According to an article published in The Washington Post, there was a recent study of World Health Organization data published in the American Journal of Medicine that found that, among high-income nations, 91 percent of children younger than 15 who were killed by bullets lived in the United States. And the trends are only growing more dire. On average, two dozen children are shot every day in the United States, and in 2016 more youths were killed by gunfire – 1,637 – than during any previous year this millennium.
Within the course of the past month, Florida has witnessed its own share of violent and disturbing incidents with weaponry in schools. On Feb. 14, 30 students were injured and 17 died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland when an expelled student pulled the fire alarm to lure students out of classrooms and opened fire on the campus.
On Feb. 15, a student was found with a knife and BB gun just off the Lake Nona High School campus and was promptly arrested. And, earlier in the month, a loaded handgun was found near a bus stop in Laureate Park.
There’s a lot that can be said about gun violence, and with the frequency of these kinds of events happening not only in Florida schools but also in schools and communities across the United States, it is important to have discussions about the best ways to keep you and your family safe should you find yourself near an incident.
Michael Dorn, the executive director of Safe Havens, a non-profit organization that consults schools about campus safety issues, told USA Today that Parkland was the fifth school shooting in the U.S. where a fire alarm was triggered. When the fire alarm is pulled in a school, it can make it very difficult for students to follow standard practice for keeping themselves safe in the incident of a school shooting. Safe Havens offers a variety of tips for students and teachers should they find themselves in a dangerous situation involving a firearm in school, particularly if the fire alarm gets pulled as it did at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School:
- Have police officers respond to all school fire alarms.
- Have teachers conduct a “quick peek” before they exit the classroom with students when a fire alarm goes off and during drills. Teachers are taught to look and listen before they open the classroom door and to rapidly visually scan the hallway before they exit the classroom. Students prepare to evacuate while the teacher is doing this.
- Teach students not to get too spaced out when evacuating, to keep line of sight and verbal communications open with the teacher.
- Do “reverse evacuation” drills so students and staff can turn students around more rapidly and smoothly.
- Make sure that school employees have whatever keys, cards or fobs needed to enter the school rapidly in an emergency. Dorn said some schools shut down access with cards or fobs during a lockdown. The Parkland shooting is an example of why that approach could be dangerous, Dorn said.
Other options for dealing with these kinds of situations also include the standard “lockdown” method, where students and teachers are taught to shelter in place. Though this method has been proven to be partially effective, Dorn warns that teachers should remember to think on their feet and tackle situations on a case-by-case basis so that they can stay cognizant of all factors of the situation. Staff should be taught using “scenario-based training” so that they can learn to react and deviate from the plan in place “when what they see and hear suggests that following the plan would be more dangerous,” Dorn said to USA Today.
The most important thing that students can do is stay vigilant and speak out to a teacher, administrator, or School Resource Officer (SRO) when they feel that they have seen something that makes them uneasy or suspicious. Lake Nona High School Vice Principal Adele Salazar praised the student who spoke up when they saw the student with the BB gun and knife. “Someone saw something and spoke up, and school administration and OPD officers were able to act swiftly to ensure the safety of students on campus,” a police spokesperson said in a statement.
The other important question to be asked in the face of violence and tragedy is how do we as individuals move forward and live our lives without fear but with awareness of what 2018 currently looks like. This thought can be scary and often incredibly uncomfortable for those who have witnessed violence in their past and suffer with the punishment of those memories in their daily lives.
I do not have an answer for those questions, and I do not believe that many people do. This new age of the world that we are entering is littered with rocky waves and uncharted territory, so it can be easy to shut down rather than speak out on these kinds of controversial issues. When tragedies like this happen, our social media feeds are often the first to blow up with images of black and white text across the square photo with phrases like “Pray for Orlando” or “Pray for Las Vegas.” After a few weeks, these photos are deleted from the same social media profiles where they first appeared, and the shooting itself seems to disappear from memory just the same.
What we have to be able to do as a society is learn how to prepare, how to take action, and how to prevent ourselves from forgetting about these tragedies and to build a better society from the ashes of the situations that make us the most afraid. As individuals, we have the power to stay vigilant, both prior to the event and in the aftermath, and that is the most powerful tool we have to take down those who seek to harm us and our loved ones.