It's that time of year again. We figure out the back to school items our kids need, like new shoes, pants without holes, tablets, pencils, lunch boxes, and maybe a new backpack. We do our shopping, try to figure out drop-off and pick-up schedules, and talk our children through the common stages of entering a new school grade, from dread or fear of the unknown to excitement and anticipation.
As parents, the reality is that we also need to worry about the safety of our children when they are out of our care. Most of us have had the "no one should touch you" and "don't go with strangers" talks. But when is the right time to talk about what they should do if a person begins shooting? Do we simply not have the talk and hope/pray that it never happens? Do we wait till the kids are older, entering middle school? High school? College? If feels like a daunting decision, but I recommend having some type of discussion, now, to ensure your children have some awareness of how to respond and survive.
I recently re-read one of the reports from the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. Most people do not realize how much worse it could have been. The tragedy could have far exceeded the 29 people killed and 17 wounded. Fortunately, students and professors in two of the five classrooms had the opportunity and initiative to barricade the doors, which prevented the shooter from entering. Those inside other classrooms were not so fortunate and were forced to either confront the shooter directly or simply await their fate. If unable to run, then barricading the doors and staying away from windows is critical. This approach has been popularized by the Run, Hide, Fight options that the Department of Homeland Security recommends.
So, as we prepare to enter this new school year, I urge parents to have some type of discussion with their children about what to do in a dangerous situation. Ask your school principal or teachers about what type of training the staff have conducted. How will they notify staff and students to take shelter or evacuate? What if students are in the restroom or other areas by themselves? What if an event happens while on a playground, a ball field or in the parking lot? Is there a reverse evacuation plan where the doors are opened and the school becomes a safe shelter? How will school officials interact and communicate with responding law enforcement and rescue personnel? Some parents have decided to provide their children one of the many new backpack armor options now available and if so, does the school allow it, do your kids understand how to use them properly?
A discussion on personal survival is one that most of us never had with our parents and so we are traveling in uncharted waters. Sadly, we are now in a new era where people—whether they be disgruntled employees, the mentally ill, persons seeking revenge or notoriety, or numerous other reasons--find themselves desiring to hurt others. An uneasy conversation about surviving an active shooter now needs to be the new norm—just like the dreaded "birds and the bees" talk that we are still likely putting off.