31 August 2012

Active Shooter Proofing your Kids

Every parents worst nightmare is seeing their child's school on Fox News with the tape across the bottom saying "School Shooting". According to my research from 1996 until present, there has been 44 school shootings in the US which one or more people were killed. This number is likely to rise. We need to teach our kids from an early age that they need to be aware of their surroundings and options to make them safer at all times.

Most schools have adopted similar plans that start with an announcement or other signal that there is an emergency. Teachers are instructed to quickly look into the hallway and get any students they see into their room, secure their room, take attendance of kids in the room, and add any other students or staff to the sheet, and slide it out into the hallway. Then they wait for further instructions. Depending on where you live, the plan may vary but this is what I have found to be most common.

This is an excellent strategy especially for younger children of grade school age. The problem however is that historically elementary schools are not the targets of active shooters. The vast majority of active shooters occurred in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. It also seems that the vast majority of casualties and fatalities were in gathering places like cafeterias, libraries, gyms, and school entrances. The age of school shooters in the US has ranged from 11 yrs of age up to the early 20's for college shooters. The median age seems to be around 15 yrs of age.

Research shows that the shooters were considered by many to be outcasts by their peers. Because of this, it was their peers that they targeted. Often the shooters plan was to target a particular group or person, but others became targets of opportunity. What makes school shooters so deadly is that not only do they know the physical layout and schedule of the school, but more importantly they know where and when to find large groups that provide for a target rich environment for their intended carnage.

With this information we know that-

* School shootings are most likely to occur in middle schools, high schools, and colleges.
* The shooter is likely to be a student at the school they target.
* The most dangerous place to be is in large common areas where students habitually gather.

The key to active shooter proofing our kids is teaching and modeling awareness, avoidance, and identifying their options.

Awareness- this is all encompassing. The goal is not only to be aware of your surroundings at all times, but where they fit into what is happening. Being the obvious target of aggression and being a bystander obviously allows and requires different actions.

Another part of awareness is learning to trust gut feelings about people and situations. When something is not right, kids need to be encouraged to act on it. This can range from reporting something that they overheard in conversation, to just knowing when things are not right.

Avoidance- All students are going to spend a large amount of time in kill zones such as cafeterias, libraries, and gyms. As a rule, they should avoid being near the main entrance to a space and the likely entrance for a shooter. Have them make a habit of positioning themselves near an exit that leads outside if possible. This is a basic principle, whether they are at school or a restaurant. Caution them against leaving the area as soon as they hear gunfire if they cannot tell where it is coming from. Leaving the area is best done when they can see the shooter, or there are obvious signs that he is close.

In my opinion, regardless of the school's rules about cell phones, every student over the age of 13 should have one on their person in case of an emergency. During emergencies, they should only use texting since it does not overburden the phone lines and is usually available even with there is no cell coverage. Everyone, not just students, need to have a primary and secondary ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact. As soon as they feel safe to do so, they should be instructed to send a text to both ICE contacts to let them know what is happening and their location.

By now they have escaped the kill zone and established communications with their ICE contacts. This is where both you as a parent and the student will be flooded with options. Remind your student that if they are thinking about options they are alive. This is where critical thinking needs to take over for both of you.

Once exiting the building, they should avoid open spaces like parking lots and sports fields that may be secondary kill zones. As soon as they exit the building, they need to identify a structure that they are going to move to and to keep moving no matter what. Once they are in that structure, tell them to only move if there is a good reason.

Historically, shooters will seldom follow one or two targets to leave an area containing dozens.

Nothing about this subject is comfortable to even consider, but we still need to plan for it.

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