Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer


Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

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Active Shooter Drills Don't Really Prepare People, But They Do Make Them Cry

Simulated mass shootings, which are happening more and more in schools and offices, are sparking lawsuits by traumatized employees.

| Fri Sep. 5, 2014 10:58 AM EDT
An active shooter drill at a Florida elementary school.

In the wake of the nation's many recent mass shootings, and in the absence of any meaningful gun control that might stem them, employers and schools have started training their staff to respond should a madman with a gun turn up on their doorsteps. "Active shooter" drills have become the norm in many school districts and downtown office buildings; in many schools, such drills are now mandated by the state. But it turns out that bringing SWAT teams into buildings to simulate an active shooter situation doesn't always make people feel safer. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, such simulations have seriously traumatized and occasionally injured people, sparking a wave of lawsuits.

The Journal tells several amazing stories of people who were injured or utterly freaked out during such drills, which often weren't announced ahead of time. One involves a Colorado nursing home employee whom a man forced at gunpoint into an empty room at work. The "shooter" was actually a local cop and the gun was fake, but the nurse was so scared that even when the "shooter" finally identified himself as a cop after she started crying and begging for her life, she wasn't really sure he was telling the truth. She was so traumatized that she had to quit her job and has since filed a lawsuit against the nursing home.

Active shooter drills often feature scary looking shooters with realistic looking guns who shoot plastic bullets or blanks at participants, who are then supposed to attack the shooter or at least throw things at him. But apparently, far from creating an army of first responders, these drills often leave teachers and other participants hysterical. Critics told the Journal that the exercises have left school employees and others more terrified and ill-equipped to deal with a real shooting than they would have been otherwise:

Some experts, however, say recreating the chaos of a mass shooting is no way to prime for emergencies. "There ends up being zero learning going on because everyone is upset that you've scared the crap out of them," said Greg Crane, a former SWAT officer with the North Richland Hills Police Department near Dallas who holds seminars to teach civilians different strategies to deal with mass-shooting scenarios.

Given the obvious potential for trauma in active shooter drills, schools and post offices and other institutions worried about active shooters might just want to tell everyone to hide under their desks until help arrives.

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Tue Sep. 9, 2014 6:30 AM EDT | Updated Tue Dec. 16, 2014 10:10 AM EDT