BANGOR, Maine — What would happen if four armed drug addicts attempted to rob two pharmacies in the city at the same time, and everything went wrong?
That is the basic scenario employees at Miller Drug on State Street and Miller Drug Westgate, located at the Eastern Maine Medical Center Healthcare Mall on Union Street, were put through Tuesday morning to test their active shooter protocols.
“They’ve gone through great pains to make this as real as possible,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said at the Union Street scene of the mock shooting. “The overall goal is to get everybody on the same page.”
Employees at each site hit silent alarms at around 6:30 a.m., alerting police that simultaneous fake robberies were taking place at the drug stores. Bangor police arrived in force at the health care mall, bringing their mobile command unit, and the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement went to State Street.
“In a real life scenario, everybody who is working would be sent,” Sgt. Jim Buckley, who helped to organize the drill, said as ambulance crews worked to triage and transport the “wounded.” “If there was something this big, we would expect a response from any officer in the area.”
The same goes for emergency responders, the sergeant said.
“If this was happening for real, there would be ambulances coming from all over the place,” Buckley said.
The armed addicts starting shooting at 6:50 a.m. at the health care mall causing 12 injuries — everything from gunshot wounds to the head to others with cuts from broken glass — and responders also had to deal with a mock car accident out in front of the building.
“There were 28 victims at State Street,” said organizer Kathy Knight, director of the Northeastern Maine Regional Resource Center. “There are 28-30 employees at [Miller Drug]. Some are going to get out.”
Responding police used real-looking assault style training weapons to shoot all four perpetrators, some that were played by their brothers-in-arms.
Afterwards, as ambulance crews rushed in to help treat the injured, the car accident victim sat “bleeding” in the front seat of a black car parked in front of the Union Street pharmacy.
When a doctor inquired about his condition, an ambulance member called out, “He’s less critical than people who have been shot.” Doctors and nurses were later seen removing him from his car and treating his fake wounds.
And as with any scene that draws police cars and ambulances, a crowd of onlookers could be seen watching what was happening from behind a metal security barrier that isolated the pharmacy from other tenants in the health care mall when the panic button was hit.
If residents ever find themselves in the middle of an actual shooter situation, the best thing they can do is hide or escape, Edwards said.
“Never ever give yourself up,” the sergeant said. “Never let somebody take you.”
The situation changes, the veteran officer said, when a weapon is involved.
“If they have a gun pointed at you, do what they say,” Edwards said.
Even though Bangor saw a record six pharmacy robberies in 2012, with the Rite Aid on Fourteenth Street being hit four times, all except one have led to arrests and none have involved weapons or any injuries, said Bangor police Detective Sgt. Paul Kenison.
The one unsolved pharmacy robbery for Bangor occurred on May 21, 2012, and involved a man wearing a sweatshirt backwards with eyeholes cut out. A witness told police a “very grubby” older man passed a note to the pharmacist through the drive-thru saying he had a bomb. He was given an undisclosed amount of drugs and left on foot, discarding the sweatshirt along the way.
“We’ll get him eventually,” Kenison said. “We got DNA from the sweatshirt” that has been entered into the national combined DNA index system.
If the perpetrator is convicted of a felony crime anywhere in the country, his DNA will be added to the national database and he will be linked to the Bangor robbery.
Testing protocols helps employees by giving them hands-on experience and practice, and it also gives the hospital system a chance to evaluate what worked and what needs work, Knight said. Several evaluators, some from the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross, were at both scenes with clipboards and evaluation forms.
“There is always something that didn’t go as planned,” Knight said. “It’s no different here.”
The “victims” were taken by ambulance to Eastern Maine Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital “so their emergency rooms get to participate as well,” said Karen Cashman, a spokeswoman for Eastern Maine Healthcare System.
The person-with-a-weapon protocols were established by Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems four years ago, and this year were updated to deal with active shooters.
“It’s very important we make sure we are properly prepared,” Knight said.