The Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, marked the sixth school shooting resulting in injury this year. At the close of the day, there were 17 killed, 14 wounded and a nation left dumbfounded yet again by how something so horrific could happen within the walls of a school.
These types of incidents tend to have a ripple effect. Following this shooting, as with many others, the idea of gun control and preparedness for situations involving active threats come to the table. In the case of Parkland, the students of the high school have been active participants in the discourse about school safety. From confronting pro-NRA advocates at a CNN town hall to traveling to the state capitol to speak with lawmakers about firearm regulation in the state, Parkland students have become active participants in the move to make school environments safer.
The disaster at hand doesn’t just work to impact those directly impacted by the shooting. Like massacres that occurred in similar environments (Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and Columbine), these tragedies have worked to inspire change. The more common these events become, the more changes are enacted, despite the continued sentiment that “thoughts and prayers” are enough.
These shifts in actions and behaviors can be observed not only on UM campuses but also in the Columbia Public School District. Jennifer Rukstad, acting principal of Rock Bridge High School, spoke to how lockdown drills have changed over the years. “We used to do straight-up lockdown drills where it is assumed the intruder is inside,” Rukstad says. “Prior to adopting ALICE, you just locked down your classrooms, turned off the lights and hid. That’s not our protocol anymore.”
Columbia Public Schools now practice a variety of lockdown drills, all dependent on the situation at hand. At Rock Bridge, they have procedures in place for situations ranging from the threat of an exterior disturbance to an interior threat. On average, as stated by Rukstad, Rock Bridge will practice around 10 drills a school year, including those for other emergencies such as incidents related to a fire or the weather.
Being prepared for a variety of active threat situations is vital, as affirmed by Maj. Brian Weimer, an operations director for MUPD. When it comes to handling emergency situations such as these, Weimer stated that due to the variety of possible emergencies, it is important to know how to come up with a plan on the spot. “It would all depend on your situation,” Weimer says. “It depends on where you’re located at, where the attacker is and those kind of things.”
Regardless of the situation, there is a sentiment confirmed by both Rukstad and Weimer: if possible, remove yourself from the area as quickly as possible. “There’s been a lot of research done since Columbine,” Rukstad says. “At that time and after that time, the idea was that in the situation, you want to hide. But that’s really, by the ALICE idea, not as effective as moving. Getting away is certainly plan one.” ALICE, a training program operated at institutions in all 50 states, is an acronym that encourages safe and efficient responses to active threat situations: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
“Obviously, if possible, get away from the threat,” Weimer says. “If not, try to put measures in place to prevent the individual from getting to you. The last resort is that you might have to fight for your life.”