Picture this: You’re in high school, sitting in final period listening to the teacher and maybe you’re also staring out the window daydreaming of that awesome party you’re set to go to this weekend.
Suddenly, the fire alarm goes off. You jump a little but gather your things to head outside when suddenly you hear it … pop, pop, pop.
It sounds like firecrackers and you freeze. It can’t possibly be what you think it is, but your teacher goes white as a ghost and is rushing you back into the classroom … pop, pop, pop.
She locks the door, flips off the lights and pushes you and your classmates into a closet in the back of the class … pop, pop, pop.
You text your parents that you love them and then you wait in the stuffy closet in silence until the active shooter that has just started raining bullets in the school’s hallways is stopped – or he finds you, whichever comes first.
Active shootings have become somewhat of an epidemic in America. In fact, according to the gun violence archive, there have been 34 instances of gun-related violence in 2018 alone, though that number includes suicides and accidental discharges in addition to shooting incidences.
Kids go to school with constant reminders that their school could be next in line, and after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day claimed the lives of 17 kids and staff members, a heated debate on what to do to keep kids safe from active shooters has raged with little progress.
As a parent, the idea that your child could face this level of gun-related violence is terrifying and you may be feeling a little helpless. But you’re not and neither are your kids. Here, 1st Lt. Michael Shaw, the public information officer with the Michigan State Police, offers tips to arm you and your kids with the knowledge needed to survive an active shooting incident.
Run, hide, fight
The first thing parents should know is that your child’s school has already been working with kids to prepare them for such instances.
“I think it’s important for parents to understand that their kids are more prepared for an active shooter than adults are,” Shaw explains. “School systems practice these active shooter drills and are already talking about it.”
Many schools use the active shooter civilian response program, ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. During these active shooter drills, kids are taught three steps to getting out of harm’s way if someone is shooting up the school, or really any public space: run, hide and fight.
“(If) there’s a clear place to go – run and get out of the building,” Shaw explains. “If you can’t get a clear shot out of the building then hide somewhere secure, not just under a desk (and) the last thing is to fight. Active shooters are not to be negotiated with. You need to do whatever you can do to get out of that situation safely.”
Shaw recommends kids don’t pull out their phones because the glow can lead a shooter to them, and if they are paying attention to recording the incident then they are not paying full attention to their situation.
“If you’re trying to record, you’re not looking around to see if you’re in danger or if there’s a place to run,” he says. “Get out of there first and then (record) it.”
If you can make a 911 call without alerting the shooter to your location, Shaw says to do so.
In case of injury
If the child is able to run, they should. If they run into a police officer, they should follow the officer’s instructions, which is typically to keep running. If they are injured, it gets a bit trickier.
As Shaw explains, it’s the first responder’s job to neutralize the threat and stop further loss of life – therefore the officers can’t stop to render first aid to a victim. But if you are hit, not all is lost.
“If you can get to a spot where you can hide, that’s great. If not, there’s nothing wrong with playing dead,” he says. “With active shooters, they’re moving and going on and looking for people moving as well, so it’s best to cover yourself and hide.”
Of course, every situation is going to be different. Shaw adds that parents should explain to their kids that they may have to make a tough spur-of-the-moment decision to save their lives. For example, if a child sees their friend is injured, Shaw says they have to get out. Once they get out and the situation is clear, they should notify law enforcement where their injured friend is so that help can get to them.
Parents should also be talking to their kids about some of the warning signs and the importance of speaking up if you see them.
“A lot of times the kids know the potential for this,” Shaw says. “If (kids) know someone that may need help or exhibits some type of behavior that you don’t think is right, it’s not snitching or telling. Let someone know that this child has threatened to do something, harm themselves or if they have access to a firearm.”
According to the University of New Orleans, loner-type kids with anger or paranoia issues and disciplinary problems are often the ones to lash out. They may exhibit a martyr complex and have an unusually strong interest in the police, military or terrorist-type activities or materials – and their artwork may depict violence.
In Michigan, kids can report this and other alarming behavior through the Michigan State Police’s app, OK2SAY.
“Go to your phone’s app store and download it for free. You can give an anonymous tip through that app that goes right to the state police center in Lansing who then farms it out to the appropriate station,” Shaw says.
For worried parents
If you do find out that your child’s school has been involved in an active shooter incident, Shaw says it’s best that parents to stay away.
“Basically, they’re just going to get in the way,” he says. “(And) that’s tough (because) I have kids and I know that if I find out there’s an active shooter, I’m going to go there.”
Instead, he urges parents to keep an eye on the news and watch for the designated place parents can go. This keeps confusion to a minimum and helps law enforcement keep track of every child that’s both injured and uninjured.
“The first thing I’m going to put out to the news media is where parents can go,” Shaw explains. “Go where law enforcement tells you, (and after we) stop this person, then we can tell you what hospital your child is at and where we put uninjured kids.”
As far as arming your kids with pepper spray or bulletproof backpacks, Shaw says he wouldn’t recommend bringing pepper spray to school and that special backpacks should be at the parent’s discretion, though they may not protect as well as you think.
“Nothing is bulletproof. Even the body armor we wear is still something you can get hurt in,” he says. “Teachers and school administrators have put a great deal of effort in their schools and they do teach kids what to do and how to react. … We’re working with schools to do better (because) there’s always things we can improve (but) kids actually know what to do in these situations.”