Friday, September 29, 2006

A whole new world

Another school shooting. This is two in one week, following closely on the heels of a narrowly avoided Columbine-style disaster. This time, a principal was shot. Earlier this week, a young girl was killed. The narrowly avoided attack? Who knows how many would have fallen, dead or injured?
It's scary that we live in a world where these attacks occur. It's good, in a way, that they rate heavy coverage: that means the events are rare enough to be considered news. I'm grateful that the potential disaster nearest my home was avoided by quick and efficient intervention.

A few years ago I spent a day training with some of my coworkers and a large number of police officers to help prepare for just such a situation. I've never forgotten it. Even though we knew it wasn't real, we knew the guns were not loaded, and we all knew the script, it was still very intense.
We spent the morning hearing how such incidents used to be treated, and how and why that procedure has changed. We were treated to an analysis of the Columbine shooting and the response. Watching the account with teachers, administrators, and police was a valuable and moving experience. No one knows how many, if any, lives could have been saved had law enforcement entered the building earlier, but the confusion that reigned was shocking and upsetting.
We spent the afternoon participating in a drill. There were many surprises: how long it took to "sweep" the school (a relatively small building), how little we could hear from our corner of the dark classroom (one gunshot, a scream, a large vehicle arriving), and how dramatic and scary the evacuation was. Afterwards, staff and police met to discuss and suggest improvements.
Since then, all of our door locks have been replaced. We can now lock our classrooms from the inside and without a key. No one has to search for keys and step out into the hallway to secure a classroom. It was a small change, but it speeds up the process of securing the classroom and getting the kids safely in a corner. We fine-tuned our procedures wherever we found weaknesses.
Now when my students ask questions, I can answer them. I can tell them what's "Hollywood" and what's true. I can explain why we do what we do. Every time we have a lockdown drill, I tell them about my training, and I reassure them that our local police force knows how to handle any intruder.
One philosophy from our training sticks with me to this day. Drill like it's real. Drill like your life depends on it -- because it does. Whether it's a fire drill, tornado drill, or lockdown, my students know I take it very seriously. Their lives depend on knowing what to do and being able to do it automatically.
Drill like it's real.
Drill like your life depends on it -- because it does.


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