It’s Only a Drill

When my parents were growing up in Ohio in the 1950s, they participated in duck-and-cover drills in the unlikely event the Soviets launched a nuclear bomb that plunged into the heart of the nation. Thank God and the U.S. military, no bomb ever was dropped.

When I was a kid, we had tornado drills because sometime in the 1970s an F5 tornado tore through Xenia, Ohio, killing 33 people and injuring more than 1,300.

Both were frightening prospects, for sure, but from a youngster’s perspective, drills were great because they got us out of class for awhile and gave some of us an adrenaline rush.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been so shocked when my 11-year-old daughter came home from school Tuesday and said, “We had a shooter drill today. It was kind of exciting.”

I felt like I’d been stabbed in the gut. I gave her “the look.” She changed her tone quickly: “I mean, it was kind of scary,” and then sheepishly added “… but exciting.”

I swallowed the bile that had risen in my throat and said in my most disapproving voice that it wouldn’t be exciting if she or her friends got shot.

I, like most of us, am still shaken up from the mass shooting at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. But as soon as I spat those words at her, I felt bad for judging her. My response was punitive rather than helpful. I should’ve just let her express her feelings. In this crazy world, she needs to know it’s safe to express how she feels, whatever she feels. If she isn’t safe talking to me, she’ll find someplace else to vent, and that could lead to a world of trouble.

But that’s a whole other column.

After I calmed down, I asked her to tell me more. I didn’t get the full details, but she said they practiced how and where to evacuate. Then she said one teacher told them if the shooter was in the room, they could throw things at him — pens, books, chairs, desks. I said, um, no, just stay hidden; a pen isn’t going to stop a bullet.

But, again, maybe I’m wrong. I personally haven’t had active-shooter training. So I looked it up.

One of the most common active-shooter trainings is ALICE. It was developed by a former police officer and former principal (who are married to each other) after the Columbine High School massacre. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.

The “counter” part, is where the pencils come in. It includes creating “noise, movement, distance and distraction with the intent of reducing the shooter’s ability to shoot accurately,” according to the ALICE website.

Kids are being taught this.

In Akron, according to a Sept. 17 Education Week article, officers tell kids in a video to run around and scream to distract the shooter. An Ohio Attorney General task force recommends that schools train both students and staff to throw books, computers and phones at the shooter. Middle- and high-schoolers are sometimes given foam props to throw during drills. An ALICE-trained Alabama principal instructed middle-schoolers in 2015 to stash canned goods in their desks to wing at attackers.

No wonder Emma found it exciting.

Dan Rambler, an Akron school district director of student services and safety, said in the Ed Week article: Countering “is literally the last resort. That is, ‘Do whatever you have to to stay alive.’ It’s not, ‘Go find the gunman and throw something at them.'”

Well, that’s a relief.

I know that, like tornado drills when I was a kid and bomb drills when my parents were kids, active-shooter drills, unfortunately, are necessary. I also know that I felt inexplicably giggly when my classmates and I lined up against the hallway wall at St. Clairsville Elementary, our little bodies folded into thirds with our fingers laced behind our necks. I knew a super-twister had torn through a town somewhere in Ohio, but I was just happy not to be doing math.

To Emma, it’s only a drill. So the next time she talks about it — and the school promises there will be a next time and that it will include local police and “a higher stress level” — I will not shame her. I will ask questions. I will listen. I will wrap my arms around her and hold her till she squirms. And then I will calmly excuse myself to throw up.

Betsy Bethel is the Life editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and the editor of OV Parent magazine. She can be reached at