The California Shooting Could Have Been Worse If Not For Teachers' Quick Thinking (And Training)

“As tragic and as bad as it is, could have been so much worse.”

As devastating as it is to hear about another mass shooting — this one in Rancho Tehama Reserve, Calif., on November 14 — it's relieving to learn about the heroism that may have averted a greater tragedy. Officials say the actions of Rancho Tehama Elementary School personnel "saved countless lives and children" yesterday, CNN reports. 

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As soon as they heard gunfire near the school — just before classes were scheduled to start that day — employees at the school locked the doors. One teacher blocked a classroom door with a computer and gave the fourth-grade class clear instructions. "Our teacher told us to go under our desk and keep flat in case he comes inside," 10-year-old Arianna Ibarra told CNN.

The shooter couldn't get inside and fired shots through the windows and walls of the school before leaving six minutes later. At least one student was wounded in the gunfire, and others were hurt by flying glass, but those injuries are reportedly non-life-threatening. "I have to say this incident, as tragic and as bad as it is, could have been so much worse," Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston told reporters, specifically crediting the school staff's quick thinking.

These stories of heroism come as more schools are training employees with elaborate safety measures in response to these perilous times. According to a recent Government Accountability Office study, two-thirds of schools in the United States conduct active-shooter exercises, and almost all of those schools have a plan in place in the event a shooter enters the building.

"When I did enter teaching, you know, this was not a thought in my head," Sara Rounds, a first-grade teacher at a western Indiana school, told local news affiliate WTHI-TV. "But this is where we are now."

One such training program is called ALICE — a mnemonic title standing for "alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate" — which instructs school staff members to block doors, run from gunfire, and even throw objects at an active shooter.

According to Katherine Schweit, a former FBI agent and an active shooter expert, it's all about pushing through panic. "People freeze. And if you train yourself to work past freezing, past the moment of hesitation, you save your life. Or you save a life of another," she told CNN. 

"I'm a total believer in run, run, run if you can [to] safety. Because you can't get killed if you're not there. But if you have to hide or fight, you have to be prepared to do that."

In an essay for The Washington Post, security consultant Ed Hinman also advised planning for the worst and taking immediate action if that worst-case scenario comes true — citing the words of his colleague: "You must be an active participant in your own survival."

Hinman recommended developing an emergency action plan, knowing where the exits are in your location; practicing "situational awareness" so you know what is and isn't normal in your environment; and getting "out of the kill zone," so you're not a stationary target.

In addition to planning for these violent events, however, we can also try to forestall them in the first place. The gun control debate flares up in America after every mass shooting, but foundations like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence work year-round to make the country safer. "We believe that all Americans have a right to live in communities free from gun violence," the CSGV says in its mission statement, pursuing that goal "through policy development, strategic engagement, and effective advocacy."

"We are outraged that in just over a year, the deadliest mass shooting in American history has been eclipsed by another, then another," CSGV Executive Director Josh Horwitz said in a statement following the Las Vegas shooting in October. "These tragedies continue to escalate because dangerous people have easy access to a limitless supply of high-powered weaponry."

"The shooting in Las Vegas is a tragedy — a uniquely American one," Horwitz concluded. "There are commonsense policies that can prevent these deaths. We know what they are. Now we need legislators on both sides of the aisle to fight for them."

Site photo via Redd Angelo onUnsplash

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