Not many people can say they’ve survived two school emergencies, let alone two in a three-month time span. I’m either the most fortunate or the unluckiest person in college.
The first emergency happened over the summer at my job at American University in Washington, D.C. It sounds like a recount of a survivor’s story when I think back to it. It was a normal, hot and sunny day. The day progressed like any other bursts of fast-paced work, then back to being mundane.
I remember looking at the bottom left-hand clock on my computer screen, a bad habit of mine, to see how much time I had left before my workday ended. I mulled at the fact that it seemed like it was so far away, then a bright red alert popped up on my screen.
I glanced up slowly because I’ve seen these alerts before for gas leaks, breaks etc., but this time it read armed intruder campus-wide lockdown.
I heard my father’s words: Never panic in stressful situations.
Although nervous and slightly scared, I turned to see if everyone else received the message.
People were running around the office in mass hysteria before I could utter a word. They got it. They didn’t however, get my dad’s advice.
“Get away from the windows!” people shouted.
“We’re going to huddle up in the conference room,” others said as they scurried down the hall.
I remained in place. Why would we crowd together if a shooter is coming, I thought? I didn’t want to become target practice for a mad person.
Still it was uneasy. We didn’t know where exactly on campus the armed intruder was. We work at a slightly off-campus site. Campus police and D.C. Metropolitan Police were going building to building to secure them. I couldn’t help but think of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, UTA and Parkland. All these schools had armed intruders take innocent lives. I needed to go into survival mode.
Another alert came informing us that all employee access doors were electronically locked. The armed intruder was a man and he was spotted next door to our building. I was eased with that information. I figured if the gunman was spotted here, he would’ve already charged up the stairs to harm us. Instead time just passed, and nothing happened. No commotion, I peered through the windows to see traffic still moving.
It started to seem like this gunman high alert wasn’t that threatening. The school still wasn’t communicating with us that well, so I turned to Twitter. Dozens of tweets about the lack of alerts and the gunman all came up. A few popped up about people seeing the guy and that he was just in a Starbucks getting a coffee. It sounded like he was just a permit carrier that people were alarmed by because he was on campus grounds.
The police were still clearing buildings and we were all still on lockdown, several minutes past my scheduled time to leave. I was hungry and becoming agitated. If the gunmen were spotted here, why wasn’t this the first building checked? Nothing was making sense. I felt like a lab rat. I wanted out. The all-clear was shortly given and I was finally able to go home.
As I walked outside, I saw normalcy. People were sitting outside eating, walking, cycling. It was like exited the Twilight Zone. While we sat upstairs in oblivion, nothing outside missed a beat. We found out later the guy was long gone and was impersonating an ICE officer. Nobody was harmed, and he left as quickly as he came.
…Or so I thought. I was on campus at UMD watching the residual rainfall from hurricane Florence and heard a blaring alarm. It sounded like it was coming from a building on the other side of campus. I waited and watched to see if people would soon evacuate, but nothing happened.
I looked behind me into the building I was standing in front of to see if anyone was moving. Again nothing. I decided to walk into the building to figure out what was going on. I saw people walking down to the back stairs as I walked in. Nobody was walking hastily or seemed very bothered, which confused me more.
What the heck is going on? I thought. “Go downstairs! It’s a tornado warning,” a man aggressively shouted. I peered down the stairs to see that one of the building’s maintenance personnel was the one yelling.
People either complied or just looked at him. His anger boiled and he stormed off. He either really takes student safety seriously or he felt like his authority wasn’t being respected. I assume the latter, but I complied anyway.
We walked downstairs to the ground level, which was technically still above ground. The back facade of the building, where everyone congregated, is paneled glass windows. Basically, if the tornado did strike our building we’d all have shattered plexiglass pierce our bodies.
I had a terrible signal, so I couldn’t look online at anything, but I happened to be on the phone and had my friend google it. The MARC Train, a state-wide train system in Maryland, was stopped and people were mostly complaining on Twitter. I also found out it was only a campus-wide warning, nobody else was under emergency lockdown.
People were becoming stir crazy, similarly to my AU experience. Some students walked out of the building. I looked over and saw a weather map on another student’s phone. I asked him what was going on, he said there’s only rain, no tornado. A text alert slid down his screen reading “the tornado warning is ended.”
Another non-emergency, emergency I survived. I now proudly say I am a survivor of a gunman and tornado. Neither of which I was in danger of being harmed by.