Aug. 1, 2016
Fifty years to the day after
a deadly sniper attack at The University of Texas (UT) shattered the midday
calm of summer on campus, an archived edition of the Texas Medical
Medicine magazine details the emergency
medical response to the rampage.
“The afternoon and evening
were a nightmare undreamed of that morning,” the August 1966 article reads.
“But when the worst was over, hospital and other medical officials expressed
satisfaction with the way the tragedy had been handled from the medical
standpoint.” On the morning of Aug. 1, 1966, UT student Charles Joseph Whitman
began a sniper attack from the tower high above the campus. As students ran for
cover and first responders moved in, Austin physicians, its city hospital, and
blood banks mobilized. Such a mass assault on humanity was unheard of at the
time, and a quirk of fate likely helped the medical response run as efficiently
as participants claimed it did.
According to the Texas Medicine article, “Efficient
Care of Sniper Victims Shows Worth of Disaster Plans,” Austin’s Brackenridge
Hospital emergency room received 39 of the 49 attack victims. A total of 16
victims were killed, including Whitman’s mother and wife.
As the city hospital
suddenly became overwhelmed with shooting victims, Brackenridge officials
initiated its emergency response plan — created only five months earlier and
practiced only once. Then-Brackenridge Hospital Administrator Ben Tobias told Texas Medicine, “Having a plan and
rehearsing it helped us in being able to carry through with the job we had to
As shooting victims arrived
at the hospital, the article reports, Brackenridge
administrators set up a control center near the emergency room and opened a
21-bed wing of the hospital that had been closed earlier in the year because of
a nursing shortage. Word of the shooting was announced over television and
radio, prompting “more than 50” off-duty physicians and nurses to rush to
Brackenridge to help. “Other patients in the emergency area volunteered to
leave in order to make room for the incoming patients,” according to the
article. Doctors interviewed after the attack said the “disaster plan worked
very well” and the “triage method of selecting patients had an especially
effective part in facilitating necessary patient care.”
The three-page journal article
chronicles every aspect of the response from communications to surgical schedule,
and from traffic control to laundering hospital linens to contributions by
local news media.
Officials quoted credited
good media relations planning as a key component of the emergency response.
After medical officials made calls to local media, 500 people showed up to
donate blood despite the danger of traveling near the campus and the sniper’s
line of fire. Travis County Medical Society’s blood bank kicked into
action, and its executive director, John Kemp said, “We found out how vital the
full support of the press is. … Our requests for blood got on the air
immediately.” And unusual in today’s patient privacy era, the magazine credited
the media with helping to identify correct names of some shooting victims.
The August 1966 Texas Medicine and its historic account
of the UT Tower shootings has been digitized and posted on the Portal
to Texas History, an archive housed at the University of North Texas. Visit https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth599862/m1/88/ to read the full article.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation,
representing more than 49,000 physician and medical student members. It is
located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the
state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.
Contact: Brent Annear (512) 370-1381;
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