Responding To an Active Shooter Incident: Lessons from a Health System Marketing Perspective

By The SHSMD Team posted 20 days ago


No matter how much an organization prepares for an active shooter situation, there are still actions that have to be implemented “in the moment.” Such was the case for the Allina Health Urgent Care–Buffalo Crossroads clinic in Buffalo, Minnesota, in February of 2021.

While the onsite employees were navigating this terrifying situation, the marketing department also had an important job to do.

“From getting that initial call I was just thinking, ‘What can I do and what can our team do?’ So, one of the things we did is handle boots on the ground. That's what we needed to do. It was getting a message out to the community, getting with the spokesperson, the leader who was going to be part of a press conference, taking those calls from the media,” remembers Conny Bergerson, Director of Public Relations at Allina Health.

Fortunately, the health system already had in place an “incident command” structure to mitigate any type of crisis situation. Having already built relationships with law enforcement and media representatives, the team was prepared to respond quickly.

Kerri Gordon, Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs at Allina, acted quickly as well—calling into action Bergerson and other key players. “My role was to stay connected to the conversations that were happening around the system; notifying other stakeholders, getting things organized so that when Conny got to Buffalo, she could be assisting the team on the ground.”

By day two, the team was able to settle into what the next steps needed to be—how to provide for the victims, as well as the employees who helped triage and treat those victims.

“There's a lot of those types of folks you need to be thinking of. That was what our leadership team was focused on, first and foremost. And that continues to this day. That's our ‘north star’ of how we provide the best care for those who are deeply impacted,” adds Gordon.

Benefit of Organized Information Sharing

In the following days and weeks, Gordon and Bergerson continued to forge this unprecedented path with the victims and victims’ families top of mind. With a community in shock and disbelief, it was a much-needed progression into information sharing.

“We just got really organized about how we were going to release information to the public in a way that felt like we were honoring what people wanted. We had a website where we would regularly post updates. The media knew where they could go to get updates from us. That just really helped alleviate some of the ongoing volumes of requests, so we didn't have to deal with them one-on-one. We could deal with them through an organized, yet informative, way,” explains Gordon.

Leaning Into Lessons Learned

Certainly, there are lessons to be learned from this tragic event. For Bergerson, it solidified the importance of forming key relationships in non-crisis times… with the media, law enforcement, EMS, and even community members. It was also imperative to protect the families involved in the crisis, helping them navigate inquiries from the media—not just in the immediate scenario, but also in the prolonged aftermath.

Gordon concurs with that mindset, adding the value of leadership. “The healthcare industry community was really generous to get on calls with us and our leadership team right away. The sharing of information, which is part of why we're here, is to pass on what to do if anybody else finds themselves in that situation. Our organization has very strong values, and we try to live them out. You have to make decisions quickly. Reaching out, getting help, getting additional support, delegating, and just really sticking with your organizational values was probably the most important way we navigated the situation.”

Learning More

  • To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Conny Bergerson, Director of Public Relations at Allina Health, and Kerri Gordon, Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs at Allina, click here to listen to the podcast.
  • To view the recording from this in person session at SHSMD Connections, register here ($200) to access on-demand content featuring recordings from the in-person and 30+ new content from the virtual conference.
  • To view the SHSMD Connections conference full agenda, click here.