Thursday, October 7, 2010

Back to School Safety Part 2: School Shootings

School's here folks! Time to learn new things and get a refresher course in the classics for those of every age. This also means that new and old safety concerns arise from a few different directions depending on the grade level you or your child is going into. In order to keep things rather simple I'm going to stick mainly to lists to cover each of these potential issues. Lists for books, school supplies, classes, and now safety. Second on this list is an issue that, for the most, is considered a "modern" issue exemplified by one word...Columbine.  Even the thought of a school shooting occurring is terrifying.  No one wants to think about it.  But they happen and, sometimes, it's better to be prepared, to know what to do to increase your (and others) chances of survival before and during, than to have it happen and be completely lost in the chaos.

Before I go on I have a major, key, rule of thumb:  If you hear someone talking about planning or wanting to plan a school shooting tell someone!  In the end, more than anything else, this will stop a school shooting before it ever happens.  So many times, after the fact, survivors have come forward with claims that the shooter had mentioned previously of his/her plans...Imagine if someone had acted beforehand?

Before (assuming you've gotten no "I'm gonna pull a Columbine" style warning beforehand):
  • Be aware of changes or oddities in your environment. We are talking about your classroom or school hallways here, so you should know what a safe and routine environment looks like. Anyone or anything that causes ripples or changes by his or her presence, etc., should cause your Spidey Senses to throb.
  • Evaluate and assess what you are seeing. If something kicks off your gut feelings by the way he or she moves, looks at you, etc., take it seriously.
  • Always have an action plan. Ask yourself what would I do if a student or an intruder barged into my classroom with a gun?
  • Be willing to and prepared to act when action is needed.
  • Trust your gut!  If something feels wrong, if that little voice in your head tells you to get the hell out of the area, then get the hell out of there!  Too often people second guess their instincts and regret it in the end.

Before - spotting a shooter (body language is key here!!):
  • If the gun is in his waistband on his hip he will favor that side as he walks.
  • He will short-step on the side where he is carrying the weapon when he goes up and down stairs (because the weapon is against his hip flexor).
  • He will subconsciously turn away toward the side where the weapon is secreted when a teacher or security walks directly toward him.
  • He will hold his jacket, shirt or coat closed as he walks.
  • Every moment or so, he may touch or pat the area where his weapon is secreted, subconsciously reassuring himself.
  • If the weapon is in his coat pocket, his collar may be unusually tight to his neck, and, if the weapon is heavy, the collar will also be twisted.
  • He will hold the pocket where the gun is secreted when he walks or runs to keep the pocket from flying away from his body.
  • He will also hold that side of his coat as he sits or rises.
  • He will favor heavy coats, even in hot weather, to help him better secrete the weapon.  (It's not a "Trench Coat Mafia" thing, it's a "trench coat helps hide my big gun" thing.)
  • He will often give himself away just before he liberates the weapon from its hiding place.  - By opening and/or pushing back his coat and/or grabbing the bottom of the pocket with his non-gun hand to stabilize the coat as he extracts the firearm.

During (how to survive):
  • Run!  A little obvious, yes, but there's more to it than that.  Don't just turn and bolt, run in zig-zags, take sharp corners when possible, and lower yourself a little if you can. Anything to make you a harder target.
  • Try and keep something - a chair, a desk, anything - between you and the gunman at all times.  He's either going to be shooting blindly or at the easiest targets and keeping yourself as blocked as possible will help prevent him from hitting you.
  • "Lock and Block".  As in if you're in a classroom and knows a shooters headed towards you lock that door and block it with whatever's handy.  Move desks, chairs, and whatever heavy furniture's available against the frame.  The idea is simple - don't make it easy for the guy (or gal)!!
  • Break the script.  Shooters have a script in their head.  Like serial killers shooting up the school has been something they've played over and over in their minds for a long while before they acted on it.  And, like with a serial killer, reacting in a way they don't expect is really going to disrupt their plans and whatever roll they might already been on.  So (assuming "Lock and Block" didn't work or isn't an option) don't huddle, hide, and pray like he wants...instead attack.  Throw books and whatever else is handy at him.  Scream at him and refuse to be afraid or controlled by the shooter.  Whatever upsets his delicate mental image of a perfect attack is good.
  • "Charge and Barge".  If possible, hold something in front of you like a shield and charge him with a phalanx of teachers, security, students.  Hell even if you don't have a shield if there's a group of you in a room charge!  Yes, somebody may get shot, but there's only one shooter and a large group of you so odds are high you all will be over to overpower him.  You will be wresting psychological and real control from the shooter and stopping things before they get far worse.  (This has, in fact, been done and worked successfully a few times, one of the most recent incidents included a pair of teachers who tackled a school shooter at Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Colorado on February 2010.)