When I was in elementary school we used to practice two emergency drills: one for fire which was an evacuation, and another for a nuclear bomb, commonly known as a duck and cover. During the Cold War, the Red Scare, a Soviet Union attack, was on everyone’s mind.
Then the 1971 Sylmar earthquake happened and all the schools began practicing earthquake drills.
After the shootings at Columbine in 1999, soon lockdown drills were added to the emergency drill repertoire.
And now the history books will add Sandy Hook in 2012. I’m not sure if this stomach-wrenching tragedy will generate any changes in emergency procedures. However, here’s hoping smart people will reexamine the lockdown procedure.
I have experienced two real lockdowns. Thank God, neither one turned out badly. Much of the horror stems from the tactic employed of locking the doors, turning off the lights, students hiding in the corners. Remaining quiet and motionless on the floor, uncomfortably cramped under a table for two hours is terrifying, trying to peek through vertical blinds for any shadow approaching.
I’ve never understood the logic behind the lockdown drill. Most school shootings are perpetrated by students who attend those campuses, meaning they are fully aware that just because a door is locked and a room dark does not mean no one is inside. Any killer can easily shoot out a door and find a classroom of sitting duck victims.
At Sandy Hook, the murderer calmly walked into rooms and executed kids who were motionless.
For the teacher, there is no worse feeling than having no communication with the administrators. Besides the P.A. announcement of a lockdown, no further messages are aired. No e-mails are sent to teacher computers. Cell phones aren’t even utilized.
“It was only fifteen minutes,” an outside observer may comment. But let me tell you, when you are crouched down under a table, hearing muffled cries and whispers from students, unsure how to comfort them, unable to calm your rapidly beating heart, peering up through the slits of vertical blinds hoping not to get a glimpse of a gunman, it seems like an eternity.
I understand the logic of not having kids run wild. A maniac is likely to shoot a moving target. However, at least there is a chance of escape. Crouching under a table only works on the completely random chance that the shooter doesn’t choose that classroom.
While we all know these tragic events are thankfully quite rare, they unsettle all of us: parents, teachers, children.
School officials need to figure out a better way of protecting children during future lockdown episodes. Standing still in one place in the dark is not allowing innocent teachers and students a fighting chance.
It wasn’t that long ago when society feared a foreign intruder harming our nation. Now, that intruder is among us.