December 8, 2023 at 5:00:00 PM
Maggie Coors ‘25
Like many other American students at Mercersburg Academy, I grew up hearing about school shootings happening in my city and around the nation. I remember the active shooter drills that I had throughout elementary and middle school. When I arrived at Mercersburg Academy in ninth grade, it was not long before we started having fire, earthquake, and even tornado drills. Yet we have never had a single active shooter drill or even a meeting to discuss what we should do in an active shooter situation. For context, Pennsylvania is ranked 30th in earthquakes by state, but eighth in school shootings. I asked upperclassmen and teachers if we would ever have an active shooter drill and was extremely surprised to hear that Mercersburg Academy has not had any in recent years. To me, this was extremely shocking and, frankly, scary. Growing up, school shootings were a very real threat, and not having that level of preparation at school makes me very nervous, especially considering we live on such an open campus and in a county with high gun ownership.
So this begs the question: are we prepared for an active shooter on campus? I believe that our campus safety officers are as prepared as they can be. They are highly qualified and able to keep our student body safe, but the sentiment of much of the student body is that we ourselves do not feel prepared. Most domestic students know the basics of what to do in an active shooter situation because we grew up in the United States, where school shootings have, unfortunately, become almost normal; but because we have never had any drills or even basic information sessions on campus, most of us are unaware of what what we are expected to do if such a situation occurs when we are at Mercersburg. How would we be alerted of an active shooter on campus? Would there be an alarm or mass text message? What should we do if we are outside or in town when it happens?
Last year, we experienced a bomb threat on campus. This threat did not amount to anything, and our campus was safe the entire time, but it left me, and other students, feeling very anxious. When we received the text message to leave the school buildings, we were directed to return quickly to our dorms. When I got back to my dorm, there were no adults there and only a handful of students. We had no idea what was going on or if we were supposed to be following some set of directions that we had somehow missed, and we had no confirmation that anybody knew where we were. The lack of information and guidance left us much more nervous than we would have been if there had been more communication during the threat or more information provided to us before the threat occurred. The bomb threat was efficiently and well handled by campus safety, and they felt confident we were all as safe as possible, but to the student body who couldn’t see how things were really being handled, this fact was not very reassuring during the threat.
After this experience, I asked my dorm faculty if we were going to start having emergency drills for this kind of situation going forward and was not reassured when they all said no. To me, this did not make sense because I believed it was clear that the students did not know what they were supposed to do during the threat. In the eyes of campus security, it is generally believed now that it is more beneficial for trained professionals to run drills for campus emergencies because they are the ones who need to be prepared and take action in emergency scenarios. Our campus safety team is primarily composed of former police officers, and after speaking with them I am confident that they are prepared for emergencies like an active shooter on campus. I believe that if they feel that active shooter drills are not necessary for students then perhaps they shouldn’t be done. But I do think that there should be an information session, whether that be by grade, advisory, dorm, or in a school meeting, where students can ask questions and get the information they need to feel more certain of what to do if we, unfortunately, suffer a school shooting, another bomb threat, or some other campus emergency. Transparency and clarity surrounding the topic of emergency preparedness would greatly benefit those in the student body who find themselves worrying about or confused about school safety policies, and lead to a more informed and less anxious campus.