Back to School Safety Tips for All Ages
By Doug Parisi, Director of Training, SafeDefend.com
As we approach the back-to-school season, we need to remind our kids- of all ages- how to stay safe, especially given a spike in school shootings and post Covid challenges.
While the probability is extremely low (15-20 school mass murders a year for over 140,000 educational institutions in the U.S.), parents must educate their children in training for the unsettling possibility. Here are some tips for talking to students ranging from elementary to college about staying safe.
- The biggest mistake parents make is avoiding the topic. Ask your kids what they were told in drills about safety. Reinforce the training and procedures taught by the schools about safer corners, running if you are caught in the halls, and looking for adults in a crisis. Growing up, most adults were exposed to ideas like stop, drop and roll or duck and cover. As kids, we accepted this conditioning and knew what to do. We didn’t dwell on it or become traumatized; it was a normal conversation. Sure, parents experience greater levels of anxiety thinking about these topics, but it’s something that should not be tabled.
- Simply put: tell your kids to listen to teachers. Most elementary kids should go straight to the safer corner. The teacher has a plan and any student that doesn’t respond appropriately can hinder the ability to get the room secured and students positioned properly. Don’t create your own plan and tell your child to run or leave the room. This can be catastrophic if everyone does their own thing.
- Reassure your students that being on the other side of a locked door is one of the safest places to be in a crisis. According to the FBI, no active shooter has ever breached an interior locked door in a school. A classroom is a secure place until help arrives.
Middle School Students
- Parents must talk with students about the different options that are available to them in an active shooter event. Working as a group has been shown to decrease the chance of injury. They need to know the plan; lights out, doors locked, desk for barricades then out of sight. These simple steps can protect children in a crisis.
- Options are important for kids. We practice these drills in static moments where the students are in the classroom. Discuss other options if the student is in the hallway, walking in or out of school, in the cafeteria, bathroom, etc. This includes moving away from the shooter, getting into the nearest classroom, and barricading behind any door you can find. Closets, offices, bathrooms, kitchens, etc. are all options in a crisis.
- If they have been told to help barricade the door by the teacher, your student should understand that if that barricade is breached they should look to get away from the shooter or protect themselves. Always have a ‘what if’ plan in mind.
- Most active shooters in schools are students. While we don’t want our children to be responsible for taking out a shooter, there comes a point when they must defend themselves. When no other options exist, your student should know they are justified in protecting themselves at all costs.
High School Students
- Most active shooters give indications of their intent to commit an atrocity. Other students often shrug off such warning signs as banter or bravado. There is no such thing as a false threat; it’s no joke. Parents need to communicate with their kids that they should report any suspicions to teachers, administrators, parents, or school security immediately.
- Ask your student if they have ever thought about what they would do in a crisis. Chances are your student has considered what to do. You can support them by praising them for being prepared. Make sure they know to get out of sight of the building if they flee outside. They should also not congregate in areas like parking lots or bleachers where explosive devices can be hidden. The student should not return to the school until ample emergency services are on the scene and the event has stabilized.
- A large portion of high school students have mobile phones. It is important that they know how to put their phone in airplane mode to prevent it from making noise from calls. Turning off a phone takes too long to reboot in a crisis. Silent mode can still vibrate loudly enough to give away your location. Students should add emergency contacts to their phones. These contacts receive a text and location information when that phone is used to call 911. This can be valuable information to share in a crisis.
- Students need to be proactive about their safety at college. The days of relying on others for everything are over. Most colleges and universities have emergency notification systems. Students must register for the notifications and become familiar with how they work. In a campus crisis, this can be the difference between knowing you are under threat versus obliviously walking on campus.
- Most campuses are large complex facilities with different architecture. When you have class in a particular building, you need to take the initiative to learn the emergency exits of each building. Arrive early one day and look at the stairwells, shelter areas, and emergency procedures for that building. Use a different entrance and exit to create a mental image of your options. Chances are you will be in all the buildings at some point during an academic career. The knowledge gained is invaluable in a threatening incident.
- Review your campus safety procedures and understand how you can protect yourself. Most colleges allow certain types of personal protection devices. If you feel comfortable carrying one of these devices you should obtain it and always carry it with you. Having an individual first aid kit on your person can save lives. This is something that can be purchased and carried your whole academic career. Having the means to stem bleeding from a traumatic injury can extend a life until help arrives. Hoping something bad doesn’t happen is the first step to failure in a crisis. Prepare yourself.
More About the Author
Douglas Parisi, PA is the Director of Training for SafeDefend. He is a former police captain with over 20 years of service and personal experience with active shooter situations.
During 3.5 years as a police academy commander, he has obtained extensive training in on-site security, active shooter response and civilian response to hostile events. He is a regular speaker at national conferences and seminars. He has presented at SRO, DARE, Human Resource, school boards, superintendents, public safety, sheriffs’ associations and other conferences across the Midwest. He has participated in campus safety webinars and conducts interviews with media sources on workplace and campus safety concerns.
He has certifications including Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT), Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE), Tactical Emergency Casualty Care, (TECC) Combat Life Support (CLS), Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Currently and Mental Health First Aid. Douglas works with schools, businesses and government institutions on policy implementation, crisis response planning and threat mitigation