When a prisoner escaped from guards recently at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, VA, staff and others in the facility were in jeopardy. The hospital’s security plan was activated and proved the value of planning for such an incident.
About 3 a.m. on March 31, convicted bank robber and federal prisoner Wossen Assaye, 42, was at the 833-bed hospital for treatment after a suicide attempt, accompanied by two guards from a security company contracted by the U.S. Marshals Service. The 42-year-old Assaye was restrained, but when one guard took a bathroom break, Assaye overpowered the second, explains Greg Brison, the hospital’s director of emergency management and security. The prisoner was able to get out of his restraints, but for security reasons Brison won’t say how or what type of restraints were used.
A shot was fired during the struggle, and Assaye was able to take the guard’s gun.
Shoeless and wearing only a hospital gown, he then held the female guard in front of him as a shield as he left the room. At this point the first guard returned and fired a shot at Assaye, who released the hostage and ran down a hallway and a stairwell. The guards lost sight of him at that point.
There were about 2,000 employees and 800 patients at the hospital.
Inova Fairfax employees immediately implemented their “Code Silver,” with several people calling the switchboard to activate it and many more calling 911. All staff are authorized to call the Code Silver without waiting for an administrator’s approval. Staff members started locking down the hospital. Staff, patients, and visitors were instructed by intercom and texts to stay where they were. Within minutes, managers on duty placed phone calls to key executives, including Brison.
Fairfax County police quickly established a security perimeter, which allowed access only to the hospital’s senior leaders. Police officers also entered the building to search for Assaye, who was suspected of robbing 12 banks and considered dangerous. Members of the hospital’s security staff were aided by the fact that, in the overnight hours, Inova Fairfax is always a controlled-access environment with exterior doors locked. The Code Silver further requires that many interior doors be locked or at least closed, which reduces opportunities for the shooter to move to different areas of the facility and encounter more potential victims.
The plan also calls for some additional defensive moves as necessary, such as turning out lights in some areas and barricading doors, but Brison says those details are being kept secret.
The lockdown was lifted after five hours when the police had completed a sweep of the entire campus and not found the gunman. Assaye is thought to have carjacked two vehicles after leaving the hospital, and he was captured in a Washington, DC, neighborhood after a nine-hour manhunt involving hundreds of officers.