Five minutes is such a short amount of time. What will your life be like 5 minutes from now?
On December 14, 2012 at 9:35 in the morning, children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut were busy learning to read, write and solve simple math equations. I think many of them were contemplating the upcoming Christmas celebration with time off school to play with the new toys Santa was sure to bring. At 9:40 a.m. 20 children and 6 staff members lay murdered along with all hopes and dreams for their future.
Adam Lanza, 20 years old, had murdered his mother in his home and left with the intent to do great harm. He was seen on camera at a different elementary school and it is believed that Sandy Hook was an alternative choice. They are not sure why he changed his mind. Possibly security personnel at the first school. At the end of his 5 minute shooting spree, Adam turned the gun on himself and took his own life.
This was the topic of conversation at our county Area Leaders Emergency Response Team meeting today. This meeting includes representatives from each school, hospital, local government, law enforcement agencies, emergency response personnel and other local community leaders. The purpose is to facilitate communication, build relationships, strengthen community and develop quality community emergency response plans.
We were privileged to be able to Skype with Captain John Puglisi with the Brookfield Connecticut Police Department. He was in one of the incident command posts which oversaw this crisis. He discussed things that went right and areas where they could improve. Captain Puglisi also fielded questions from the audience and answered specific questions and concerns that might help our community be better prepared for, or perhaps prevent, a similar incident.
I attend these meetings wearing several hats. I represent Jonathan (who is a member of our city council), the president the junior high school parent committee, a concerned community prepper, and as a protective mother. Therefore, I take home different messages than a law enforcement officer or perhaps the high school principal would. This is what I learned and what I will do differently because of my attendance.
2. Communication is critical. I need the ability to communicate with my children as often as circumstances allow. This may require purchasing inexpensive cell phones for even my elementary school children or sending amateur radios with them to school.
Police radios will be placed in each school office as a result of this meeting to facilitate direct, timely communication with law enforcement.
3. I will do a better job of teaching my children the knowledge and skills they may need to survive this type of event. Currently “run, hide, fight” is being taught in conjunction with the traditional “shelter-in-place” only. Every incident is different and they need to be able to understand when it is better to run out the nearest exit and when it is best to return to their classroom and shelter-in-place.
It’s about being mentally alert. When they walk into a building teach them to stop and think. What if someone came through that door? What would I do? What are my options? Practicing these mental exercises will improve reaction time during a real event. This can be a little tricky because we don’t want them to live in fear, but to be empowered by their plan.
4. This incident tied up 90 agencies and deployed over 737 officers. When disaster strikes emergency response personnel are not going to be available to help. We must be prepared with the skills, knowledge and resources to be able to take care of ourselves. We need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
5. I was surprised to learn that with all those people feeding and housing was not an issue. The problem was actually too much food. People donated so much food that some of the resources had to go to setting up and manning a place to keep it. After a couple of officers got sick from some of the food, it was decided that only commercially packaged food and restaurant foods would be accepted.
There are so many good people out there. One evil young man caused great death and destruction, but thousands of people sacrificed time and resources to help out in any way that they could. I believe in community!
The tragedy of that 5 minutes lives on in the families with empty chairs and in the minds of those who had to witness this tragedy first hand. Recovery is long and painful.
What will your next 5 minutes bring? Advanced preparation goes a long way toward mitigating risk and improving the outcome.