Are We Prepared for a School Shooting?

By Matan Levine-Janach

Teachers rush students into the nearest classrooms. They lock the doors, shut the blinds and turn off the lights. Students sit against walls or behind desks, silently waiting for the “all clear” signal.

This is the scene of a lockdown drill, a procedure that prepares students and faculty to stay safe in an emergency involving violence. Lockdown drills have become a common occurrence for many students across the country in response to a long-term trend of school shootings beginning with the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. This year alone, there have been 45 school shootings in the United States, as of October 1. And yet, at Elisabeth Irwin High School, current students have never experienced a lockdown drill.

With the recent shootings in Texas, Oregon and Arizona, the lack of lockdown drills at Elisabeth Irwin High School in past years has called into question community preparedness for such an emergency.

“[In an emergency], I think I would just become paralyzed with fear,” said E Jeremijenko-Conley, a senior at Elisabeth Irwin High School. “I haven’t done any of the drills, so I don’t feel like it’s muscle memory, [which] would allow me to conquer that fear.”

School officials were unable to pinpoint the exact timing of the last lockdown drill.

“I don’t recall there being a lockdown drill,” said Micah Dov Gottlieb, the high school principal. “[It was] certainly more than 5 years ago, probably more than 10, if there was one at all.”

Despite the lack of lockdown drills, Elisabeth Irwin High School does have specific precautions set in place that increase building security, as well as measures that would allow for a lockdown to take place. Some of these measures include video cameras at reception, an advanced ID system which verifies who is in the building at all times and a newly installed PA system. Even with these various precautions, there are still doubts about our preparedness for an emergency involving violence.

“The first precinct is fairly close by and there’s a number of methods for calling for police support,” said Gottlieb, “but certainly we have a lot of glass and I think that presents a challenge, like certainly at the front [of the school].”

Students have also expressed worries about the safety measures taken at Elisabeth Irwin High School, as well as the overall security of the building.

“[The ID system] is a good security system, but what if the shooter breaks down the glass or has an object with them?” said Kate Goodman, a sophomore at Elisabeth Irwin High School. “It’s only really good if the shooter is not trying to get into the building that hard.” At least 3 other students echoed this sentiment.

Given the increasing awareness of the risk posed by school shootings, administrators at Elisabeth Irwin High School are looking for ways in which to improve security. Some of these new measures include a PA system that could be used in a potential lockdown and a full replacement of the door locks in every classroom. Furthermore, administrators are discussing the possibility of a lockdown drill that would demonstrate for students the steps that should be taken in an emergency. Although administrators have not reached a final decision, two lockdowns, one with notice and one without notice, would be ideal, says Sarvjit Singh Moonga, the vice principal at Elisabeth Irwin High School.

“Someone like Phil will contact the parents and make sure that [the lockdown] is not scarier than it should be, that it is a drill and that it’s necessary to do nowadays,” said Moonga, adding that much more detail and instruction will be relayed to the school community in the lead-up to such a drill.

Ultimately, while students should be aware of the steps necessary during the event of a school shooting, such an emergency is exceedingly difficult to prepare for and there is no simple solution.

“You’re never going to be prepared for something like that,” said Gottlieb. “It’s always going to take you by surprise, you’re never going to expect it. I think one of the things that has been shown again and again is that even in schools in environments where they feel like they’re really prepared, every time it happens, it’s a surprise because nobody expects it to happen to them.”

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