By Erica Deforge-Zarza
Mass shootings have become our new reality, says Dr. Scott Sherr, an emergency-room physician who worked the night of the October 2018 Las Vegas music festival shooting that took 59 lives and injured over 500.
“It’s not if—it is when,” Dr. Sherr told an audience at UC Santa Barbara earlier this month during an active shooter-preparedness training event.
The training was hosted by the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life. It also featured Dr. Jason Prystowsky, an emergency medicine specialist at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, who was working the day of the Isla Vista Shooting that took the lives of six people in May of 2014.
The only way to prepare for a mass shooting is to be able to use a tourniquet, said Dr. Sherr. Stop the Bleed kits empower the general public to save lives during a mass shooting event by carrying basic supplies needed to make a tourniquet.
The two doctors did their medical residency together in Atlanta during the early 2000s, and since then both have been head physicians during an active shooting event. Almost every physician who attended residency with them has been on duty during a mass shooting event, Dr. Sherr said.
Five years ago, terror struck when a gunman opened fire in the college-town next to campus, Isla Vista. Few current students have first-hand memory of the shooting but UCSB staff and Isla Vista shop owners still feel the weight of the event, said Dr. Prystowsky.
Dr. Prystowsky and his team at Cottage Hospital were able to save all 11 of the injured victims that arrived at the hospital but, he told the audience, he is uncertain whether he could say the same if there had been any more victims.
Dr. Sherr recounted the challenges that emergency medical responders faced during the Las Vegas Route 91 shooting and how he and his team prepare for future mass-casualty events and the reality of shootings in America.
The first difficulty that responders faced was distracting calls. Dispatchers were receiving reports of active shooters all over the Las Vegas Strip, as people took out their own personal weapons in defense and others called in to report them as the shooter.
Also, concert goers were running into casinos, restaurants and hotels covered in blood. Nobody had any idea of what was going on, he said. These distractions led emergency personnel to believe there were active shooters in at least five other spots on the strip, which was not the case.
Another obstacle emergency personnel faced the night of the Las Vegas shooting was victim movement. The crime scene started at 17 acres and grew to over three miles. Music festival attendees dispersed in countless directions making it difficult for emergency personnel to locate and pick up the injured. First responders are trained to divide up victims among numerous hospitals in the area, but 70 percent of the victims took themselves to the hospital. Google maps and Siri navigated people to the closest hospital, but the nearest hospital wasn’t a trauma center and was not prepared for the mass influx of victims.
No hospital could properly train for such a high influx of patients all at once, said Dr. Sherr. The only way to save the highest percentage of victims was to enforce crisis standards of care. Pediatric surgeons performed surgery on adults and, X-ray results were written on patients with a Sharpie. Supplies were reused, doctors carried medicine in their pockets, and two patients were placed on the same breathing machine. These sacrifices were essential in saving the lives of hundreds of people. Of the roughly 500 injured that made it to the hospital only 14 did not make it, said Dr. Sherr.
He strongly believes his team was only able to save so many people because of good timing. “If it was 2 o’clock in the morning and during flu season it would have been a very different scenario.”
Hundreds of victims arrived at the hospital with tourniquets already on to stop the bleeding. Dr.Sherr considers this a big contributor to saving so many lives and encourages everyone to carry a ‘Stop the Bleed’ kit. The small kit includes the basics for making a tourniquet and could save thousands of lives in the future. Both Dr. Sherr and Dr. Prystowsky don’t see any clear solution on how to prevent mass shootings. But, they are confident that teaching the public to use a tourniquet could save many lives.
Erica Deforge-Zarza is a fourth year Psychology major at UC Santa Barbara. She reported on this event for her class Journalism for Web and Social Media.