We had a faculty meeting this week to update us on the new lockdown procedure the school is adopting. And dang! I could actually feel my heart beat accelerating at one point in the meeting and had to consciously go into my "Breathe. Feel your feet on the floor. Breathe" exercise to counter all of the adrenaline I was feeling. As a colleague said, "That was simultaneously the scariest and most useful faculty meeting ever."
So here's what FGS is up to: We're adopting the A.L.I.C.E. approach to dealing with an armed gunman (an approach described in this NPR piece from last October). The acronym stands for Alert - Lockdown - Inform - Counter - Evacuate." Alert and Lockdown are what we have already been doing during drills; the alarm goes off, we gather all students in our rooms out of sightline of the door(s), lock the doors, pull down the window shades, turn out the lights, and sit there quietly in the dark until we get the all clear. And that used to be the end of it ... but apparently one reason that fatality rates are so disproportionately high in school shootings is that everyone's just sitting around waiting instead of getting the hell out of there. (This is one of the tragedies of Columbine, that most of the students could have gotten away but followed "correct" procedure and hid under desks, where they were then shot.)
So we will no longer stay with Alert and Lockdown but will continue through the rest of the acronym, beginning with Inform, i.e., having better information during an event; so we're getting a new phone system in which the classroom phones can all become loudspeakers and in which anyone can announce information to the whole school -- "the shooter is in the science wing" or the like. Then, if the shooter is in another part of the school, everyone not in that part of the school gets out of the building and runs. If the shooter is in your part of the building, you've already followed the basic lockdown procedure but now proceed to barricade doors and, if possible, get the kids out of the building via the windows (which in my case would involve breaking the glass, but at least we're on the first floor). That's the E, Evacuate.
It's the C, Counter, that has made this a controversial approach, one that an official organization of school safety officers has denounced. The approach here is that if the worst thing happens, if the gunman breaks through the barred door and you're trapped in there with the students and can't get out, you damn well go after the guy and get the kids to do the same. Throwing things is a big part of this -- everyone in the room starts throwing everything they can at his head to distract him and make it harder for him to shoot accurately. And you all start "swarming" -- basically, race around the room, tackling him if possible, but definitely remaining a moving target. And if you actually get him down, you get the gun away and put it in the trashcan (NOT holding it yourself, because police will shoot anyone who has a gun in that circumstance) and kneel on the guy's head and extremities. (Our security guy said, "People want to know if they can shoot the guy if they get his gun. I can't officially tell you to do that. But if you're struggling and the gun happens to go off and hits him, then that's all right by me." Okay then.)
Probably the biggest change in the whole approach, honestly, is that we're no longer pretending that there are clear rules that we'll all abide by and then everything will be fine. No, this relies on keeping a cool head ... aided by our instinct for survival; our security officer said, "Look, the natural thing to do in the face of danger is to run away. All of this training to sit quietly in the dark and wait for danger to come to you is fighting against instinct, and we need to stop doing it."
Apparently one of the real advantages of this approach, in addition to the most important one of reducing casualties, is diminishment of survivors' guilt, which totally makes sense to me. Part of what makes this a brand-new way of talking for FGS folks is that it admits right away that some people are going to be in more danger than others, depending on where the shooter is, and that the people who are in less danger need to get away instead of staying in their rooms out of some sort of FGS solidarity for the people in more danger. I mean, it seems ridiculous when I put it like that, but it actually is a real change in rhetoric.
So of course the whole discussion was seriously fucking scary. But it also was such a relief because we were finally talking honestly! No more of the bland lockdown procedures in which we were all reassured that naturally everything would be just fine if we just sat quietly in the dark. No, this was no-holds-barred conversation: "People are going to die. Students as well as teachers. There will be deaths. What we're trying to do is maximize the number of people who survive." Frightening to contemplate, but clearly more honest than we've been in the past. When teachers protested that students might get hurt jumping out a second-story window or doing something else dangerous, he just kept repeating, "This is the worst-case situation. It's better to break a leg than to get shot. We're trying to reduce deaths." Grim but real.
It's also given me a whole new appreciation for my classroom, which is on the first floor right next to a side door. I guess that means that my room and my across-the-hall neighbors could be a gunman's first targets, but it also means that we probably have a greater probability of escape if we're not the first targets.
Scary to be thinking that way, but it's actually been good this week to have lunchtime conversations with colleagues about this new procedure as we all look at different buildings on campus with a new eye, thinking about escape routes, which windows open and which would need to be broken, how high we are from the ground on various floors, which rooms connect to other rooms and which only to the hallway, etc. We're going to be doing a drill once the new phone system is in place, but in the meantime talking about it with colleagues is helping us all come to grips with this new reality.
So, as my colleague said, both the scariest and the most useful faculty meeting ever.
I'll end on one sort of amusing note: A colleague who can be a little bit of a space cadet sometimes suddenly piped up to ask, in all seriousness, if we could all be issued guns that would shoot out a big, weighted net, like she'd seen in movies, that could be used to capture the bad guy. Um, no.
Her comment aside, I was seriously glad that I coincidentally happened to have a therapy appointment immediately afterward!