I looked down at my right arm as blood oozed through my gray sweater. My arm was stinging and tears sprang to my eyes. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Other people, I figured, would be the targets. Why me?
(Doesn’t everybody think that, of course? Few think, “Why not me?”)
The bullets, in this case, were just plastic pellets, but ouch!!
I was wearing a bright orange vest indicating that I was an observer, not a participant, but when the “gunman” burst into the darkened room it was difficult for him to see, so I was his first target. Of course, that makes sense; I was the one who poked my head up so I could see what was happening as I huddled in a corner with fellow participants. That’s what you get for being a journalist.
A bit of explanation: In January my photographer and I visited the town of Likely (yes, it’s Likely) to attend a training for a worst-case scenario of what to do if a shooter is on campus. School employees, administrators and law enforcement agents from rural Modoc County gathered in an empty school building for the second day of a two-day workshop by the ALICE training organization, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The armed intruder, in this case, was a retired cop who works for the organization.
The training reflects the new recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education for keeping students safe, known as “Run, Hide, Fight.” The new guidelines ask educators to take a more assertive role in trying to survive the unlikely event of a campus shooter, such as throwing chairs and staplers at an intruder or turning a fire extinguisher on an attacker. Or instead of locking down an entire school, evacuating students from areas where the shooter is not present.
It’s sad, but to me it makes perfect sense to offer this type of training in this day and age. Yes, the chances of an armed intruder on campus are not likely, but it’s a crazy world. In Modoc, just a year ago, a student threatened to shoot up a classroom full of kids, and was arrested while holding a knife on his parents and loading a rifle.
I have to admit, it was creepy and pretty scary to be waiting in a classroom for an attack before the “scenarios” or drills. Even creepier: Everyone wore black protective masks during the simulated attacks.
“Hello, hello, I know you’re in there,” shouted the attacker in a taunting voice that seemed real enough to send chills down my spine, right before I was shot.
For this exercise, participants were told to huddle in a corner and wait to be rescued, which is standard protocol in many districts but in my view, often ineffective, based on what happened 15 years ago in Columbine High School or last year in Sandy Hook Elementary. When we huddled in a corner and the intruder burst in, there were numerous causalities besides me.
In the scenarios that followed, participants took action based on what they learned in the training. They built barricades from classroom furniture and anything they could find. They climbed out windows. And as a last resort when there were no other options, they stood on both sides of the door and rushed the intruder from the sides as he entered the classroom, actually knocking the gun from his hand. In these scenarios, very few participants were shot.
Would it work in real life?
Nobody knows. These tactics have never really been tested.
Most attending the workshop said they felt empowered in the moment, but had no idea whether it would really work – especially with 30 students in a classroom.
Which brings us to the next question: How brave are most people?
I like to think I’m someone who would pull a person from a burning car, jump in the ocean to save someone from an undertow or fight back against an attacker. However, like most people, I have never been put to the test. I have no idea what I’d do when put in a life or death situation. Some people operate on adrenalin and react quickly; others go into shock and freeze.
As the ALICE folks bandaged my wound, I decided it never hurts to be prepared for a worst-case scenario. Huddling in a corner waiting to be rescued doesn’t work. And I have a tiny scar on my arm to prove it.
As we left and drove three hours back to the Redding Airport, the radio started playing Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People. The hit song has a catchy beat and seems cute until you listen to the lyrics.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my gun.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run faster than my bullet.
It was the perfect creepy ending to a creepy but interesting day.