Monday, March 31, 2008

A life-or-death “opportunity” on campus

Those who went to this the first day of classes for the spring term at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus were greeted with dozens of signs reading “Active Shooter Alert Drills — April 2008.”

The posters are everywhere. Somebody desperately wants a few thousand students, faculty and staff to get with the drill.

This is serious business. A little like hiding from nuclear attack under your desk back in the ‘50s.

Except this time the enemy isn’t “over there” in the USSR, he’s right here on campus in the US of A. Maybe.

I say “he” because all the campus shooters so far have been “he’s.” They often have a history of mental health problems. They are often isolated, ostracized, angry and alienated. Their values are often distorted through immersion in a video game culture of “pretend” violence and mayhem.

The games are called, after all, “first-person shooter” games.

And so we get back to the signs: “Active Shooter Alert Drills — April 2008.”

Active shooter? As opposed to — what? — an INACTIVE shooter? And just who might the latter be? You either shoot or you don’t.

In fact, the wording of the announcements is surreal.

The poster’s text begins: “What: The Sylvania campus will hold an Active Shooter Drill Alert” (Campuses are places. They don’t hold anything. Campus security officials are the ones behind this.) (Could there be a homeland security acronym lurking here: ASDA anyone?)

The poster continues: “The drills offer an opportunity to practice a non-evacuation emergency and are DIFFERENT than the fire alarm drill.”

Note the bold, ital, underlined, pull-out-the-stops typography. Somebody is trying to make a point, without actually making it.

I lingered over the inviting words “offer an opportunity.” The authors are suggesting that the reader could take or leave the drill. Still, just in case one of your classmates turns out to be a homicidal, loaded-for-bear whacko, you might want to seize this “opportunity” for a little “non-evacuation emergency” “practice.”

But then the “opportunity” escalated into a requirement. “An alarm will be sounded; EVERYONE (bold, ital, underlined, pull-out-the-stops again) currently on campus will carry out the Active Shooter Alert Drill, and (bold, ital, underlined) ALL BUILDINGS AND ALL COMMON AREAS WILL PARTICIPATE IN THE DRILL

So much for take-it-or-leave-it.

The poster notes that on three dates in April, the alarm will sound. And will continue to sound until there is an all clear. For the purposes of the drill, the alarm will last three minutes.

And what are those on campus to do? “Wherever you are, seek the safest place possible and conceal and cover yourself.”


“Safest place possible”? Any hints on where that might be?

“Conceal”? Suggestions? Should I bring camouflage netting?

“Cover yourself”? Like with what? Psychology textbooks? Health insurance?

All of which raises a really pressing historical question: Whatever happened to pep rallies?

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