Please provide your thoughts on how you could affect preparedness in your community.
Read the newspaper on any given day, and you will read about a crisis or emergency of some kind. It is not a matter of if an individual will be affected someday, but when they will be affected. The news on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 reported a shooter entering a classroom and opening fire at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, killing two students and injuring four more. We hear stories like this so often that it is easy to become numb to them. This time was different, because it occurred very close to home, and I know people who attend the school. The community was shocked, aware that the victims might be our friends or family members. Several emotions took hold, such as anxiety, anger, and sadness.
The situation was a reality check related to the dangers that surround us all. According to a May 20th tally on www.gunviolencearchive.org, there have been 137 mass shootings across the United States since the beginning of 2019. In those shootings, 143 people have been killed and 515 have been wounded. As citizens continue to pray for victims and the government argues about gun control, one thing is certain, the threat is not going away any time soon. It is vitally important for us to be prepared for these situations, as it can be the difference between life and death.
After the deadly Parkland, FL shooting in February 2018, a group of student activists set an example that raised my awareness and inspired me. As a high school senior who will be attending Roanoke College this fall, I have an opportunity as a citizen and student to work within my community, with peers, leaders, law enforcement and first responders to increase awareness, bolster preparedness and minimize chaos and confusion during a potential shooting. I have seen many efforts to prevent school shootings over the past several years, such as locked entrance doors, photo identification badges, active-shooter drills, and active school resource officers, but there is still more we can do. I will proactively organize my community in activities that positively impact our preparedness. My method consists of two main elements of preparedness: Awareness/Prevention, and Exercises/Training.
Awareness and Prevention
Whenever a school shooting occurs, there is an immediate flurry of activity. Right after the incident, there is a great deal of media coverage, opinions posted on social media, and activists seizing widespread attention. Very soon, however, the activity dies down. I think that it is possible and necessary for preparedness to keep discussions going, and to keep awareness alive. As we work to seek ways to prevent tragedies, we are also preparing ourselves for them. One means of preventing violent acts by high risk individuals is through simple and consistent kindness to all. Kindness in our communities is important and underestimated. Whereas negative words, bullying, and exclusion can create anger and poor self-esteem among high risk people, respect and positive words in person and social media can have the opposite affect and mitigate the risk of violent and fatal decisions. Already, I have co-founded the ‘Unity Club’ in my high school, focusing on social issues, inclusion, and anti-bullying. In much the same way, I can mobilize my college community to try to understand the emotional angst that many other young adults endure, and act to help people realize that they are not alone. By leveraging a similar student-based organization with the existing faculty and staff, I can establish and raise awareness of campus programs designed to reduce and confront bullying.
Students and teachers should also be alert, aware of surroundings, and report suspicious activity or unusual behavior. My future college campus Safety Services has a “Be Aware of Warning Signs” section on their website, along with an anonymous suspicious behavior reporting form. I will ensure this is highlighted as part of my awareness campaign. Sometimes intuition gives a feeling that something is just not right. It may be as simple as a verbal statement, facial expression, or concealed identity. Students and teachers should be educated on what to look for and encouraged to report if something seems awry. It is better to be vocal and mistaken than to live (or die) with the silent knowledge that a tragedy could have been prevented.
Organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sandy Hook Promise, Disaster Recovery Institute (DRI) International, and others have assembled an abundance of resources and preparedness information. FEMA’s website features a preparedness video that teaches the principles of “Run, Hide, Fight.” The Sandy Hook Promise Foundation offers a free prevention program called “Know the Signs of Violence” that educates teachers and students about dangerous behavioral signs. DRI offers an inclusive, free Active Shooter and Mass Casualty video online. Utilizing my student-based organization, I can create awareness programs that connect students, faculty and staff to these existing programs and resources. In addition, I plan to get out into the general community off campus to ensure the same. As a requirement for Roanoke College and a desire to serve, I will be volunteering in the town. I would like to continue to serve children by connecting with local schools in the area, asking them what they are doing to prepare for these types of disasters and encouraging them to use the many resources available.
Finally, I can personally advocate for common sense gun control and vote for representatives who are committed to preventing violence. I have turned 18 this year and am able to exercise my right to vote. I have a voice to support candidates in state and federal government who can influence common sense gun laws. I support the second amendment yet have concerns about the types of weapons that are readily available and easily accessible. I plan to take my right to vote seriously and encourage my peers to do the same.
Exercises and Training
In preparation for this essay, I interviewed my School Resource Officer, Johnathan Hurt, who is also a U.S. Army veteran and High Point, NC police officer. During our interview, I learned that schools in my county must perform fire drills once a month, but lock down drills are only required once or twice a year. Officer Hurt pointed out that this wasn’t an appropriate ratio and that more and better exercises should be performed. He asked me when the last time I heard about a school burning down was and I told him never. He explained that there is an average of between one and two school shootings per week in the United States, which is a much higher incidence rate than that of a school fire.
Officer Hurt has also observed that oftentimes students and teachers don’t take lockdown drills seriously. He led me to believe that schools can be much better prepared for a crisis. First, we must make lockdown drills and active shooter exercises more prevalent in all schools and then make sure that the exercises command a serious tone. One principle that Officer Hurt mentioned to me that would be useful in these exercises is a process called the OODA Loop. This stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, then Act. More formal use of this method in action can be taught to people of all ages, especially at school and in the workplace. Having a plan and rehearsing what to do during a shooting will better prepare people for the way a gunman may attack and enable a better chance of survival.
Law enforcement personnel are trained experts on active shooter and mass casualty scenarios. It is very important to understand their role and expectations during an event. I can explore options through Safety Services at my college to organize informational seminars and “get to know” sessions with local police. One strategy would be to talk and walk with law enforcement through their expectations of students during an exercise or event. As a student leader, I can inform and encourage my peers to take training seriously, and to partner with law enforcement.
By keeping discussions alive and by living the principles of awareness and prevention, I can play a key role in reducing hazards and mitigating risks. By partnering with law enforcement, understanding crisis plans, and taking exercises and training seriously, we can better respond to an event in an organized, safe manner, ultimately averting needless death.