The gun violence in CA over the past days reinforces our collective need to discuss what we can do if we find ourselves faced with such a terrible reality. Research shows young people know that gun violence is a threat to us all, and failing to confront this reality adds to their anxiety. Research also shows that adults tend to project our own feelings of fear, helplessness, and worry onto young people in ways that don’t help them, or us, think through what we can, might, and should do in case of extreme circumstances.
It is heavy to be tasked with preparing for emergencies in school. I know most of us too well; I know some of us are so afraid of the terrible things that happen in our country that we work hard to avoid thinking about them. I know some of us ignore the news so we don’t have to confront reality: floods, fires, shootings—things that are not likely to happen, but for which we still must prepare. I know which of us gets woozy at the sight of blood. This means, when I have to ask students and staff to practice our emergency responses, it is all the more difficult. One thing I’ve learned over my last nine years at PSCS, is that while sharing our emergency plans with students and families might make us anxious, it ultimately helps us all to feel empowered and prepared. Current research and practice supports this.
This morning, PSCS staff held an all-school discussion about our school Emergency Operation Plans. We talked about research and we discussed the current protocol for incidents that may occur (Hold. Secure. Lockdown. Evacuate. Shelter.). We also talked about how the placement of the PSCS front desk is deliberate, as is the Administrative Office. Their locations allow us a clear view out the front door to see who may be coming and what’s happening in the lot. When staff and students gather for community time, we lock the front door. These are simple safety mechanisms that are easy to explain and enumerate how seriously staff take the responsibility for our collective safety. After that, we held a drill, practiced these procedures together, and debriefed our efforts.
Over the years we’ve held many emergency drills and I have watched students relax when they hear about our preparation. Today was no different. Many didn’t know how much we process possible emergencies as a staff, or that we have regular conversations with each other about our roles and responsibilities in emergencies (Incident Command). Almost no one knew the entire PSCS staff are trained yearly or bi-yearly in first aid, CPR, and AED use. We are also each certified in mental health first aid.
“Plans are useless,
but planning is indispensable.”
According to recent reports, .1% of gun violence is homicide and .1% of that .1% is mass shootings. However, even though it is statistically unlikely someone would come into the school with a weapon, we have to prepare. To paraphrase a long dead US president, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” It is true we can never cover all that may happen in an emergency situation, but by working through the plans together, as well as sharing simple measures we all take and can consider, we can help students understand they have an active role in their own safety.
Violence does, obviously, happen in the US—much too often. But statistics reinforce the idea that the risk of being harmed in a mass shooting is very small. It seems more likely that we’d be adjacent to violence or threat directed at someone nearby, or at no one in particular. Today, I appreciate that despite our fears, despite our desire to ignore this kind of violence, students were totally sincere and committed to practicing what we’d do. They recognize they have to think about this sometimes because emergencies are a real possibility in all our lives.
I challenge us all to talk with our family members and coworkers about the gun violence that’s happened this week, and to move the conversation into action. What would we do at school? At home? In any public place? What does research suggest is our best course of action? If we don’t show each other that we can show up for these difficult conversations, how can we expect others to rely on us in the moment? Let’s be honest – and careful – with each other so that if the worst were to happen, we’d know we had all taken part in the effort to prepare.
Puget Sound Community School
Director of School Operations & Registrar
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