Waffle House Shooting: What Child Care Providers Can Learn from a Tragedy

Around 3:30 a.m. on Sunday (April 22, 2018) in Antioch, Tennessee a 29-year-old man opened fire at a Waffle House restaurant, killing four individuals, including three customers. The incident provides us with a few important lessons:

Have a plan for prolonged incidents

The Waffle House shooter remained at large, in the community, for nearly 34 hours, despite the nearly 160 law enforcement professionals searching for him. For child care programs, there are two critical lessons to note.

First, be sure you are signed up to receive emergency notifications. Many city and county emergency management agencies have systems in place designed to alert the public in the event of an emergency. Often this is done through email or text messaging. If your local emergency management agency does not offer this service, check with your local school district to see if they have an alert system and would consider adding you. If alert systems are not an option in your area, enlist the help of parents. Oftentimes, parents have easy access to radio and internet, and can keep tabs on local news and happenings. Ask parents to serve as an alert system and notify you if there is an emergent situation.

Second, develop and practice a plan for these types of situations, as security is of the utmost importance. Your child care program should have an emergency plan in place that addresses a variety of crisis situations in the neighborhood and surrounding area. In many cases this will be your lockdown plan. Key safety elements include implementing procedures to ensure doors remain locked and requesting children stay inside, only allowing “authorized” adults to pick them up. Just as important, parents should be reminded to avoid allowing others to ‘tailgate’ and follow them into the child care program.

Action saves lives

As we examine active shooter incidents over the past 20 years, we see a distinct pattern: Individuals who act have better survival rates. From barricading doors, to confronting the shooter, to running away from the threat; all are effective ways to take action.

Successfully barricading doors to prevent individuals from entering your space can be a very efficient tool, especially for classrooms and family child care settings with infants and young children. However, just like anything, practice makes perfect. Learning how to effectively barricade doors must be an action that is practiced well before an incident occurs. Take a look at the video below where we explored some barricading options for infant and toddler rooms at Small Wonders Child Care Program in Wichita, Kansas.

There are times when no other options exist but to confront the shooter. This can be because a barricade failed, or simply not having time to react to the threat until it’s upon us. This was the case in the Waffle House Shooting. Through the actions of one of the customers, James Shaw Jr., lives were saved. Shaw seized the opportunity to disarm the shooter when the gun either became jammed or needed to be reloaded. He stripped away the shooter’s rifle and was able to push it out of reach. Shaw’s actions undoubtedly saved lives.  “‘I have to go now because if I don’t go now then I’m not going to have another window of opportunity’,” Shaw said. “I figured if I was going to die, he was going to have to work for it.”

Active shooter incidents are a new and uncomfortable topic for all. However, child care providers are now being tasked with planning for this emerging threat just as schools, churches and businesses are. We can all agree it’s important to teach children how to remain safe during earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, floods and other disasters – now it’s time we begin ensuring children remain safe from outside threats such as active shooter incidents.


Child Care Aware of America

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