On being … a sign of the times

By Ingrid Sapona

Earlier this month one of my sisters attended an “active shooter” seminar at her place of employment. She works at a university and while her school hasn’t had an “active shooter” situation, U.S. campuses certainly seem to be magnets for them.

I was caught by surprise when she casually mentioned attending, then talked about the things she learned. Apparently the recommended procedure is: run, hide, fight. I said I can understand the run and hide part, but the fight idea reminded me of the nonsense Ben Carson said after the Umpqua Community College shooting in early October. (For those who missed the story, in the wake of 11 dead and 7 injured, Carson said he thinks people should have rushed the shooter – after all, “the shooter can only shoot one person at a time”.)

My sister went on to explain a bit more about the things they learned. For example, when you’re running away, run with your hands up so that law enforcement officers don’t shoot you. Jeesh, I thought. While I’m glad she went to the seminar, I can’t believe the university felt there’s a need for it.

Perhaps sensing my disquiet, she mentioned that the run, hide, fight mantra reminds her of stop, drop, roll. When I said I’d never heard that trio, she explained that it’s it’s something they teach school kids if their clothes catch fire. I guess that was after my time, as all we had were fire drills.

We then “reminisced” about air raid drills from when we were growing up. I vividly remember hearing the simulated siren sound over the PA system and then all of us crawling under our desk and covering our heads with our arms. She too remembered that, and the fact that the motion was referred to as “duck and cover”. 

Back then, I knew the air raid drills were meant to protect us in case of a nuclear attack. But, I also remember doubting how ducking and covering my head would offer much protection from the plume of a mushroom cloud. Indeed, my most vivid recollection about those drills was the fear it instilled in me about how dangerous the world must be.

After my sister and I got off the phone, I couldn’t help feeling despair that everyday folks are being trained about what to do in an active shooter situation. I wondered if soon elementary school kids in the U.S. will start learning the run, hide, fight mantra. Wouldn’t surprise me, really. After all, maybe such training isn’t really any more traumatizing than duck and cover drills.

Though that thought may not be welcome, I find it comforting in a way. I guess because looking at it that way gives me a bit of perspective. It reminds me that people wanting to cause others harm is nothing new – just the ways they can go about it change. Maybe learning mantras like “duck and cover”, “stop, drop, roll”, or “run, hide, fight” is just a coping mechanism that people use – a way of feeling empowered in the face of fear.

The conversation my sister and I had about the active shooter training happened a couple weeks before the attack in Paris. In the days that followed that event, I watched with admiration how people did their best to take back their city and the café society they cherish. I’m sure many Parisians have adopted their own coping mechanisms, perhaps they make a point of noting the closest exit when they are in a restaurant, the Metro, and so on. But, they clearly also realize that if they surrender their lifestyle, terrorists win.

And, as the city of Brussels went into near lock down in the aftermath of the Paris attack, another coping mechanism surfaced: social media. Apparently, as Belgian authorities were moving about, conducting raids and what have you, some folks took to social media with news about what was going on in their neighborhoods. The police then publicly asked people to stop commenting on what was going on because such information could be used by the suspects.

Soon after the police request, on the hashtag people had been using to report the police activities they were observing, people startedposting humorous pictures of cats. According to the Associated Press, people posted photos of cats in all kinds of situations, including holding their hands up, posing as police snipers, and even blatantly ignoring police warnings to stay away from windows. The next day, after completing 22 raids, the police acknowledged the cooperation by posting a picture on social media of cat food with the message: “For cats who helped us last night … Help Yourself!”

Though it certainly seems to me that the world is a scarier place than it used to be, I realize there has always been – and there likely always will be – things to fear. In this light, I guess active shooter training is just a sign of the times.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


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