It was by far the most practical, yet weird training I ever attended. The school where I worked was lucky enough to be located in Oro Valley (smaller than Tucson, and generally more $). Our location meant that the police department there took care of us, rather than the Tucson Police Department. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with TPD. However, I doubt TPD would have provided us with two School Resource Officers and offered us a free active shooter training.
Throughout the entire training, I honestly kept expecting a mock attack to occur. We were in an auditorium, so I kept glancing behind me toward the entrances. There was no mock attack, but there is an unsettled feeling that comes with this subject matter, whether there are three police officers in the room or not.
After going through the training, we were encouraged to go through the information with our students, and most of us did so with each of our classes about once a year. This worked because we were teaching high school students – younger kids would obviously be a different story. I scheduled the conversation with my classes to correspond with the first lock-down drill of the year, and it was always one of the best conversations we had.
Here’s the conversation in a nut-shell:
First, active shooters are interested in killing as many people as possible and the whole thing will likely be over in less than five minutes. In fact, the shooter’s goals likely include his/her own death. Additionally, active shooters kill indiscriminately; they are not trying to get anyone specific. Obviously, this isn’t exactly what happened in Oregon: the press is reporting that there was a vendetta against organized religion. Still, active shooter is the training I received.
There are three things a person can do in the active shooter scenario… while this is obvious stuff, it sort of frames the conversation.
Runners have the highest survival rate.
Hiders have second highest.
Fighters have the lowest survival rate.
Comic Relief: At this point in the conversation, a teenage boy (or two) will inevitably start talking about how badass he is and how he’d take care of all of us. 🙂
This was the part of the conversation where things got serious and real. We thought about my classroom, the closest exits, the closest safe places.
Comic Relief: I always told kids that I personally planned to run to my house, and that they could stick with me (and I’d give them cookies and milk when we arrived), or, if they felt safe running to their own houses, that was possibly an option.
Caveat: Kids nowadays are a little stupid about real life. They often don’t know how to act autonomously and need to be told that no teacher is going to be able to keep track of them and guide them… i.e. “From the point your teacher tells you to run, you need to make decisions and think for yourself.”
Comic Relief: “Are you going to leave us behind, Ms. James?”
“Of course she is… she runs marathons. Ms. James is going to take off and we’ll never see her again.”
“Look at those shoes she’s wearing – there’s no way she’s running through the desert in those.”
“Don’t you run in sandals?”
I would usually just smile and laugh during this part.
Important Point to Make: Don’t stop running until you are 225% safe. Run beyond the point where you believe you’re safe.
Question that always came up: What happens if the shooter chases us?
Answer: In all actuality, if you make it out of the building, you’re probably fairly safe, because an active shooter isn’t going to leave hundreds of people to chase 30. He’s trying to kill as many people as possible…
Final Point to be Made: Running only works if we’re confident the shooter was not along our path to safety.
This is the part that kids totally understand, but, for me, was terrifying.
Students have been doing lock-down drills since they entered school. However, at our training, the officers showed us a really haunting photograph of real students sitting quietly during a real college shooting.I believe it was the Virginia Tech shooting, and the photo looked something like this:
In the photo, the students were doing everything they were supposed to do… which is what makes the photo haunting. Everyone in the photo they showed us ended up dying when the shooter made it through the door.
I point this out because lock-downs are not necessarily effective if there is a shooter on campus. They are effective if there are killer bees, or if the shooter can find easier prey, because he’ll check the door and move on when he finds it’s locked. He knows there are students inside, but he doesn’t want to waste time breaking down a door if there are easier pickings nearby.
When schools practice lock-downs, they have your child sit in one corner of the classroom with the rest of the class, possibly behind a desk, but all students are almost never well-hidden.
After going through the active shooter training, I changed the way we did lock-downs in my my classroom, and you may consider talking about this with your kids if you have them. Of course, don’t have them start a revolution against their teacher, but maybe just make them aware.
Change #1: we divided into several groups, spread throughout the room.
Change #2: We talked about the most solid objects they could hide behind. The literal conversation went something like, “Is there anything in this room that could stop a bullet?” There are very few items in a classroom that are very solid – the teacher’s desk and file cabinets are about it.
Change #3: We talked about what we could shove in front of the door to barricade it, and I assigned two or three students responsibility for getting the biggest objects in front of the door.
Change #4: We talked about what could be used as a weapon or a distraction. It’s important to remind kids that throwing something high in the air and slowly at the assailant is sometimes as effective as throwing an object hard at his face, because it’s a distraction that may give them a second or two to get away.
Comic Relief: Usually our badass kid will get up and do some physical demonstrations with a stapler or book.
Note: My classroom did not have a window, but our trainers talked to us about windows’ weak points, which is worth noting here. If you are trying to break a particularly sturdy window, do not bash it in the center. Work on the corners.
For this one, the only tip our trainers really gave us was the law of centimeters. Basically, if you get thirty 4th graders to attack one person, that person is going down. Whereas, one 4th grader, or even one beefy man may not win a battle against the same assailant. So… the fighting has to be planned, united strategery. Whoever the boy was who said he’d be the hero will be more effective if everyone else helps him.
Last things to talk about: When the cops show up, their priority is to take down the shooter. Therefore, they may step over your child’s wounded bff, and keep moving. Kids find this shocking.
Also, the cops would prefer your child leave the building and take care of his/her own safety, rather than sitting down next to and/or trying to protect wounded bff. If your child can help bff gimp his way to safety, absolutely help. If, however, there is no chance of getting bff to safety, the cops want your kid to take care of himself.
This is the part where kids want to know if I’d actually leave someone behind.
I tell them that I hope not. I hope I’m the person who would stay and protect my friend, but the police officers’ goal is the safety of a lot of lives rather than individual lives. If student leaves friend behind, he has a greater chance to live, which is what the officers want.
Comic Relief: One kid will usually mention or just deliberately look at a friend and say something cheesy or make a joke that she’d leave that person behind. This is almost never mean-spirited.
Last Tips: Tell kids to make sure their hands are visible to the cops, don’t run up and grab or touch the cops like some people do when they feel like they’re finally saved (they’re going to get shoved to the side), and don’t yell but rather just point in the direction of the shooter if they know it.
There will be first responders whose job is to help the wounded. However, the first guys on the scene are only interested in getting the shooter.
This is what I think of when any shooting occurs and takes over our media. I don’t know how much parents should talk about it with their kids. It did surprise me, however, that tons of my students claimed their parents never talked to them about what to do in emergencies.