Sunday, May 13, 2007

Primal Fear

Back in the day, when I was in high school, terrorism was an academic study and school shootings were not terribly high on the threat matrix for affluent, suburban student populations. Between 1992 and 1996, I witnessed two faux-terrorist/gunman attacks on students. Both were centered around clubs we called "Model UN," who were generally geeky policy wonks like me.

One of the fake incidents was staged during a Model UN debate at Brunswick College, where junior college students running the event posed as masked men with fake weapons and 'kidnapped' the keynote speaker. We, the 'delegates' to the 'United Nations' got to try and do something diplomatic about it.

We all knew it was going to happen though, because the folks who were going to stage said 'attack' pretty much let us know before hand. They gave us this information so no one would flip out when the thing went down. This was a risk on their part. The most serious debate involved whether we Seniors and Juniors would go all prank-war style on the college kids and disrupt their 'crisis situation' by locking the doors before hand (we had found a set of keys) or just send the 'Security Council' to the parking lot to egg the cars of the guilty parties. But cooler heads prevailed, no property was destroyed, and the college kids pulled off their situation according to the script. No one flipped out, because we knew it was coming. We knew it was a drill.

The second incident was a staged attack by half the Model UN club on the Model UN's 1996 Homecoming Parade Car right in the middle of downtown Brunswick. Our security detail, MIB's and guys in fatiuges, were armed with some pretty rocking Super Soaker water guns. Our turbaned and beret-wearing 'attackers' didn't come without some heavy water dispensing equipment themselves, and the running 'street battle' that ensued was just what the doctor ordered for a balmy South Georgia Homecoming night.

We placed third in the 'best car' division of the parade, because it was fun to watch and obviously a fake.

Involved poor judgement? You betcha. Even though both 'situations' were obvious fakes, there are a million things that could have gone wrong with either of them. But, I can't believe I say this now, the mid-90's were a more innocent time. We could get away with that kind of stuff because the study of terrorism was academic and school shootings had not yet touched the psyche of America outside the big cities.

If we tried stuff like that today, somebody would come down on us, hard. These days, one would hope we'd know better than to do stuff like that. Then again, maybe not. As evidenced by this fake attack on schoolchildren, some folks just haven't gotten the memo about what things are over the line.

What is really a shame is that schools do have to prepare for such situations, and we better have plans and contingencies in place that are far more effective than 'duck and cover.' But some things are so far outside the playbook, it is hard to imagine them happening to you, much less plan for them. Much less drill for them.

But from now on, let us hope this story serves as a warning to the folks in charge. There is a value in saying "this is only a test" and "today we are going to run our drill."

And, God help us, the only time you ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever say the words "this is not a drill" is in the event of the real thing.


dadvocate said...

The drills can be traumitizing enough. Making the kids think it's real is unforgivable. (Althoug, I'm sure the school system will quickly forgive the teachers.)

Being an old mand, my experience with this sort of thing is from the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. I was in the 5th or 6th grade during the missile crisis. We had drills, pamphlets about what to do in event of a nuclear attack, etc. I had nightmares about it up into my mid-twenties.

Leigh C. said...

My experience was always with tornado drills in grade school. Everybody into the hallway, up against the walls, and crouch down by the wall, head between your knees, hands folded over your neck.

That was pretty bad. I'm sure this drill that everyone knew about except the kids is gonna kick these kids' psyches where it hurts for many years to come.