Active Shooter Seminar - A Student's Experience

By Kate M, a High School Teacher and Krav Maga student in the DC Metro Area

As a student I grew up doing lockdown drills in school - lock the door, sit quietly, wait for it to be over. I was somewhat oblivious to the reality of why we needed such a drill in the first place. Now, as a high school teacher, I look around at my students huddled in the back of my classroom during a lockdown drill and realize they are keenly aware of why such drills are necessary. The news is inescapable, after all. And with the recent Parkland, Florida, shooting added to an increasingly long list of school shootings, I am scared. Scared for myself, scared for my kids.

As we all try to process why such devastating events happen, it’s easy to get wrapped up in unsolicited political opinions and advice. Rather than get lost in the vitriol, I decided to do something about it. I needed to take action to protect myself and to protect those around me. That’s when the Active Shooter Seminar hosted by Krav Maga Capitol Hill came up on my Facebook feed. I signed up immediately.

On a rainy Saturday morning, I drove to a middle school in D.C. where the seminar was being held. The day started with the usual straight punches, hammerfist strikes, and groin kicks---moves I’ve become accustomed to in my recent Krav Maga training--and although I was coming back from an injury, I felt empowered, strong, and in control. It’s surprising how therapeutic it is to punch something as hard as you can!

Then the training guns came out and things got serious. Despite being bright blue, I cannot describe how real it felt when my partner pointed that gun at me for the first time. I was shaking, imagining who might be behind that gun in real life.

We learned techniques for disarming someone with a gun - redirect like this, apply pressure here, twist like that to take the gun away, and end with a series of punches and kicks. The instructors broke everything down into comprehensive steps, the first one is as easy as “touch the gun five times with your left hand.” And with several instructors walking around to make corrections and provide encouragement, I felt like I really had a handle on the technique.

After drilling the movements over and over to commit them to memory, lunch was a much-needed break. The morning was physically exhausting, but little did I know that the afternoon of scenario training would be emotionally draining.

Split into smaller groups, we worked through scenarios in four different environments - the cafeteria, the auditorium, and two different classrooms. What do you do in a cafeteria where there aren’t any good places to hide? What’s the best action when you’re not near an exit in a theater? How do you barricade a classroom door effectively? What objects are best to throw at a gunman who enters the room? These questions have crossed my mind before, but this time I not only got answers, I practiced the actions in real-time.

Throughout all of this, the instructors worked hard to simulate an active shooter event as realistically as possible. They banged training pads on the ground to simulate the loud gunshots you would hear and they screamed knowing that bystanders would be screaming if this were really happening. It almost felt too real for me to be in a school, in a classroom even, experiencing the very thing that I hope my students and I will never face.

Perhaps hardest to swallow for me were the moral dilemmas that arose. Would you open the door for an injured student who was knocking, knowing that you’d be putting the students inside the classroom at risk? I could feel my eyes swelling up at the thought of not helping one of my kids, but the logical part of my brain understood the risks of opening the door. It was an uncomfortable mental space to be in.

The day concluded with a simulated law enforcement response - What is it like when the police relieve you from the lockdown after the gunman is detained? Yelling, flashlights in your face, guns pointed at is not reassuring by any means. Again, I was near tears imagining the possibility of this playing out at my own school, but I felt empowered that I at least knew what to expect. I could at least tell my kids that the police would demand they put their hands in the air and they’d have to walk single-file down the hall and out of the building. Knowing what’s coming next can be a huge comfort in a traumatic situation.

The day was coming to a close. As the instructors shared their final thoughts, one moment stood out to me. An instructor said, “You all deserve a round of applause for showing up today and doing something to make those around you safer.” We took a moment to congratulate ourselves for giving it our all.

Overall, this experience was uncomfortable, exhausting, intense, emotionally draining and so so necessary. The instructors were extremely knowledgeable and took a tough-love stance toward teaching skills that could one day save my life. Perhaps most impressive is the encouraging environment they were able to create. I never once felt like I couldn’t do a movement, in large part thanks to their constant affirmations.

I returned to work on Monday with this experience at the forefront of my thoughts - What could I use to build a barricade in my classroom? Where could I have my kids hide? What could I throw at a gunman if he did make it into my classroom? I felt (more) prepared, empowered, and a bit safer as the bell rang and thirty kids streamed into my classroom for yet another day at school.

Rachel Parker