Active Shooter Drills: The New Duck and Cover

When these drills are conducted, the kindergarteners are just terrified.

Here’s everything you need to know about our warped American gun culture: When looking up statistics for the number of mass shootings in this country, I was actually relieved to discover that, according to this report in Statista, since 1982, these atrocities have only occurred in 38 states (plus Washington DC). We’re still horrified by these events, but we’re also becoming habituated to them.

Of course, Statista goes on to clarify that they’re only counting those shootings that were reported. They also note that, “since 2013, the source defines a mass shooting as any single attack in a public place with three or more fatalities, in line with the definition by the FBI. Before 2013, a mass shooting was defined as any single attack in a public place with four or more fatalities.” So the numbers are probably a bit low. Great.

They also point out that, of the 137 incidents considered, 13 of the worst mass shootings in the United States have occurred since 2015. The vast majority of the shooters in these incidents were white males, and since 2000, police have intercepted 351 active shooter incidents in the U.S. Until we call these events what they are, domestic terrorism, they’ll never be taken seriously by this government. But this government is hesitant to call white males terrorists. Or rapists. Or anything else, for that matter.

When I was in public school in the late 70’s, early 80’s, one time, one time, someone brought a knife into a classroom. It was a huge scandal. The kid didn’t even use it, and he wasn’t even in any of my classes, but it took me months to feel safe again after that. It just didn’t occur to anyone at the time to bring weapons onto school grounds. Well, except for that kid. He’s probably the CEO of some major corporation now.

Little did I know that those were the salad days of public education. I fell in the sweet spot between duck and cover and active shooter drills. I was never made to crawl under my desk in anticipation of nuclear annihilation or bloody death. Not once.

Nowadays, kids are subjected to those active shooter drills along with their totally whitewashed and historically inaccurate lessons. I often wonder how that is fundamentally changing this generation’s perspective. It’s sad to contemplate. My research on the topic broadened my worldview to the extent that it is resulting in three posts, of which this is the first.

According to this article, as of 2017, 95 percent of all public schools conduct active shooter drills. They can be as mild as just going through the motions of turning off lights and locking doors to the extreme of playing gunshot sounds over the loudspeakers while actors dressed as gunmen roam the halls. I don’t know about you, but that extreme end would seriously freak me out, and I’m 57. I can’t imagine how a 7-year-old would handle it. A kindergarten teacher told me recently that when these drills are conducted, she tries to keep the students calm, but they’re just terrified.

The article goes on to describe a study that was conducted by Georgia Tech regarding active shooter drills. Just by comparing the social media texts of community members from 90 days before a drill to 90 days after, they concluded that there is a 42 percent spike in anxiety and a 39 percent increase in depression for months afterward, and not just in the students. The teachers and parents were similarly impacted.

Frankly, I’m of the opinion that drills, as we Americans conduct them, don’t actually prepare you for any catastrophic event. They don’t empower you. Our drills teach fear and panic. When the stuff hits the fan, if you’ve been living in a state of constant, low-grade fear as politicians make us do, all bets are off. You get primal. And quite often you make poor decisions. Now, throw hundreds of small children into that mix, and you have chaos. I’ll be offering suggestions as to how to improve these drills in my third post.

But these drills, in their current format and cultural context, are nothing other than safety theater. They allow bureaucrats to give the impression that they’re doing something, when, if they really wanted to do something, they’d be advocating against weaponry, beefing up security, and insisting upon more mental health professionals on staff. Instead, we want to look like we’re doing something, so we do something. Not the right thing. Not the reasonable thing. Not the thing that makes an actual difference. But, hey, we are doing something.

While wondering about the psychological effects of active shooter drills, I began to think about the duck and cover drills that, thank God, had just stopped being commonplace a year or two before I went to school. I really feel sorry for those who had to experience them. I probably would have been that child who said, “Why do you think our desk will protect us from a bomb? How stupid is that?” And then I would have done what I was told, because I may have had a big mouth, but I was still a good kid.

I happen to be a member of a Facebook group that is mostly comprised of women from the duck and cover era, so I decided, out of curiosity, to ask them what their experience was like. I did this a about a year ago. I don’t know why it took me so long to write this blog post. Perhaps I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of insight I would gain from these women. (I had good intentions of getting this done. I lugged about 150 printed out pages of their comments back and forth to work for months. My backpack is so heavy that it triggers my car to insist on a passenger side seat belt, such is the weight of my unfinished projects.)

My post to that group said the following: “I am just young enough to have missed those cold war bomb drills that children used to have to do. You know. Duck and cover, because your desk will save you. (Sheesh.) I was wondering how many of you remember doing that. What did you think as a child? Do you think it changed the way you view the world? Was there common knowledge that these drills were an insane waste of time back then, or was there a general buy-in of this concept?

Those questions must have hit a nerve, because I got 400 replies. I wasn’t expecting that. No two people are the same, so naturally there were a variety of ways that these kids processed the duck and cover experience.

I’d say that about 55 percent were either bored silly by these drills, thinking of it as a nice break from math class, and/or too clued in to think that duck and cover would do any good at all. At the other end of the spectrum, about 30 percent were seriously freaked out by the process. (I’m quite sure I would have been in this group, even if I had been clued in.) The rest seemed to have been confused by it all, and since the adults around them weren’t telling them anything rational or understandable or true, they didn’t know what to think. That’s a really unpleasant state for a child to be in.

The 50’s and 60’s were a high stakes time to be a kid in America. Most of that generation had no expectations of living to adulthood. During the cold war, the brinkmanship displayed made them feel like the inmates were running the asylum. And when they heard about Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the table, the kind of thing that really gets a child’s attention, that provided them with all the confirmation they needed that the adults in charge were crazy. (The shoe incident made such an impression on me, a decade after the fact, that to this day I could swear I’d seen footage of it, but no such footage exists. Isn’t that strange?)

That generation’s anxiety reached its peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many of children concluded that the Russians hated them personally and wanted to kill them, but they didn’t understand why. They came by their reactions honestly. Here is some of the propaganda of the era that they were treated to every single day:

These kids also bore witness to the assassinations of Martin Luther King and both Kennedys. And, lest we forget, many of these children were growing up in the south and dealing with the KKK, segregation, and an utter lack of human rights as well, so they felt more anxiety from terrorists within the country than they did from communists a half a world away.

What follows are several points that the amazing women in my Facebook group proffered for your consideration. I’ll paraphrase the comments and avoid specifics so that I don’t have to track people down to get permission to quote them. (Sorry, ladies.)

Duck and Cover Drills came in a variety of forms. As the name implies, many students had to crawl under their desks with their hands protecting their necks and/or the backs of their heads. Others were ushered into hallways to hunker down in rows, facing the walls or the banks of lockers. Some went down into the creepy, dirty basements of their schools. One woman reported that her class had to walk single file, with the teacher at the head, and she’d drop them off at their houses, one by one by one. (I’m assuming this was a small town.) Not only was that hard on the teacher, but it must have been creepy for the last group of children on the route, thinking about radiation raining down upon them with every step they took. Location, location, location, as the saying goes.

There seemed to be a wide range of communication or lack thereof, about these drills. Some kids were told entirely too much, in my opinion. Small children should not be shown videos of mushroom clouds and disintegrating buildings and melting bodies. Eight-year-olds shouldn’t memorize all the signs and symptoms of radiation poisoning or be instructed on the best ways to build and stock bomb shelters. All that should be the realm of adults.

On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of children were not told anything at all, and were left to draw their own, sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying conclusions, including the following:

  • “Fallout” meant things falling from the ceiling, and therefore climbing under their desks made perfect sense.
  • The Russians would come and take them from their parents and/or they’d never see their families again.
  • Bombs must not be much of a threat if the solution was to hide under a desk.
  • Every plane that flew over had the potential to kill them.
  • I don’t want to die crouching in a hallway.
  • While we do these drills in school, are the adults doing the same thing in the bomb shelters?
  • My parents will be blindsided unless they keep the radio on.
  • These floors are really dirty.
  • The boys are trying to look up my skirt.
  • At least we don’t have to freeze outside like we do for fire drills.
  • How will I find my family?
  • Walking home was scary, because if a plane flew over you didn’t have your desk to save you.
  • Some were scared for their parents because they didn’t have a teacher to keep them safe like the kids did.
  • The Communists or some vague enemy would break in any minute, and that would be the end.
  • They only practiced these drills at school, so school seemed dangerous.
  • One girl, whose school had them pressing their noses against a wall, thought that the paint must be strong if it could save her from the bomb.

Some children comforted themselves with the belief that nothing bad was going to ever happen to them because they lived in America and that was the safest, smartest, strongest place in the world. Others thought that since Russia beat us into space, they must be more militarily advanced. Those were likely the same children who went home and tried to build bomb shelters out of cardboard boxes in their back yards or basements. One brilliant girl even surrounded hers with lead pencils, because she had heard that lead would protect her.

In hindsight, many women were grateful for the honesty some adults were willing to provide. Some kids were told how painful their deaths might be, and actually found comfort in the idea that they were at ground zero and would die instantly. Photographs from Hiroshima made it clear that immediate death would be preferable. One woman remembers being grateful for just being sent home to be with her family during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At least that was honest.

And I found this quite interesting. It seems that nearly everyone was told that their location was a prime target. They lived near military bases. They lived near factories or power plants or big cities like Washington DC, New York, or Chicago. They lived near a transportation hub. In the heartland, the communists would target their farms to starve the country. And everyone in Florida, to this very day, knows that Cuba is only 90 miles away.

Everyone seemed to believe that they would be the first to go. No one stopped to think that Russia couldn’t bomb everywhere at once. If they could, there would be nothing left of this planet.

No matter what they thought, these kids did these drills because that’s what they were told to do. Unfortunately, they were told to do some very insane things. I’ll discuss that in my next post, The Insanity of Duck and Cover.

Special thanks to the women of the Facebook Group Crones of Anarchy!, for revealing so much about their duck and cover experiences. You guys are awesome!

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Raise Your Hand…

Fed up? You’re not alone.

…if you are furious about this latest domestic terrorist act that has killed 19 innocent children in this country, along with 2 teachers.

Raise your hand…

…if you feel that this mass shooting, along with all others, is government-sanctioned by way of their failure to act.

Raise your hand…

…if the phrase “thoughts and prayers” coupled with an obvious intent to maintain the status quo makes you want to vomit.

Raise your hand…

…if you have tried to explain that you don’t want to take everyone’s guns away, just the ones that can fire 45 rounds per minute, which have no legitimate private use unless you are in the midst of a zombie freakin’ apocalypse.

Raise your hand…

…if you are stunned by gun advocates’ utter selfishness and refusal to absorb international statistics that prove that reasonable gun restrictions prevent the mass slaughter of children.

Raise your hand…

…if you refuse to vote for a politician who gets money from the NRA, because that person demonstrates that he or she puts that greed ahead of the lives and safety of the people she or he would be elected to represent.

Raise your hand…

…if you are fed up with a government that refuses to listen to the majority of us, especially with regard to gun restrictions, women’s rights, health care and the environment.

Raise your hand…

…if you see blood on the hands of every politician who refuses to make changes after expressing deep sympathy for the parents who will never see their children again.

Raise your hand…

…if you are profoundly tired and/or depressed and/or feeling helpless.

Raise your hand…

…if you are increasingly ashamed of congress’ inability to act on our behalf rather than in their own financial best interests.

Raise your hand…

…if you are horrified by the ever-increasing bias of the supreme court.

Raise your hand…

…if you believe that a political party that supports the overthrow of a legitimately elected president should be stripped of its power.

Raise your hand…

…if you believe that wealth should be taxed at a much higher rate.

Raise your hand…

…if you cannot and will not support fascism in any form.

Raise your hand…

…if you are tired of being scared, disappointed, and bitter.

Raise your hand…

…if you are disgusted by the utter lack of consequences for blatantly criminal acts, even as you watch other people get imprisoned for absurd reasons.

Raise your hand…

…if you struggle every day to not become cynical and sedentary.

Raise your hand…

…if you think that those who wish to suppress history and encourage censorship have an evil, racist agenda.

Raise your hand…

… if you are tired of decision makers who think that islands float, that snowballs prove there’s no global warming, that women can’t get pregnant if “legitimately” raped, that wind turbines cause cancer, that not all workers deserve a living wage, that we all don’t deserve the same access to affordable healthcare, that women should submit to their husbands, that Jewish space lasers actually exist, and that all homosexuals are automatically pedophiles and all immigrants are automatically violent criminals.

Raise your hand…

… if people who continue to vote for such politicians scare you.

Raise your hand…

…if you are sick and tired of gerrymandering for any political party, and think that all districts should be shaped as squares or rectangles, with 90 degree angles, with the exception of state boarders and coastlines, with their size adjusted by number of voters in the area, and that what party someone registers for should not be allowed to be taken into consideration.

Raise your hand…

…if you believe that the electoral college is an outmoded system that not only doesn’t serve us well, but also is harmful to this country. One person, one vote. We have the technology.

And most of all, raise your hand…

…if you’re feeling trapped in a f***ed up, theocratic, ignorance-worshiping, mentally ill, selfish, money-grubbing and utterly brainwashed society that is increasingly run by criminals, fascists and liars.

SPEAK UP AND VOTE…

…for every cause you believe to be just, and in every single election in which you are qualified to vote, no matter how insignificant it may seem or how inconvenient the powers that be make it for you to exercise that right.

Do it for the lives of your children. Do it for your community. Do it to stamp out ignorance and hate. Do it for the planet. Do it to preserve whatever shred of compassion and hope and optimism and good will you still manage to possess.

Do it so that all this sh** will stop.

Because you are not alone in knowing that it has to stop.

What follows is a list of American cities or counties where mass shootings have occurred SO FAR in 2022 ALONE, most recent first, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Stanwood, Michigan
Anniston, Alabama
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Uvalde, Texas
North Charleston, SC
Cleveland, Ohio
Goshen, Indiana
Tacoma, Washington
Kissimmee, Florida
Highland, California
New Orleans, Louisiana
Chicago, Illinois
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Palo Alto, California
Laguna Woods, California
Winston Salem, North Carolina
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Houston, Texas
Amarillo, Texas
Buffalo, New York
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Hot Springs National Park, AK
Chicago, Illinois
Saint Louis, Missouri
Indianapolis, Indiana
Paterson, New Jersey
Baltimore, Maryland
Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Baltimore, Maryland
Brookshire, Texas
Detroit, Michigan
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Clarkston, Georgia
Lexington, Kentucky
Garland, Texas
Miami, Florida
New Orleans, Louisiana
Sunnyside, Washington
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Cowley (county), Kansas
Beaumont, Texas
Lafayette, Louisiana
Springfield, Ohio
Tarpon Springs, Florida
North Charleston, SC
Atlanta, Georgia
Jackson, Mississippi
Jackson, Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
Laurel, Mississippi
Bessemer, Alabama
Chicago, Illinois
Opelousas, Louisiana
Biloxi, Mississippi
San Antonio, Texas
Phoenix, Arizona
Birmingham, Alabama
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Lafayette, Indiana
Chicago, Illinois
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
San Bernardino, California
Atlanta, Georgia
Petersburg, Virginia
Cincinnati, Ohio
Washington, DC
Mountain View, Arkansas
Duluth, Minnesota
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Portland, Oregon
Furman, South Carolina
Sacramento, California
Miami, Florida
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Baldwin, Louisiana
Columbia, South Carolina
Baltimore, Maryland
North Las Vegas, Nevada
Daingerfield, Texas
Syracuse, New York
Stockton, California
Brooklyn, New York
Bronx, New York
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Elgin, Illinois
Willowbrook, California
Indianapolis, Indiana
Washington, DC
Miami, Florida
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Covington, Kentucky
Hartford, Connecticut
Buffalo, New York
San Francisco, California
Dallas, Texas
Sacramento, California
Shelby, North Carolina
Monroe, Louisiana
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Shreveport, Louisiana
Walterboro, South Carolina
Hollister, California
Cleveland, Ohio
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Stockton, California
Waterbury, Connecticut
Chicago, Illinois
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Houston, Texas
Austin, Texas
Norfolk, Virginia
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Dumas, Arkansas
Madison Heights, Virginia
Dallas, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
New Iberia, Louisiana
Lansing, Michigan
Chicago, Illinois
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Irvington, New Jersey
Irvington, New Jersey
Ozark, Alabama
Reading, Pennsylvania
Chicago, Illinois
Rochester, New York
Columbia, South Carolina
Baltimore, Maryland
Autaugaville, Alabama
Columbus, Ohio
Aurora, Colorado
Jacksonville, Florida
Knoxville, Tennessee
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hazleton, Pennsylvania
Louisville, Kentucky
Lubbock, Texas
Monroe, Louisiana
Chester, South Carolina
Glendale, Arizona
Atlanta, Georgia
Las Vegas, Nevada
Baltimore, Maryland
Sacramento, California
Alexandria, Louisiana
North Charleston, SC
Las Vegas, Nevada
Bogalusa, Louisiana
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
San Antonio, Texas
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Omaha, Nebraska
Des Moines, Iowa
Portland, Oregon
Mccomb, Mississippi
Durham, North Carolina
Portland, Oregon
Charleston, Missouri
Turlock, California
Temple Hills, Maryland
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Houston, Texas
Miami, Florida
Joliet, Illinois
Racine, Wisconsin
West Hollywood, California
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Little Rock, Arkansas
Springfield, Missouri
Phoenix, Arizona
Romeoville, Illinois
Fresno, California
Wilmington, North Carolina
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Corsicana, Texas
Blacksburg, Virginia
Oroville, California
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Raleigh, North Carolina
Winter Haven, Florida
Augusta, Georgia
Saint Louis, Missouri
Atlanta, Georgia
Bakersfield, California
Washington, DC
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Inglewood, California
Baltimore, Maryland
New Orleans, Louisiana
Miami, Florida
San Antonio, Texas
Savannah, Georgia
Knoxville, Tennessee
Brunswick, Georgia
Eugene, Oregon
Brooklyn, New York
Chicago, Illinois
Fresno, California
Los Angeles, California
Montgomery, Alabama
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Houston, Texas
Jackson, Mississippi
Corsicana, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Columbia, Missouri
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Kenosha, Wisconsin
Peoria, Illinois
Dillon, South Carolina
South Bend, Indiana
Denver, Colorado