The events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this past week were truly horrific. During six minutes of gunfire, fourteen students and three faculty members were killed and 15 were wounded. Sadly, active shooter situations are becoming all too common.
As we think about how best to prepare, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting offered some important lessons:
Importance of Planning for Active Shooter Emergencies
Having a plan, practicing the plan and updating the plan are vital to success. Staff at Stoneman Douglas High School had participated in an active shooter drill about a month prior to the shooting. During the aftermath of the shooting teachers interviewed by the media credited advanced planning with saving lives. This is an important reminder to take drills seriously and conduct them regularly. Further, plans are never complete – we must ensure the lessons learned during drills are captured so that the plan, and ultimately our response, can be as effective as possible.
Inclusion of All Staff and Children in Active Shooter Drills
Inclusion of all staff in drills is essential, as it is impossible to predict when and where an emergency will occur and who will be present. This includes part-time and temporary employees. In the case of Stoneman Douglas High School, it was reported that at least two substitute teachers were working when the tragedy occurred. Whether in schools or child care settings, ensuring that temporary help are briefed on the plan is essential. It is also essential that children are included in exercises and drills. In active shooter scenarios, action saves lives – and to prevent paralysis there needs to be a comfort level. Child care providers can appreciate this truth, as it plays out monthly during required fire drills.
How do you ensure that temporary staff, part time staff and new staff know how to prepare for emergencies?
Notifications and Duration during Active Shooter Emergencies
The Florida shooting incident spanned approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes from the shooter arriving on school grounds to being detained by police. During this time, the shooter moved locations frequently, starting outside the school, traveling into the school, then dropping his weapons and exiting the school, traversing through tennis courts and a residential area, relocating to a Walmart, McDonalds, a Subway, and eventually being arrested in a residential area about one mile away from the school.
According to USA Today, 35 minutes passed before the public was warned about the shooter at Marjory Douglas High School. According to Fox News,, the school did not provide an alert to parents until 1 hour and 15 minutes had past.
For individuals in the area around an emergency event, including child care centers and family child care providers, they should consider how they would be notified of an emergency in their neighborhood. If you resided close by to the school, what would you have done when you heard the sirens and helicopters – would you have instinctively locked your doors or would you have poked your head outside to get a closer look? What messages would you send to parents and loved ones during this time?
Communication is Vital and can Save Lives
An active shooter situation is unlike any other emergency event. Time matters and prompt communication can make the difference between life and death. A tremendous amount of attention has been paid to timely communication after the Virginia Tech shooting, with mobile text messaging, email alerts and push notifications becoming an expected standard.
In reviewing the timeline of the Florida shooting, a school staff member heard the first shots and immediately broadcasted a ‘Code Red’ alert over the intercom. While the promptness of the alert was certainly timely – most experts recommend using plain language during active shooter events. Simply put, parents, substitute teachers, and other visitors may not know what a Code Red is – which needlessly puts them in danger. There is no worse outcome in an active shooter event than death – therefore, while it may scare people to say ‘Active Shooter’ over the intercom, the main intent is to provide timely and accurate information in order to save lives.
What You Can Do This Week
1. Review your emergency plan
How would you react if a shooting happened near you? Review your emergency plan to ensure it covers both lockdown and evacuation scenarios. Don’t have a plan? Head over to ChildCarePrepare.org to access free resources to help develop your plan.\
2. Discuss the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School incident with your coworkers
Planning for emergencies takes teamwork. Have a conversation with your coworkers about what you would do during an active shooter event. Identify key tasks that would need to be completed and brainstorm ways to get them accomplished. For family child care providers, who could you count on for assistance during emergencies?
3. Review your surroundings
Part of being prepared is being aware of your surroundings – take some time to identify the main entrances and exits into your building. Which can be barricaded or secured? What locations could be used as a shelter or safe room? Are there measures you can put in place, such as installing a door lock, that would make your building more secure.
4. Review ways to support children after trauma
Children at different ages internalize traumatic events differently. This infographic from Child Care Aware® of America provides age appropriate tips on how to support children after traumatic incidents.