Do you know where your children are? Better yet, do you know what your school-aged children or grandchildren are doing for their intruder drills, lockdown drills or active shooter drills? That may sound like a crazy question, but this type of exercise has been around for many years and has been added to the typical mix of tornado and fire drills. Unfortunately, some schools (along with churches and places of business) still adhere to the lock down, get down, stay down mentality. This tactic is dangerous and can lead to more injuries and loss of life during a violent critical incident.
After the terrible event in Parkland, Florida, many schools decided to revisit and rethink their safety and security measures. I received an email from the assistant superintendent of administration and pupil services in our school system (where our two oldest children are enrolled). Part of that message stated, “Please know that we are using all measures at our disposal to make sure that this does not happen at one of our schools. Our district leaders have been and continue to work closely with all law enforcement agencies that support our schools. Each of our schools has updated safety plans and building leaders are revisiting any concerns that may leave us vulnerable in some way. Our buildings have secure entrances and we are re-evaluating all safety procedures and processes.”
Because the email did not leave me feeling very reassured, I asked both my 15-year-old daughter and my 8-year-old son what they practiced in preparation for this kind of event. Even though our state of Alabama stands by the teachings of the ALICE Training Institute (which encourages proactive, options-based training), both of my kids told me that they basically lock the doors, shut off the lights and hide in an area of the room that is not visible from any doors or windows.
“So you’re supposed to just hide and wait?” I asked.
“I guess so,” my daughter replied. “We’re supposed to wait for our school resource officer and law enforcement to help.”
My son added, “We’re supposed to wait even though my classroom is right by an exit.”
I shook my head and sighed. The thing is that lock down, get down, stay down does not work. Tragically, it has proven over and over again to be nothing but a death sentence. I fully understand how and why, because I experienced the scenarios that prove it.
While going through ALICE instructor training, my group of 13 random men and women were shuffled off to a classroom for a training scenario and were informed that an active shooter was in the building. We were told that we could only hide and stay in place in the traditional lock down, get down, stay down mode. We all scrambled around, looking for any table, chair or piece of furniture that might hide or protect us. I wedged myself under the teacher’s desk, knocked her chair sideways and pulled it close to hide my form. Moments later, the shooter entered our room. Everyone remained still and quiet. While I was crammed under the desk, I had no idea what was going on. It was eerily silent. It was also terribly frustrating. I was a sitting duck just waiting to die. In a time frame of one minute and 33 seconds, the shooter apparently left our room, went to several others and came back a second time. He took out every person except for three of us with a Nerf ball. I think he just overlooked me because of my hiding spot and dark-colored clothing. The other two either happened to be out of his field of vision or were just barely missed by the Nerf balls.
In a second scenario, we were told that at the sound of gunfire, my group and the other participants from different rooms were to exit the classroom as quickly and as safely as possible and move down the hall to the nearest unblocked exit. Statistics show that moving during an active shooting event gives you a 90-percent greater chance of survival, and we were about to prove that. When prompted, everyone left the rooms very quickly, clearing the building in just 16 seconds. The shooter had come down the stairwell and was standing in the doorway shooting at us as we all raced by. I was grazed on the top of my left shoulder by a Nerf ball. Out of 42 participants, only six were hit, and all of them had superficial injuries.
In the final scenario, our group was not briefed on what was about to happen, but we were told that we could use projectiles or other countering strategies if something were to occur. We each had a small, squishy ball that we could throw. Some of the room’s occupants discussed making a barricade when a gunman burst into the room and started shooting. I immediately jumped off the line to my left, considering an exit out the window. At the same time, several people moved the tables for cover. Others launched projectiles toward the shooter. When I looked back, two men grabbed the guy from behind and secured his arms. I lurched for the nearest chair and raised it up over my head to smash down on the assailant. Before anything could progress, the safety officer yelled, “Safety, safety, safety!” My group knew we had succeeded. No one was even shot this time. A room full of people stopped the bad guy 13 to one. Even armed, he did not have much of a chance.
While these are not real-life examples, they show that we have a fighting chance if we actually choose to fight. That could mean charging for the nearest exit or charging the bad guy. Context is everything here, and situations will dictate what is best, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that lock down, get down, stay down is just a death sentence. There is so much more we can plan and do to ensure that everyone’s lives — including the lives of our loved ones — are safe during a violent critical incident.