'Safety drill' at N.J. hospital leads to lawsuit

Recently there was a civil lawsuit in New Jersey settled in favor of the plaintiff while the case was in trial. The case was about an unannounced mock robbery training exercise conducted in a hospital pharmacy setting on Christmas Eve 2007 by senior hospital staff members. The hospital claimed the action taken was a "safety drill." The pharmacy staff had no idea of what was about to happen to them and the case gained national notoriety as it was reported on extensively by the news media such as:

MSNBC – "A New Jersey pharmacy technician who says she was traumatized when a masked gunman burst into her store demanding OxyContin is suing her employers for arranging the mock holdup.

Babette Perry says in a lawsuit that she was not told in advance of the training drill in December 2007 at the Hampton Behavioral Health Center.

She says she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the gunman entered the store, claiming he had taken another worker hostage. She says she tried to call for help, but the phone wasn't working."

To set the visual picture, this pharmacy is off a hallway and not clearly visible to just anyone walking into the facilities, but can be simply accessed directly by walking passed the reception area. There were no security guards at this facility and the in-house maintenance staff assumes the security duties.

Suddenly a gunman burst into the pharmacy holding the director of human resources as a hostage. The masked gunman, demanding OxyContin, had a (later discovered to be fake) gun pointed at the "hostage." As it turned out, this was a fake robbery. The whole scenario lasted less than a minute. One of the pharmacy employees picked up the phone in an effort to alert the authorities, but found the phone was not working. The gunman/employee called off the "security drill" when he saw the panic that had been created.

This action, lasting less than 30-seconds, created a multi-million dollar lawsuit (Superior Court of New Jersey – Burlington County, Civil Action Docket No. L-2823-09) by Babette Perry claiming injuries including, 1) assault 2) false imprisonment and 3) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The hospital claimed it was a safety drill designed to uncover security inadequacies in the pharmacy and as a result listed seven recommended changes. All of the recommendations could have and should have been discovered if only they had retained a competent physical security consultant, but they didn't – they chose to conduct an armed mock armed robbery. What were they thinking? The hospital changed their policy of unannounced security drills shortly after this incident happened.

Mock robbery training exercises are normally conducted in the retail and banking industry as a tool to give employees a feel as what to expect during a real life robbery. They should always be announced and employees should be given the option to not participate as they can have a real psychological impact on the persons being trained. There are some strict guidelines for conducting mock robbery scenarios and this type of training should not be left to untrained personnel.