Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ramblings of a Overly Worried Mom

So, many of you know that work for a large urban school district. Many of you probably don't know that I serve as the Incident Commander for my district in the event of any emergency. Essentially, if something happens in a school, I'm responsible for leading my district response team.

I was out at one of the high schools I oversee today doing one of my normal visits -- checking to make sure outside doors are locked, emergency "go kits" are in each classroom, and all safety drills have been conducted as required ... you know, "normal stuff".

I guess it's so not normal, is it?

I reread my last post and noticed how sarcastic I was about how good this generation of young kids has got it. But then, there are things they have now that we couldn't have even IMAGINED in my days.

Sure, we all did fire drills and tornado drills ... and even the occasional earthquake drill just for fun. But lockdown drills in case of a shooter in the building? Whaaaaa?

I was at Walnut Hills High School (Go Nuts!) at around lunch time.

Wait ... let me give you some back story on Walnut Hills. Yes, they are an inner-city high school. In fact, they are smack in the heart of da hood. But, they are NUMBER 34 in the country of public high schools (number one in Ohio). That's right. This inner-city, poor neighborhood high school performs better than the ritziest high schools in the country! All students are required to take two years of Latin (explains all those Merit Scholarship Winners, doesn't it?), and the average student has between ten and fifteen AP class credits when they enter college -- in other words, they enter at sophomore standing or higher.

People from all over Cincinnati pay out-of-district tuition send their children to Walnut Hills. It's that good. And it makes the school very diverse -- from homeless children to children of CEOs go to Walnut Hills.

As I was watching the massive waves of students ebb in and out of the lunchroom, I didn't enjoy the amusing chatter about the basketball game that night ... or the cute couple holding hands by the water fountain ... or the two girls giggling over sharing a song on an iPod.

My mind was running at a mile a minute -- how would I get these kids to a safe place if something happened? Where is the closest emergency exit? Where was the "go kit" for the lunchroom? Which students were the most vulnerable? And what could I do to prevent any students from harm?

The sad truth is, there's not much I can do by myself. Everyone needs to look out for each other and themselves.

Back in October, we did a full-scale active shooter drill. We had a mock shooter (actually it ended up being two shooters)come into one of our elementary schools and pretend to shoot staff and students. We had SWAT, EMS, FBI, media, and all kinds of people all there playing along as students, parents or staff. As Incident Commander, I had to lead our team and make some pretty tough calls -- telling the principal to leave the building for the reunification site knowing that she had staff and students "down", dealing with "parents" who were trying to break through police perimeters to get to the school where the "shooting" had occurred, media helicopters trying to get pictures.

The whole things took about 4 hours from the time of the shooter entering the building, the time the police had neutralized the shooter, and all students had been evacuated to a near-by school and had been unified with their parents.

I can tell you that I think we did pretty well. In our after-incident report, the SWAT and FBI kept saying how well we did and how much better prepared we are then other districts. Still, in our district command vehicle, we would follow the school camera and watch as the shooters went through the building and "shot" students. We found some big weaknesses, like teachers not locking their doors and the shooter getting in that way to "kill" a student, or the teacher who opened the door when the shooter knocked on it ... and then "killed" her.

We lost four students and a teacher in the drill. And, I've got to be honest, it hit me harder than I thought it would. Though the whole event, I kept reminding myself that it is only a drill, but it still was heart-racing. They made us talk to Red Cross counselors after the event, and I think that really helped me. I mean, it was SO REAL -- they had the "dead" and "injured" students in full make-up so that they looked dead or shot or wounded.

I just kept thinking what if this was my boy's school -- I'd be one of those parents trying to get in, not sitting in this command center giving directions!

I don't even know why I am writing this post. I'm probably scaring you all more than anything else. I guess I'm writing partly to help me get this out and deal with it as a drill and not a real event ... because it still feels real.

But I think the main thing I want to get out is for all of you to go and ask your school if they are prepared for emergencies at your school like an active shooter. Ask them if they have done training, drills, exercises, etc. We had trained, and trained, and TRAINED the staff in this particular school in what to do, and we still had people not follow training today ... and people "died" because of it.

The feedback we had from the staff of the school after our drill was that they didn't really get how important the training was before; they needed to go through a scenario to really get it. I know I got it now ... I hope they did, too.

1 comment:

Nicole O'Dell said...

Wow, that makes it so real! Thanks for sharing that story. I forget how things are these days...sigh.