The world has changed quite a bit since February 14, 2018, when Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida endured a senseless and tragic school shooting. Unfortunately, we have seen other similar tragedies take place over the past four years, and we have seen communities and families suffer tremendously, over and over again.
As we reflect on the significance of this moment and look to draw wisdom and understanding that will guide us in the coming months and years, there are a few vital lessons that stand out:
1. Prevention is a puzzle
Before every attack in recent history, some combination of people had information that when put together, painted a picture of what the assailant was feeling, thinking, and even planning. Building systems to put these puzzle pieces together is essential to ensuring the right people know this information before any violence occurs. There are examples of when this worked effectively, like the recent arrest of an Embry Riddle student who was allegedly planning an attack - we must learn and build on these examples to ensure more outcomes like this.
2. Preparation is a muscle that we can build in both small and big ways
So often, we prepare for the things that scare us most (the Parkland-sized active shooter events). These moments are critical to prepare for, but the reality is that far more often, there are smaller opportunities to practice and build these skills. For example, if your school has ever been faced with a police chase near your campus, you have likely been asked to initiate a lockdown to keep everyone out of harm’s way. The skills and strategies you use here will be the same strategies that you would use to stay safe in the event of an armed assailant on campus. By building this “lockdown” or “preparation” muscle, you’ve prepared for both the small, relatively impactful moments, as well as the larger, more consequential events.
3. Building community helps support a successful response
In conversations about successfully responding to an active shooter event, we often hear about locking doors, staying out of sight, and other tactics for avoiding danger. But there is a less-often addressed component of success in active shooter response: demonstrating community. As Lorena Sanabria, a remarkable Parkland alumnus, has shared, “teachers are trained to keep us safe, but we were never really trained on how to stay together and how to help others.” Helping students build their connection with one another can pay dividends in those moments of anguish and fear.
These lessons are just a piece of a much larger effort to prevent, prepare for and respond effectively, but they are critically important. Practicing and prioritizing these, alongside the other essential elements like drills, threat assessments, and mental health interventions, can help mitigate and manage emergencies, and ultimately save lives.