When my phone rang early in the morning of June 12, 2016, it was my colleague, Carlos Carrasco, the chief operating officer of Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC). He explained there had been a shooting at a downtown nightclub with multiple gunshot victims and they were headed to ORMC’s Level One Trauma Center. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for us to receive a patient with a gunshot wound, or several for that matter. But I could tell in his voice something was different. He was calm, but he was clear — I needed to get to ORMC quickly. The decision had been made to activate the Hospital Incident Command System (HICS).
Heading toward the hospital, I saw red and blue flashing lights ahead. The closer I got, the brighter the lights became, until it was almost blinding. I had never seen so many first responders assembled in one place. I was still about a half mile from the hospital, but the roads were closed. Officers redirected me, but still, all roads led to closure after closure. It was then that I realized the “downtown nightclub” was Pulse — a club located just three blocks from ORMC, a club I pass every day on my way to work.
While I drove, different scenarios played through my head. As it turned out, none of them were on the scale of what we would be dealing with that day.
I remember waking to a phone call from Dr. Jamal Hakim, Orlando Health’s chief operating officer. He calmly asked me, “Kathy, do you know what’s going on?” and then suggested I turn on the television. News channels were reporting live from the scene, and the scene was our hospital. I could see ORMC in the background. I could hear an unusual sense of panic in the reporters’ voices. I knew something exceptionally awful had occurred. But still, it all felt a little surreal.
When I arrived on campus, Mark Jones was serving as incident commander at ORMC. I stopped at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies to check-in on my team there. I could see they were genuinely scared. There was a feeling of fear that permeated the hospital.
And, there were far more questions than answers. The team desperately wanted information and assurance — not just for themselves but for our patients and their families. Adding security precautions became a top priority.
It wasn’t until a few hours later, when I went into incident command, that it really hit me. Just a few steps into the board room, I saw a look on Mark’s face. That look cemented the gravity of what had transpired. I’ll never forget that moment. Mark and I have been colleagues and friends for more than 30 years. We’ve been through incident command responses multiple times, but I could see it in his eyes — this time was different.