On the campus of the University of Texas at Austin in 1966, 43 people were shot by an engineering student, and 13 of them died during the first mass shooting on a college campus. Since then, campus shootings have become more and more common, affecting not only colleges, but also elementary schools, as often as once a month. One study found that states where a higher proportion of people owned guns were subject to more school shootings. Another found that the national media attention after a school shooting or mass killing was increasing the likelihood of another mass killing in the following two weeks. Being a part of a school shooting is any student’s worst nightmare, but there are steps that you can take to protect yourself if there’s ever a threat or if the school initiates lockdown.

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What is lockdown?

Lockdown is intended to protect students, faculty, and staff if there is an armed and dangerous intruder in a school building or on campus. Lockdown may be initiated when a crime has occurred close to campus as well. Initiation of a lockdown procedure may be broadcast to students via email or text message. If you receive a message and are not on campus, do not go onto campus. Find a safe place and stay away until you receive the all clear.

Where do I go during lockdown?

Generally, students on campus should run to the nearest office or classroom and shut the door and barricade themselves inside. Teachers may lock the doors from the inside, and the lights should be turned off. Students, faculty, and staff should remain out of sight from windows and stay quiet. If students are in their dorm rooms, they should close and lock the doors and not let anyone inside, taking care to remain quiet and out of sight of windows.

Students who are outside when they receive notice of lockdown should head to the nearest building if it is safe or find a place to hide, typically behind a car or large tree. Staying out of sight of the threat is imperative and could save your life. If you are near your car, lock yourself inside your personal vehicle until you receive the all clear.

If lockdown is initiated for a certain building on campus or you are made aware of where the threat is located, get as far away as possible. If you can safely exit the building, do so. Do not take any belongings with you, as they will slow you down and impede escape. Once you’re outside, run to a safe place and warn people outside not to enter the building if it hasn’t already been locked.

What else is important to know during lockdown?

  • Cell phones should be silenced.
  • Only call 9-1-1 or campus police if you have critical information (the location of the threat or the identity of the threat, for example).
  • If you are in a building during lockdown and the fire alarm goes off, do not evacuate unless you see fire or smell smoke. This could be an attempt to get people out into the open.
  • Be aware of alternative exits (windows, side doors, etc.). If the main exit is compromised, you want to have a plan for getting out of the building safely.
  • Stay away from windows and doors. Hide under desks or behind bookshelves if possible.
  • Close curtains or blinds.
  • Do not let anyone into a locked room.
  • If the threat is in your area, do not lock yourself into a room or building with him or her.
  • Do not confront the aggressor except as a last resort. In this case, do everything you can to distract him or her by throwing things, making noise, and using found objects as weapons.

What happens after a school shooting?

After a school shooting, it can be hard to feel safe on campus again. You may be reluctant to attend classes or feel nervous when you cross wide, open spaces to get from one class to another. This is normal, especially after a traumatic event. Some students may choose to transfer away from the school where the shooting occurred, so as to distance themselves from the trauma. There is nothing wrong with choosing to stay or choosing to leave, but taking care of your mental health is of utmost importance.

Developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common reaction to experiencing a trauma, but not one that happens to every person. PTSD is a treatable condition in which the body has trouble coping with a traumatic event, like a school shooting. Individuals with PTSD may avoid talking about or going near places that remind them of the experience, have vivid dreams and flashbacks, begin suffering from depression, or become ultra vigilant in their day-to-day lives.

If you are struggling after experiencing a school shooting, you should consider talking to a mental health professional. Often, institutions will bring in extra counselors and therapists after such an event occurs so that there are enough on-campus resources for the students who want to utilize a professional. Don’t forget about your other built-in support system: friends, family, and fellow survivors.

Page last updated: 12/2016