What if a mass shooting happened here?

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, October 4, 2017

By Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio News

Las Vegas emergency responders had their limits tested this week as they handled dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries in the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting — the deadliest in modern U.S. history.

As Nevada hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with victims and we learn more about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, it’s difficult for many not to ask: What if it happened here?

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We looked at how prepared Minnesota is if something so horrific happened here.

We have more resources than Las Vegas, including a trio of Level 1 trauma centers

RJ Frascone, medical director of Regions Hospital’s Emergency Medical Services, has been closely following the news out of Las Vegas.

Las Vegas responders did a “wonderful job,” Frascone said, but he thinks Minnesota may be better prepared for such an event.

“We have more resources,” said Frascone, who helps train for and coordinate emergency medical response to crisis situations. “It wouldn’t be so much that we would do a better job … but we have more resources than Las Vegas does.”

For example, Las Vegas has just a single Level 1 trauma center, which is a hospital that’s able to provide comprehensive medical care.

The Twin Cities has three such centers: Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. There’s also the Mayo Clinic’s St. Marys campus just 75 miles south in Rochester.

We have a solid emergency communications network

The Twin Cities metro area has two medical resource control centers, or MRCCs, that serve as liaison between ambulance crews and destination hospitals.

That’s significant, Frascone said, citing what happened on 9/11.

“Their MRCC was located in the Twin Towers, so that was knocked out early — you had chaos with ambulances not really knowing where to go,” Frascone said.

Minnesota also has a system called MNTrac, he said, which tracks available beds and other resources across the state — a crucial tool when suddenly those resources are in short supply.

There is a chance hospitals could get overwhelmed, fast

Even if it looked like hospitals had enough beds, the facilities tend to run lean, said Dr. John Hick, medical director for emergency preparedness at HCMC.

That means they could easily become overwhelmed in a crisis.

“We certainly could put a lot of people on cots,” Hick said, “but you have to realize that the difference between setting up cots and the ability to provide critical lifesaving surgery is a very different resource spectrum.”

Hospital preparedness program funding has been cut by more than 50 percent in the past 10 years, Hick said. Ideally, he said, hospitals would be funded to have excess resources stock-piled in case of a disaster such as the shooting in Las Vegas.

Health Department representatives say the key to remaining prepared for such large-scale incidents is having the financial resources to continue that training.

Emergency medical staff and law enforcement train together for disaster

Police, doctors and anyone else who may be needed in a crisis often train for different scenarios together, ensuring the best coordination possible.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said the Twin Cities regularly host major events, whether it’s last weekend’s marathon, or the Super Bowl coming up in February. He said his officers — and those of other counties and cities — are well prepared.

“Now having said that, there’s always curve balls thrown at us — sometimes there’s events that we do not plan for or have advanced notice,” Stanek said. “But nonetheless, that’s where that training kicks in, because we train for the unexpected.”