10:54 am. February 28, 2001.
We had just dismissed to recess. I had students still in the classroom, some on the outside stairs leading down to the playground, some already out on the playground, some in the hall going to the library, and some in the bathroom.
The Nisqually earthquake struck. A 6.8 quake.
At first it sounded like a giant garbage truck rolling into the parking lot, but it just kept coming. The room began to shake. Startled eyes turned to me.
“It’s an earthquake,” I said. “Duck and cover.” I stood in the doorway so I could watch the students in the classroom and the ones in the hall. Everyone did what they were trained to do.
After the ground stopped shaking, we evacuated the building and gathered on the big field.
Later, once the school was inspected and we could go back inside, everyone shared where they were and what they were doing when the earthquake hit.
No matter where they were in the school, each child had followed the directions for how to stay safe during an earthquake.
I counted that day as a success, not just that the children knew what to do and did it, but that they could each debrief so easily, they could each share their story freely. As I had told them earlier in the year—once you are safe—you should pay attention during an earthquake and observe it because they are interesting.
At the end of the day, one of my students commented to another teacher about how interesting the earthquake was.
(“Good for you!” I thought.)
That teacher was horrified. She told him earthquakes were dangerous. They were not interesting.
Clearly adults react emotionally in different ways to high stress situations.
A 6.8 earthquake is impressive but not murderous. Try to imagine just how ramped up emotions are during a school shooting.
The first issue is, that extraordinary level of emotional response impacts the effectiveness of the police, not just the school staff. In the Parkland shooting Sgt. Brian Miller, who arrived first on the scene, was excoriated in the public and in the press for not entering the building immediately. But the official Broward Sheriff’s Office active shooter policy at the time specifically said deputies may go in and confront a shooter. It wasn’t a requirement.
More importantly, his was not the only failure that day. Colleagues described Captain Jordan as “disengaged and ineffective.”
In fact, in spite of their training—as police officers—the deputies were ill-prepared to react to a school shooting.
Several sheriff’s deputies said they remembered little if anything of their active shooter training.
Even police, with all their training, seldom face an active shooter. It’s hard enough to respond according to training when a shooting erupts right in front of an officer. It’s even more difficult—and more emotionally debilitating—to respond to an unseen shooter or shooters roaming within a school. What if you miss? What if you accidentally hit a student? What if you kill a child? Those questions can paralyze even a trained police officer.
Then comes the second issue. What happens when you take police, who are trained to deal with shooters, and add another shooter in the mix?
November 11, 2018, Roberson, who hoped someday to become a police officer, was working as a security guard at a bar in the suburbs of Chicago. He detained a shooter, pinning him to the ground, with his legal gun drawn. The police chief called him a “brave man doing his best to end an active shooter situation.”
But that night the police shot and killed Jemel Roberson.
Why did he get shot?
It seems like in the confusion of multiple people yelling “He’s security! He’s security!” Roberson may not have heard the police yelling, “Drop your weapon!”
So he died.
Roberson was both an armed security guard and a good guy with a gun. He risked his life to apprehend a shooter. And police killed him anyway.
Thanksgiving night Emantic Bradford Jr. went shopping in an Alabama mall with a cousin and two friends. He had a permit to carry a weapon. According to his family, Bradford was trying to help people during a shooting. He had his gun in his hand when a police officer saw him and shot him.
Here’s the problem. HB 1038 would allow school districts to authorize permanent employees to possess firearms on school grounds under certain conditions.
If trained police officers have a difficult time handling school shooting situations in general, and if they don’t always respond well to “helpful” adults in crisis situations who are also armed, why on earth would we put additional guns into schools? In the hands of everyday school staff?
Imagine that you are that armed teacher. Maybe you have hours of target shooting. Maybe you hunt. Maybe you are very comfortable with your weapon.
Have you had training in simulations where you have to identify friend or foe with split second timing? (Even high-quality military combat training will not fully prepare a soldier or sailor for war—only real live combat experience can do that.)
Have you ever had a gun pointed at you? Has your life been in danger?
If the police came in and yelled to you, could you be sure you would react fast enough not to be shot yourself?
(Especially if you are a person of color, as both Roberson and Bradford were.)
Even more to the point, have you actually served in combat in areas where children are present? Or have you served in the police in violence-ridden communities with children?
According to military personnel I’ve talked to, having the daily experience of having to deal with the direct threat of violence—in the context of children—is the best preparation for handling school shooter situations effectively.
Here’s a possible solution beyond arming random school personnel.
It may be that every school in the country needs a combat veteran as a school safety officer. At the very least, as individual schools decide to hire safety officers, they should specify combat or similar experience as a requirement. Even further, interview questions should demand details about how candidates handled high stakes circumstances with children as part of the situation.