A Lesson from South Carolina: The Importance of Safety Drills

All eyes were on South Carolina for a few hours on Wednesday as the first words of another school shooting spread across the Internet. But attention quickly faded as details became clear: two children and a teacher wounded, the teenage subject already in custody.

That the incident didn’t linger longer on the national stage is a sad testament to how routine school shootings have become. If there are not “enough” deaths, news like the shooting at Townville Elementary barely makes a blip on our collective radar.

But we can all learn a lot from the teachers, administrators and first responders in that small South Carolina town, who acted quickly and selflessly to protect students and subdue the shooter, who had allegedly shot and killed his father just prior to crashing a pickup truck through the fence outside the school.

Some media reports mentioned that the school had practiced safety drills, but the mention was glossed over. Their advance preparation enabled them to respond appropriately to the incident – and once again underscored the twin mandates of having a plan and then practicing.

The difference in this incident, though, was that the shooter struck outside the school. The playground is a much different situation than the classroom – or a football field or an assembly. We tell our clients that it’s important to think through all the situations where students and teachers gather and prepare to deal with those scenarios.

It’s critical to understand the options available in an active shooter situation like Townville Elementary faced. There are three:

  • Secure: Get behind a locked door or some other type of cover or concealment
  • Evacuate: Get away from the area as quickly as possible
  • Confront: Challenge the threat directly

In the case of Townville Elementary, teachers performed a reverse evacuation, getting students inside as quickly as possible. The volunteer firefighter tackled and restrained the shooter before he could follow everyone indoors.

Training and muscle memory clearly kicked in for both the teachers and the first responders, who quickly assessed the situation and chose the best options available to them. Had they not done so, it’s possible the situation would have escalated – and the headlines with Townville Elementary would continue to haunt us for days.