In 1999, I didn't know I was going to be a teacher, not really. I went to school for it, sure, graduated, but that was as far as I got. Columbine was, for me and for many people, the first school shooting significant to people my age, many of whom were not yet regularly and/or deeply touched by what school shootings did to schools, what it did to people who wanted to protect students.
Even though I never bought the hype that the two boys were bullied, or that this was a revenge plot, I also never researched to back my suspicions. It was only, perhaps, five years ago, that I read Dave Cullen's book on the topic, and I found it riveting and sad, mainly because it's scary to me, now looking back, at how long this level of planning and plotting went on with no one able to connect the dots. These days, we have instances where there are even more connected dots, and sometimes it can be stopped in time, and sometimes, well, nothing can stop intent.
At my new job, another high school where I am one of a few testing coordinators, all staff are required to undergo active shooter training called ALICE:
For right now, all I need to say is that you are not required to do these things in this order, and you are expected to use the concepts as tools based on the individual situation you are in.
The training we underwent was part online, part live classroom. During the online part, which had to be done first, I went back through my memories of school shootings, looking for, eerily, audio and video of security footage and 911 calls. I felt like this was something you should do, even if it's creepy and sad and scary. You should try to look past the shock of what you're looking at and understand that now you need to look for the patterns. At least, if you're planning to work in a place where shootings are likely to happen. Even though schools are not where the highest percentage of mass shootings take place in the US, it doesn't matter. We don't see it the way it is; we see it how it feels.
During the introduction to the classroom part of training, we watched and listened to a few instances from when "shelter in place" was the standard response for an active shooter in a school. I won't go into the video from inside a classroom at The American School of Northeast in New Mexico; you can look that one up yourself. But we all know the Columbine 911 call from the library. All the teacher could do was scream at the kids to get under tables. You can hear the shooters enter the library and yell at kids to get up, get out from under where they were hiding so that, I assume, they could then be shot. Afterward, the trainers show us a map of the school, where the library was, and how close the exits were to where all those kids felt cornered. It is in that moment that it hits me: we are being forced to stop hiding and act, when we can. They showed other clips too, from an airport luggage claim area and a shopping center. In all of the situations, most people that couldn't get away from the shooter curled up and hid. They also showed us an animation of the shooter's pattern at Virginia Tech, and it was clear that the rooms with no barricade had the highest fatalities, those that escaped had the fewest, and that those with barricades were able to minimize loss, to a point.
Of all the parts of ALICE training, Counter is the only step, IMHO, that needs to be explained. We were told that Evacuation should be the primary response, if it can be done. If not, then you barricade (Lockdown), but you don't just sit and hide. Counter is any attempt to throw the shooter's sight off, once the shooter makes it through a barricade. Loud noises, throwing things, shoving furniture at the shooter, are all ways we could increase our chances to survive. They modeled this for us with a high capacity Nerf gun and an air horn, blasted each time a shot is fired, since gunshot simulations in a school are obviously a no-go. To illustrate the difference, they had us first hide under desks, then barricade without Counter, then Counter. After each simulation, we would talk about what was different, how successful each response was, and how many people were hit each time. It was surreal but also helpful. It hadn't occurred to me that not only was it without our power to take a different approach to a situation, but also that the former methods just were not working anymore. Even if school shootings, and mass shootings in general, weren't on the rise, which they are, I feel like the weaponry types and access to weapons has forced us to switch from cowering to fighting. It also struck me that people are generally going to be more comfortable hiding than risk injury or death by fighting back. It makes perfect sense, mind you, but I think that, with issues like this and others in today's America, we may have to consider that we have to take different risks to survive, to literally survive, the environment in which we find ourselves.
After talking with some teacher friends of mine in other areas of the country, I realized how behind the times our district is in this shift. Other states and districts have implemented training of this type in response to either national or local events. My time as a teacher in Maryland came long after the DC Sniper shootings that did, for a time, bring the concern to the front. While I was in DC, at an alternative charter high school where many of the students already had felony weapons charges or illegally owned firearms, this sort of training was not yet mandated. All that said, I am thankful that we are having it now, and I hope to see more training like this, even if it is traumatic, because it would seem to save lives in ways we can control, until more can be done to curtail what people do with their guns.