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And now, ‘violent intruder drills’

ONE morning when I was dropping my kids off at school, we were greeted by police and TV cameras.

It was a curious sight, but I wasn't alarmed. The cruiser lights weren't flashing, the deputies appeared to be in no hurry, and the TV people were smiling and chatting.

My kids were ill at ease, though.

"What do you think happened?" they asked, craning their necks from the back seat.

Turns out the deputies were there as part of a new rotation to visit two Kanawha County schools a day on a random schedule for the remainder of the school year — to interact with kids, to talk about safety, and to just plain be present in the schools.

The deputies' visits are also the latest signal of the new world we live in.

Welcome to post-Sandy Hook.

I'm not sure whether to be reassured or horrified.

To their credit, schools are doing more to prepare for the unthinkable.

But this is beyond what we had when I was a kid, when we would file out during fire drills that we did not take very seriously. We rarely actually worried about what we were supposed to be preparing for.

Now the schools have "violent intruder drills."

These are happening in schools all around the country.

"Lockdown drills, violent intruder drills, they are all part of the regular process of preparedness that goes along now with things like earthquake drills," said John Kane, a retired Sacramento police lieutenant and Army veteran who is now a consultant teaching disaster preparedness.

Kane was quoted in a Mother Jones article called "Does Your Child's School Teach 'Violent Intruder Defense Strategies?' "

My children's school does teach that, I learned during several more conversations with the kids in the car.

As Kane explained, teachers lock every classroom and pull any stragglers into the closest class available.

"The idea of that is that hopefully it will inhibit the movement of the suspect and not give that suspect a large number of people to hurt while giving you enough time to get the cops on the scene."

As my kids explained to me, the doors to their classrooms were locked. And then students and teachers overturned tables to provide another barrier from an intruder. The children huddled behind the tables.

"But wouldn't a shooter just come around the table?" asked my fourth grader.

She is no dummy.

It's good, I guess, that schools and students are preparing for the unthinkable.

But I wonder what beyond the drills might be seeping into their developing brains.

Healthy caution?

Or more?

A 2007">study for the National Association of School Psychologists concluded that kids who participate in relatively calm drills (no mock weapons or SWAT teams, please) can increase their knowledge or what to do in a crisis without experiencing undue anxiety.

I hope that's the case.

A few weeks after Sandy Hook, my first grader and I were in the car, on our way home from her dance class. We pulled up at a stoplight and she peered out the window at the car that had pulled up next to ours.

"He just looked at me and he wants to hurt me," my little girl said.

Is that the conclusion of our era — that wherever you go, however safe your surroundings might seem, someone wants to hurt you?

That's where we find ourselves.

Society is tangled in discussions over violent video games, involuntary commitments for the mentally ill and whether high-capacity ammunition clips are a public necessity.

Will we have the courage to pursue solutions?

I find myself agreeing with what Sen. Joe Manchin said Dec. 16, 2012, when he seemed most affected by the horror and less cautious about people's reactions to his words.

"Seeing the massacre of so many innocent children has changed everything," he said. "Everything has to be on the table."

Better for the issues to be on the table than my little girls hiding behind one.


Brad McElhinny is the Daily Mail's managing editor. Contact him at 304-348-1703, at or at


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