School shootings have become commonplace. According to k12ssdb.org, there have been 196 shootings at schools so far this year with 149 victims (fatal or wounded).
We’re just weeks away from the start of a new school year. Some schools already have started. This is not your average back-to-school safety tip list that many police agencies put out, including lists that I distributed to both the grade schools and high school in Riverside when I was chief.
However, this is something we need to talk about. Not to frighten, but to inform. While we cannot predict a tragedy such as a school shooting, we must be prepared to make decisions that will keep students, staff and visitors safe. The following information is what I believe will increase safety for students and staff, but also may very well save lives.
If a school shooting happens, run. If you can get out of the building safely, do it. Remember, you are the priority, not your stuff. Dump everything and run. Once you’re safe, call 911 and give them as much information as possible.
Hide. If you cannot escape the scene safely, the second-best option is to hide. The best spots would be areas with thick walls and no windows. If there are windows, lower the window coverings. Lock the doors and barricade the doors with chains, chairs or anything you can. Turn off the lights and your electrical devices, such as your phone, which you should have on vibrate. If you are outside the school, find a building that can act as a shelter. Remain where you are until you are told by law enforcement that everything is safe.
Fight. This should be used only in the event you cannot run or hide and are in severe danger. Physical aggression toward the shooter is the last line of defense. I suggest you use any item to defend yourself – chairs, fire extinguishers, backpacks or any item in the room. Call 911 when safe to do so.
When law enforcement arrives, it’s critical to follow their instructions and hold your hands up so they can always see them. Do not make any sudden movements toward the officer. Do not stop the officer to ask for instructions. Exit the building and follow the instructions you’re given.
Once you’re in a safe location, police or investigators may ask you the following: site of the active shooter, the number of shooters, if more than one, the physical description of the shooter, the number and type of weapons held by the shooter and the number of potential victims you may have seen and their location.
What can we do to avoid a tragic shooting situation? Always be aware of your surroundings. Report any suspicious activity, people or mention of gun violence immediately to your parents, teacher or the police. If someone you know is struggling, don’t be afraid to contact them and put them in contact with an adult. Even if you’re unsure, saying something is better than doing nothing.
Training is an integral part to how first responders act in response to a school shooting. Police and fire agencies throughout the country have lockdown and active shooter drills. They train with neighboring police agencies, fire departments and paramedics as most likely no single police agency will be responding to a school shooting.
I never thought I would have to write a column about protocol for staying safe in the event of a school shooting. Unfortunately, they are not as rare as they once were. I believe it’s crucial to educate and remind the school community, students, staff and visitors about how to keep as safe as possible should such a traumatic and life-changing event occur.
- Tom Weitzel was chief of the Riverside Police Department. Follow him @chiefweitzel.