It’s no secret that if someone walks into my office building with a gun, I’ll be the first to die. My hallway is a barren wasteland of inactivity, shared only by the Executive Director, the Director of Nursing, and the Clinical Director (plus his assistant, Wanda). I’m a sitting duck, surrounded by the Hospital’s Top Three Most Likely to Be Killed By A Disgruntled Worker or Angry Patient.
We recently decided to implement FEMA’s “Active Shooter Drills” to teach employees how to respond to a workplace shooting. It’s fairly basic:
If you can, RUN.
If you can’t run, HIDE.
If you absolutely can’t hide, FIGHT.
You can imagine how such a drill might get the anxiety going, so to keep it light, the shooter is depicted by someone wearing a clown outfit.
The “gun” is a banana and when you’re “shot,” a whistle is blown three times. It’s fairly simple. But nothing is ever simple enough for my coworkers.
The third floor of my building is exactly where you would want to be if someone showed up shooting. It’s a very small area with only four offices but it has a stairwell, an elevator, and a fire escape. The door to the fire escape is always unlocked from the inside and is only four paces from each of the offices. It runs directly to the ground floor and a fairly obvious choice when looking to RUN.
But no. When the overhead speaker announced that the “shooter” was entering through the east hallway on the first floor, this was how the third floor employees responded:
Coworker #1: “Instead of running out the fire escape, I will summon the elevator! Even though it takes two minutes to arrive and may be carrying the shooter! The elevator seems like the best place to hide in any sort of a drill situation!”
Coworker #2: “Instead of running out the fire escape, I will climb to the very top of my craft closet and crouch in the empty space between my scrapbooks and sticker collection! Even though I’m out of shape and a third grader probably couldn’t fit up there! If I’m going to die, I want to be amongst my colored gel pens and tie dye supplies!”
Coworker #3: “Instead of running out the fire escape, I have decided to fight! Even though I’m in my 60s and weigh 90lbs! I will use this hand sanitizer bottle as a weapon!”
Pretty much everyone “died.”
Several days after the drill a woman I vaguely recognized stepped into my doorway. She was a data entry clerk from the 2nd floor and her office was right across from yet another fire escape.
“Can I ask you something?” she said.
“Sure,” I said, even though I was about to head to a meeting.
She crossed the room and made herself comfortable on my couch.
“You know, we had an active shooter drill on Monday,” she began, “and I died.”
She looked into my eyes for dramatic effect.
“I was shot by a clown with a banana. He blew his whistle three times.”
She went on.
“I didn’t like that. So I’ve decided when the shooter comes I’m going to be ready.”
I started to point out that it was only a drill and we weren’t practicing for a scheduled event, but she was too busy asking if I had any black duct tape lying around.
“No,” I said, “I’m afraid not.”
She went on to explain how she’d tried to hide under her desk but there was so much dust that she couldn’t stop sneezing. She decided it was a good idea to pop her head into the hallway to see what was going on and–
“I did not like dying.”
She’d spent the next few days preparing a hiding place in her office by pulling a long row of filing cabinets out from the wall.
“There’s enough space for two people to fit back there,” she said proudly.
The only thing she still needed was some black duct tape to cover the cracks between the filing cabinets.
“I’m afraid The Shooter will be able to see how the light isn’t shining through consistently, and then he’ll know there are people hiding because of the shadows.”
I apologized several times for not having any black duct tape. So she asked about black cardboard.
“We want to put cardboard around the bottom for the same reason—we can’t have any light shining through. I tried to cover it with fabric but I think The Shooter will know that isn’t normal for an office and he’ll figure out where we’re hiding.”
I also apologized for not having any black cardboard to lend.
“I’m ready for a hostage situation,” she went on. “I’ve got two upside down trashcans back there, with cushions so we have somewhere comfortable to sit. And then… if we’re hiding for too long, we can also use them as toilets.”
My eyes must have widened.
“Oh yes,” she said, “but don’t worry, I’ve got some toilet paper back there too, along with water and food, because you never know how long a hostage situation might last.”
I waited for her to finish, jingling my keys to signal my need to get out of there. It didn’t work. I wondered if some black duct tape and a roll of toilet paper would help me in this hostage situation.
I’ve since reviewed the FEMA guidelines and they make no mention of constructing a cardboard and duct tape fortress in the corner of your office. Then again, they don’t advocate for climbing to the top shelf of your closet, hiding in the elevator, or fighting back with office supplies. But what do they know, really? After all, we’re mental health professionals—we know what we’re talking about.
Do the people in your life tend to overreact to fairly straight forward situations? What sort of doomsday/zombie apocalypse/worst case scenario preparations have you made? Have you ever had to hide from someone?
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