Johnson City Medical Center staff practice the facility’s lockdown procedures eight to 10 times a year, but Thursday night activated the plan for a real alert after a caller reported three men with assault rifles planned to duplicate the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
More than a dozen police officers and county deputies swarmed the hospital after getting word of the threat by their communication radios.
Police soon learned it wasn’t true, but for the hour or so after the 6:51 p.m. anonymous call, the hospital was on lockdown as officers conducted security sweeps throughout the entire facility.
In the end, the hospital resumed normal operation and the caller, Sherry Morgan, 28, 107 E. College St., Jonesborough, was charged with making a false report. Police said she called the hospital from the Emergency Department while being treated following her arrest on a shoplifting charge.
Bill Alton, vice president of facilities and construction, said the health system “went into immediate response,” when the call came into the switchboard.
“The lady stated we had shooters in the hospital, guns in the hospital. At that point we went into immediate response ... we started implementing the plan,” Alton said.
He said the response plan is a comprehensive outline developed around the National Incident Management System which “kind of rides on that plan called Hospital Incident Command System.”
A team of staff is trained in both incident systems and lead others in implementing the process, he said.
“Because of events in our country today, we do eight or 10 of those training events” each year, Alton said.
The team “did outstanding. They followed the events of the plan, step by step. We went on lockdown to ensure that we did not put any more people in danger so we could respond and control the events in the hospital.”
Alton said hospital security officers teamed up with city police officers to facilitate the building search. Part of the emergency plan involves minimal disruption to patients, so announcements are made using different codes, Alton said.
“We did not want to alarm the patients. They have enough anxiety and concern already,” he said, adding that movement within the facility was limited as was access to the building.
Officers, some armed with shotguns while others only had their service handgun, searched each hospital corridor looking for any suspicious activity, but didn’t find anything unusual, Alton said.
He said the emergency plan does not specifically have a code to designate an active shooter situation, so the plan will be addressed to improve that communication.
Morgan, also known as Sherry Pierce, was arrested earlier in the day Thursday on a shoplifting charge. Police said she pretended to be ill and was taken to JCMC under guard for examination and treatment.
After receiving permission to use a hospital restroom, Morgan made the call claiming that three white men in their early 20s were just dropped off at the hospital and had semiautomatic weapons. She said the men were going to duplicate the Connecticut shootings.
After her claims were broadcast on the police radio, 16 Johnson City police officers and two Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded. They set up a perimeter around the hospital and searched all floors with JCMC security officers. Nothing suspicious was found, and the investigation led police to Morgan.
Morgan was being discharged from the hospital and went into a bathroom to change clothes, police said. When she came out, she fled down a hall, but officer Toma Sparks caught her a short distance away and took her back into custody.
Police later learned that the call to the hospital came from Morgan’s cell phone, according to the reports.
Morgan was charged with filing a false report, a class C felony, shoplifting and resisting arrest. She also was served with a violation of probation warrant and a Juvenile Court attachment.
She was arraigned on all the charges in Washington County General Sessions Court on Friday. She has a total $7,000 bond and is scheduled for a court hearing Jan. 3.