, and he asked how many officers it would take to keep him from getting inside the hospital to check on them. "We probably don’t have enough officers for that," he responded.
Rabun suggested that the police not close down the hospital entirely, but to strictly monitor those entering and leaving, and to allow the fathers to use one designated elevator to go the mother’s room and see the baby. They were told they must remain in the room unless going directly to and from the elevator.
"You have to be happy to see the police respond with gusto, but they also need to know how a hospital works and that you can’t just shut it down like you would a crime scene at a restaurant," Rabun says. "Working with them ahead of time can help them respond in the best way."