Remember sitting in school and hearing the fire alarm go off? We all knew the drill: close the windows, check the doors for heat, close the doors behind you, and ensure all students are accounted for. Back then, fires in schools were the #1 cause for student injuries and deaths, which is why school administrators ran so many drills. Over the years, however, building codes have changed and firewalls, sprinkler systems, and alarms have been continuously implemented and upgraded. As a result, fire-related injuries have dramatically decreased over the past three decades—yet schools continue to practice for this event as if it were still the #1 cause of student injuries.
Today, what’s the #1 cause of injuries and deaths in our schools? Violence. Over the past few decades, the media has exposed our children to unprecedented levels of violence. Kids routinely play games in which killing is rewarded with high scores and in which killing in certain ways (e.g., knives, headshots, hit-and-runs) can earn more points. Back when Nintendo first came out, the only things you could kill on screen were ducks. Now our kids can walk onto a bus full of nuns and shoot, stab, beat, or strangle every one of them, smiling while doing so. Violence in movies and television has also evolved. 1950s Westerns rarely depicted brutal deaths. Villains, when shot, simply placed their hands over their chests and fell. These days, bodies are ripped apart in graphic detail right in front of our children’s eyes. As a result, our kids have become immune to violence.
Every year, the effects of these trends can be seen in our schools. The number of violent crimes committed annually in our schools would shock you. In 2007, there were approximately 28 violent crimes per 1,000 students. With over 48 million kids in school, that puts the number of violent crimes committed in 2007 at over 1.3 million! In the same year, there were 43 school-associated violent deaths. Meanwhile, how many students were injured due to the event schools rehearse for the most (fire)? 14!
Time spent preparing for fire compared to time spent rehearsing for violent attacks (e.g., active shooters, kids with knives) is way off balance. If the local fire chief were to fail to conduct fire drills during the year, parents would be looking for his head and he would probably lose his job. On the other hand, how many police chiefs get reprimanded for not ensuring that school administrators know what to do when faced with an active shooter?
Between 1966 and 2009, there were 82 incidents in which a gunman walked into a school and started laying waste to students—the more notable ones being at Virginia Tech, Columbine, the University of Texas, the Red Lake Reservation, and California State University. How many students at these schools knew what to do when the fire alarm went off? Most likely, all of them. And how many knew what to do if gunfire were to break out, or if they were to spot a gunman approaching the school? Why aren’t school officials working together with local law enforcement agencies in each city and town to develop and implement plans to deal with such events? That’s a question I can’t answer; if you look at school emergency drills in light of which events are most likely to occur, you would expect the police chief to be more closely involved than the fire chief in working with the school.
Some simple steps can be taken to ensure that school administrators know what to do in case a gunman were to target their students. I won’t outline them in this article, but I suggest you contact your school administrators and ask them if they have a plan for dealing with an active shooter. If their only plan is to call 911 and wait for the police—while a gunman freely roams the halls killing as many kids as possible— then get involved! Demand that the school work with the police department and local SWAT team to ensure that everyone knows what to do should such an event occur. If you think it can’t happen in your town, think again.
Semper Fi- Steve R
Special thanks to Lt Col Dave Grossman for bringing this to my attention.