Last week I sat through an hour long safety training at my community college. It was run by Sargent Anastasia Koutsidis, our safety goddess who is a complete and utter bad ass. She gave us her background first in order to claim some legitimacy (I can’t even image the number of times this woman has had to list her credentials within her many jobs of law enforcement, emergency management, etc. If there is a more male dominated profession, I have yet to find it.), and she has quite a pedigree. She has a great personality to boot. A class act.
A few times during the meeting I had a moment of pause–I was in a training that focused largely on what to do if a shooter where in enter the building! Unlike other colleges, we don’t have a campus yet. We only have 300 students this year; we will have 300 next year. We reside in a building nestled on the south side of Bryant Park that has seven floors and two stairwells. But more than the obligatory befuddlement of “This is what our world has come to?!” I was a little disturbed by some of my colleagues complete lack of interest in the topic. Really? Because if there is one thing that I know about disaster response, having a plan is your best shot at survival. And I don’t know about all y’all out there, but I’m a survivor. I want to make sure I snap out of the denial phase and into action ASA-frickin’-P.
I *just* finished re-reading the best book ever recommended on the Park Slope Parents listserv during my five years as a memeber. A level-headed dad suggested it after the Hurricane Irene freak out from late summer of 2011. It’s called: The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why by Amanda Ripley.
Every educator, parent, or person living in an area that might have a natural or man-made disaster should read it. It is not alarmist. It is logical, it uses survivor narratives to explore what happens to our brains and bodies in a disaster, and it is comprehensive. It covers 9/11, large fires, the tsunami of 2004, hostage situations, the Virginia Tech shootings, plane crashes, Hurricane Katrina, and stampedes (specifically in Mecca). It is a fascinating and informative read, non-fiction that flows like fiction and locks you into the story very deeply. I cannot recommend it enough.
Everything Anastasia told us echoed Amanda Ripley’s book. She said, in an emergency, all you have is each other. Why? The average school shooting happens–according to compiled data–in SIX MINUTES. NYC police response time is NINE MINUTES. Therefore, the incident is long over before the police arrive. We have to help each other.
I’m going to highlight her other tips:
1. Get you and your students into the corner of the classroom that cannot be seen by someone looking into the glass panel/window on the door. (Most classrooms have windows on the doors for obvious reasons.) Turn off the lights. Turn off the Smartboard. Turn off your phones. Shut up. STFU. The shooters look for easy targets. They know we are all unarmed because it’s a school. Hide.
2. One professor asked, “But won’t they just break the glass?” Anastasia said, that yes, they will if they think you are in there. Then you have two choices: You can get shot, OR, in those seconds between you realizing that the shooter is breaking the glass and opening the door, you can decide to charge him/her, attempt to beat the shit out of him, and try to save your lives.
3. If you hear shooting on another floor, run. Try to evacuate. If you are confronted with the shooter, don’t run in a straight line. Do not scream; it wastes brain energy. Do not stop to pull any alarms. Run like hell. And, of course, take the stairs. (Duh.) But the better word of advice (from the book) is to practice taking YOUR stairs all. the. time. You should know your stairs inside out. Anastasia said that it takes 1000 hours for muscle memory to kick in (muscle memory meaning your body knows how to do something without your brain having to coach it), so walk those stairs, friends.
There’s really not much more to tell you to do, right? So my big questions was, “Are we training students in all of this?” That had yet to be determined. Well, I can tell you I am. I want them to know what to do when they are with me. In case the unthinkable happens.
And, for all of y’all, read this book. Really.