As soon as I entered the conference room, I could tell from my colleagues’ eyes that they were unusually stressed. They briefed me on the horrible tragedy that had just occurred, and as part of the Hospital Incident Command System team (HICS), I was assigned the role of operations chief. I was briefed by the administrative supervisors who were busy moving all appropriate patients out of the ED to prepare for a mass intake. When the victims started arriving, they came by ambulance, police cars, pickup trucks and some were even carried by other survivors. The nurses and doctors in the ED were busy triaging patients outside the ambulance bay. 


After an hour, we went upstairs to prepare the inpatient floors and ease some of the fear that was spreading through the hospital. A colleague and I decided to divide and conquer. We each took half of the hospital and went to the nursing units, updating them on the current status and assuring them we could handle this situation. After rounding on the nursing units, I stopped in the administrative supervisor’s office and noticed the team was being flooded with phone calls. I knew they needed my help, so I stayed to triage phone calls. After assisting there, I focused on staffing for the day shift. We were going to need all hands on deck.


Just as the sun was rising, concerned family and friends started streaming into our lobby and hallways. We opened our largest conference room for the families to gather. We also needed to secure our facility as reporters were trying to make their way into the hospital. The surgeons continued working to save lives, while we began the task of matching names to the victims. Most of the victims arrived without any identification, so this became one of the hardest tasks of the event.


With victims still being taken to the OR, the nursing units were asked to take care of both the physical and emotional states of the victims. Here’s what Shirley, an RN on one of the surgical floors, said: “The patients were in a state of shock, and as a nurse I felt a sense of honor to take care of these victims. The primary goal for me was to help them feel safe and protected. There were feelings of sadness and remorse for victims and families.”


The orthopedic unit, which is one of ORMC’s largest units with 48 beds, received several victims all covered in blood. Adam, an RN there, said: “We responded as a team. Every one of the nurses on our unit that day took care of a victim, and some took care of more than one. We cleaned the patients and helped to provide emotional comfort for them. It was also important to connect with their loved ones as soon as possible. This was very emotional when the family was notified and came rushing to the hospital because they learned their loved one was alive.”


Emotions were high, and the media started setting up camp in front of the hospital and their trucks lined the street. Well-wishers from across the country were sending food and gifts, and the outpouring became overwhelming. We continued to keep security at a high level.