Depending on where you live, you likely partook in a variety of safety drills throughout your primary and secondary education, including fire, tornado and earthquake drills. These seemed to have applications both inside and outside school: you’re hiding under your desk, evacuating or a combination of both, practices that you could easily use in your home, workplace or elsewhere.
In about two-thirds of U.S. schools, though, you may have had regular active shooter drills. Lights off, spread out along the same wall as the door, you probably never considered having to use any of these skills in practice. Most people won’t.
But unfortunately, active shooter situations in schools — which range from a person carrying a gun on campus to a person actually firing the gun and killing people — are becoming increasingly common. And while some may brush off the idea of preparing for such instances as gun control propaganda, fear-mongering or as Urbandale Superintendent Steve Bass put it, “[training] the perpetrator,” more knowledge when it comes to dealing with an active shooter situation is much better than rudimentary knowledge or no knowledge at all.
When the Buckeye Alert went out at Ohio State University last Monday during what was thought to be an active shooter situation, photos of the scenes inside classrooms surfaced on Twitter. In one particular photo that made the rounds on social media, students had barricaded the door using chairs and desks from their classrooms, but were milling about the classroom on their cell phones with the lights still on.
If you cannot “run” or “fight” when confronted with the presence of an active shooter, you must “hide,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This includes taking actions like blocking the doors, turning off the lights, moving out of the shooter’s potential view, silencing cell phones and not hiding in groups.
It is important to note at this point that if this had been an active shooter situation and the shooter had been able to enter this particular classroom, it would be unjust to blame those in the classroom for not better protecting themselves. But now that the situation has passed, education is key for ensuring that all possible precautions are taken by the greatest number of individuals.
Making this information readily available to students and teachers also does not preclude the work done by officials, and often teachers, in the identification and confrontation of potential shooters before an event occurs.
And while we’d all like people such as Antoinette Tuff — who talked down a gunman who brought an AK-47 into the Georgia school where she worked — to be more ubiquitous, it is worth noting that Tuff also managed to signal a pre-arranged code to her co-workers that put the school’s safety plan into motion.
While Tuff’s situation may appear to support the Urbandale Schools' philosophy mentioned earlier, stating that only teachers be aware of safety measures in active shooter situations, preventing students from receiving this basic, yet necessary, information makes them less prepared for potential situations in college.
Elsewhere in Iowa, Fort Dodge Middle School held an active shooter drill in August, Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines held a similar drill in 2014 and Atlantic High School held one in November. Businesses including Monsanto’s Williamsburg site and Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids have also partaken in active shooter drills.
We should not be resistant to the idea of teaching students and teachers how to react in an active shooter situation, no matter how much we want to avoid scaring children or furthering some political agenda. Earthquakes, tornadoes and fires are commonly seen as disasters that are worth our preparation, but seemingly less so an event that has occurred about once a week since 2013.
After taking the necessary time to grieve, find prolonged care or heal after shootings take place, no matter the proximity to the event, we should all take the time to educate ourselves on the best practices and rally our schools or workplaces to do the same. Ignoring this growing issue may make some feel safe, but real safety comes from learning the fundamental practices that could save lives.