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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The value of technology in a crisis

Last Thursday

One daughter, Grace, was just finishing up her shift in the dining hall on campus. Wiping down counters from serving lunch, she was watching the clock on the wall. Very soon, she would call her sister to tell her she's leaving campus and heading home. The two of them always call each other before one leaves campus.

The other daughter, Julia, had just arrived at her theater class. Everyone was in high spirits. They were setting up the sets for the end-of-year awards show for the Theater Department. There was much joking around, while some students held the large scene panels in place and others hammered them securely. A lot of talk about summer plans, saying goodbye to the graduating seniors, and the mystery surrounding next year's dramatic productions, to be announced at the awards show on Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, about a block and a half from the theater building, a young man walks into the math and sciences building, armed with a shotgun, and opens fire. The shots can be heard across the street, in the student union building. It's a small campus. You can walk from one end to the other in 5 minutes.

Back in the dining hall, Grace looks up at the clock, "just a few more minutes," she thinks to herself. Suddenly, the hour and minutes on the clock disappear, and it changes to emergency notification mode. "Campus in full lock-down". SPU has lock-down drills from time to time. So it's not immediately known whether this is a drill or a real threat. The students and dining hall staff begin to follow lock-down procedure. Doors are locked, they move away from windows and doors, and secure themselves behind the counters in the serving area. Sitting on the floor, the students pull out their cell phones and begin checking the SPU website for more information. A tweet goes out, "this is not a drill. The threat is real. Remain in lock-down." With no other details, students become somber and quickly send out texts and calls to their friends on campus. Grace pulls out her phone and calls her sister. No answer. Grace calls again. Still no answer. She sends a text. No reply. Fearful and worried, Grace calls home. This is the very first I have heard of the lock-down on campus. There's no information online or on the local news, yet. Grace asks me to pray with her. Then she asks me to call Julia and find out if she's okay. I end my call with Grace with my usual, "love you, stay safe", what I always say when I think they may be heading to an unknown place, or an area of downtown that has a crime history.

Lock-down unfolds quickly. Staff have been well-trained to implement all procedures speedily. In the newer buildings, the doors are locked automatically and remotely from the campus security office. In the older building, staff locks all entrances to each building. The clocks all across campus are electronic, and in the event of an emergency, switch over to reader boards to display information and instructions.

In the theater, Julia and her classmates are having a good time with their work, when one of the students yells out, "hey, there's a lock-down!" Some students grab their cell phones to check for more news, then text and call friends. Rumors of what has transpired to cause the lock-down begin to fly. One possibility is the on-campus bank has been robbed. This rumor is possibly the result of someone hearing gun shots coming from the area right across the way from the student union building, where the bank is located.

From home, I try calling Julia, with no answer. I try again, in case she heard the ringtone on her phone, but didn't get to it in time to answer. Still no answer. This is my way to let family members know that my call is urgent. I repeatedly call their number within the course of 2 or 3 minutes. This time, I leave a message to call me immediately. While waiting, I grab the family ipad and begin searching for information. Nothing online yet.

My phone rings, and it's Julia. Thank God she's okay. She tells me there's a lock-down, her phone was in her backpack sitting in one of the theater seats, and she thinks there's been a bank robbery on campus. I tell her to abide by the lock-down, and end the call, "love you, stay safe."

I call Grace and let her know that Julia is okay and she's in the theater department. Grace just wants to have me on the phone for a bit. So we chat about things. Not knowing what has transpired to cause the lock-down, the mood of our call is not terribly intense. When Grace is feeling more settled, I tell her that I want to check the news again, and give Julia a call back. In that moment, breaking news flashes across the bottom of the television screen. There's been a shooting on campus. Several people injured. I phone Julia immediately and inform her that it's not a bank robbery, but a shooting, and to follow all instructions given by staff in the theater department. She tells me that she just heard it was/is a shooting, and she wants to call Grace. So we end our conversation.

I'm watching the news, as they update information by the minute. There are 4 people injured. There are 7 people injured. There's a second shooter on the loose. They give a detailed description of the second suspect, "white male, wearing a blue shirt with vertical stripes". There aren't 7 injured, but 4 injured. The first shooter is down and apprehended. The information seems to change frequently.

I call Grace, then Julia, and relay all the information I am seeing on the TV screen. When the news first breaks, the aerial view from news helicopters shows deserted streets and common areas, but dozens of police cars. Several ambulances appear within a minute of the news breaking on TV.

I call my sister, and ask her to pray. I call my husband and son. My son has just heard the news from a co-worker and he was in the process of texting his sisters. I inform him that they're safe, and in lock-down across the street a ways from the shooting location, and that I'll keep him informed of changes. He offers to drive across the lake and get them from campus, if need be. I tell him I'll let him know.

I'm back on the phone with both daughters, giving them all the information I have. We pray together regularly throughout this crisis. About an hour into the lock-down, Grace says she's been down to 1 bar on her phone all afternoon, and she's about out of battery power. I ask if she brought her laptop to class today, and she says "yes" and it's in a cupboard across the room. I ask if it's safe for her to get across the room and grab it. She thinks so. So I end the call telling her to open up her gmail and I will email her immediately and we can keep in contact online. I fire off a quick email to Grace, then call Julia and let her know that Grace's phone is about dead, but she should be able to reach Grace by email. That's when Julia informs me that she left her laptop at home that morning. (My daughters use inexpensive, prepaid phones, with no internet access.) So, I become the intermediary. Grace can email me. I can phone Julia. And work this in reverse, as well. The tone of Grace's first email to me reflects how grateful she is to have me at the other end of gmail. Over the course of the lock-down, we exchange about 16 quick emails. I'm able to let her know that there was no "second shooter", and the lock-down should end soon. I also tell her that the view from the news helicopters show students coming out of the gymnasium across the street from the building where the shooting occurred, and there are many, many students gathering on the lawn in the center of campus. It looks very safe at this point, and I am relieved immensely that everything is wrapping up. I call Julia and we decide that when the lock-down ends in her building, she is to walk across campus to the dining hall and meet up with Grace. Then she should call me and we'll figure out how to get them both home that afternoon.

While Julia is walking across campus, I'm on the ipad again, this time to go to the Metro bus system website for updates to the bus schedule. The aerial view on the television shows the street where the bus runs is blocked off. The Metro website informs me of temporary route changes, but I'm unfamiliar with some of the "new" street names. My mind is tired at this point. Two of the worst hours of my life have just flashed by, and I am having a hard time processing how to get Julia and Grace home. So I call Julia. She says she and Grace are in the dining hall gathering up all of Grace's stuff, and wanting to know if the buses are running normally. I tell her, "no", but suggest that they both head over to the bus stop and see if anyone there knows where the temporary bus stops are. Both girls are as emotionally exhausted as I am, and on the verge of tears, as they begin to hear more details of the shooting. But they walk over to the bus stop (with me on the line the whole time) and tell me there's a man that always rides the late afternoon bus that they sometimes take. He's on staff at SPU and friendly with them. The girls break down into tears at this point, not knowing how to get home today. This nice gentleman says he knows someone who can give them a ride, and he ushers them inside the music building (the building right alongside the bus stop). He takes them to the office of a woman/professor that Julia already knows. She offers to take them anywhere they need to go that afternoon. The staff and faculty at SPU have gone above and beyond the call of duty on this day, to reassure and comfort the students, and see to it that everyone is looked after. Julia calls me back and tells me that "someone" is giving them a ride. "Someone," I say, "what someone?" Always a worried mom. Julia hands her phone to the woman and she identifies herself to me and asks where she can take them. I tell her I would be grateful if she could drop them off at Westlake, a major bus interchange in downtown Seattle. I thank her and she hands the phone back to Julia. I quietly ask Julia if she knows this woman, and she says "yes". Not leaving anything to chance at this point. My mom-alert is heightened after this day.

During the entire 2-bus trip home, I call Julia and Grace several times. The two of them walking in the door is a huge relief to all of us, and we hug for several minutes.

From electronic, emergency reader boards in every building, to internet access, to cell phones and to television news coverage, I am so grateful for the technology of today. My daughters could be reassured by my presence and by calls/texts to each other and their brother. We could be united in prayer together, over the phone lines. Not being able to keep in touch with them would have made this day one hundred times more stressful. And I think every student and every parent affected by the tragedy would concur. Being able to keep in touch with those you love is more valuable than any expense to have this technology.

I often say that I am content to not have a cell phone of my own, but I insist that all of my kids have one. If at some point, I spend more of my day away from home, and our land line, I will reconsider having a cell phone myself. I would want my kids to be able to reach me during any crisis, if for no other reason, so I could reassure them, and give them comfort through a difficult event.

I know that sometimes we wax poetic about the simpler times from long ago. While it would be nice to have a simpler life, free from some of today's distractions, in a crisis I am so thankful to have today's technology.


  1. My prayers are with you and your family. So glad no one in your family was physically hurt, but I also hope your daughters are fine emotionally with this. I also will pray for the families who have been directly affected by this, the ones injured. May God bless you and yours. Take care.


    1. Thank you, Lisa. I think my daughters are handling this as well as can be expected. We've spent a great deal of time talking and processing. My heart breaks for the families of the young man killed, the injured and the young man who committed the shooting, as well as the other students who were terrified during this tragedy, right there in the building.
      The president of the university has spoken on several occasions, now, and has a message of prayer and forgiveness, which is how everyone will ultimately find healing.

  2. Oh Lili, my stomach was in knots reading your post. I can only imagine what was going on in you during that day. So very glad all is well with your family. Even though I don't know the families of those who were injured or the shooter for that matter, I can only imagine what their families experienced and my heart and prayers go out to them all.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I begin to feel physically sickened when I think of the terror the students and families endured. I just don't want to put my mind into the minds of those immediately affected, especially the parents. If I had received that dreaded phone call that my child was injured . . .it's almost too much to bear. Thank you for prayers.

  3. I can only imagine how stressful this was for your family. So thankful your girls were safe and able to be in contact with you.

    1. Thank you, Cat. I think the one thing that kept me sane during that crisis, was having phones and email, so that I could be there with them, in a sense. And I think they needed my presence, even if only by phone. Having the ability to "be with someone" by phone is really an amazing stroke of technology.

  4. Your words ring true. Much as we would like to go back to the good old days, today's technology can be quite a positive force in our lives, as evidenced by your story.
    I'm so glad your girls are safe.
    Jo Ann

    1. Thank you, Jo Ann.
      In a crisis, it's often cell phones that get first responders to the scene so quickly, and get medical help for the injured, as it was with this shooting. We are so fortunate to have the technology that we do.

  5. OMG... I'm in shock. This sort of thing just isn't supposed to happen to people you "know." I'm so, so sorry that you and your girls had to go through all that, but so relieved that they're both OK - although I'm sure they're both gonna have a long road ahead of them in terms of healing the emotional scars. There was a robbery at my bank about a year ago - it happened shortly after I'd been there, and while nobody was hurt, it still makes me nervous to go near the place. I can't imagine what your girls must be going through right now. As you know, I'm not the praying type, but I'm sending you and your girls all of my best healing energy right now.

    Anyhow, I'm in total agreement in terms of the technology. I think that in certain situations it's invaluable. When CatMan fell off his bicycle and broke his pelvis last spring, I was so, SOOO glad we had a phone and could call for help. I only wish that there was a way to get people to use it in moderation, because I can't help but believe that at least part of the reason we see so many tragedies like this these days, is because so many people are living in an "unreal" world where they interact more with their technology than with each other. I'm not saying that technology "causes" people to go off the rails, just saying that it's easier for people to get lost when so much of our human interaction has been replaced with technology.

    Sending you and yours my very best.

    1. Thank you, Cat. I know what you mean. I always felt that these things don't happen to "us", they happen far away, to people we don't know. And they don't happen at small universities, but major ones. Well, they can happen anywhere, anytime. And technology is at it's finest in a crisis, as you and CatMan found out when he shattered his pelvis. Imagine what you would have had to do, likely leave him there, while you go find help, had you not had a cell phone. And you were just doing an "ordinary" thing, out for a ride.

      My daughters are doing okay. The school has been extremely helpful and flexible with the students. This is now finals week, and many professors have rearranged finals for students, including offering take-home finals, so very traumatized students could take their time in returning to campus, if need be.

      I believe there is real truth to what you said about too much technology leading to tragic events like these. My personal belief is that violence in video games and movies has desensitized us. And that some young minds really can't differentiate between fantasy and reality all that well. If you mix in mental illness and you have a recipe for a tragedy. I am saddened for the family of the student who lost his life, but I am also terribly saddened for the young man who committed the shooting. He is just 26 years old. It all makes me very sad.

      Thanks for your kind words and thoughts.

    2. Agreed. I think it's very telling (in an extremely sad way) that the main uses we've put all of this technology to are mindless social climbing on the one hand, and fantasy games about killing people on the other. I was just thinking the other day that when I was a kid, the most violent games at the arcade were PacMan and Whack-a-Mole! I don't have any idea what the games of today look like, but from the commercials and ads I see, it's pretty horrifying.

      I share your deep sadness, and hope for healing - not only for those involved in this tragedy, but for our society in general.

  6. I can't imagine anything more terrifying. And after the fact, anything sadder. I'm sorry that you and your family had to go through this. (As well as everyone else.)

    Several years ago, we had a sniper who terrorized our area for about three weeks until they caught them. That was a scary time, but you had to go on with your daily life. I remember walking in a zigzag anytime I got out of the car because that supposedly made it harder for someone to shoot you. We didn't have cell phones at the time (we were late to join the game), but I trusted the schools to do what was right for the kids.

    As for factors leading to these tragedies, the biggest factor is mental illness. Next is the continual play these events get in the media of all kinds. An untreated mentally ill person may still do harm to himself or others, but I don't think it would be as widespread and not as many people would be hurt if they didn't see it in the news all of the time. Of course, some news reporting is needed at the time, but I think it should stop at that. And if we could just train ourselves to understand that we don't need to know everything, I think we'd be better off overall. The news only reports what will get them good ratings.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I do remember the sniper shootings in your area from back several years. Even here on this coast, I was nervous about going to gas stations. And you're right about too much press coverage. Reportedly, the young man who committed the shooting at SPU had a fascination with other school shootings. For a mentally ill person, this just gives them something to fixate on. The President said in a news conference yesterday that America doesn't have a lock on all the crazies (his word, not mine) in the world. So, it makes me wonder what are we not doing or not doing as well as some other countries which have considerably less violence.

      I have a good friend who hadn't even heard what happened on campus, for several days. She told me that she just doesn't watch the news any more, that she feels it's much more important for her to keep her focus on her immediate family. Maybe she has something there.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

  7. I thank God that your daughters are safe and that you were able to be there for them. There is something ... actually many things ... wrong that these tragedies keep happening.

    1. Thank you, DW.
      Gun violence feels like it's on the rise, here. Not just school shootings, but every week, there is a shooting in the Seattle area. There was another one overnight last night. Something is very wrong with our society. I'm guessing it's a combination of mental illness going untreated, and a culture of solving problems/dealing with anger, using violence.

  8. Lil, we are seeing more gun violence in my Midwestern city, too. It's almost a daily thing. What I'm hearing and reading is that drug and gang problems are behind a lot of this violence. It's definitely scary.

    1. Oh DW, I'm sorry that your Midwestern city is also seeing more gun violence. I've always thought of the Midwest as the last "safe" region of the US. Okay, that makes sense about the drugs and gang problems. I do think many of the shootings that happen overnight and on weekends here in Seattle are gang-related. I don't like my kids being downtown after dark. There are too many innocent bystanders who wind up injured or killed in the crossfire. Scary, indeed.

  9. Oh my! How terrifying. I am so glad that your family is safe and that you could communicate with your girls during that scary time. I'm praying for peace for your family, the families of the victims and the other students.

    It's not right that we parents have to worry about the safety of our children at school and universities.

    I agree with Live and Learn's comments about too much press coverage. I think it encourages these situations.

    As for your friend who doesn't watch the news, I can relate. My Mom watches the news multiple times per day. Every time I call her, she starts the conversation with negative reports of the latest shooting, viral epidemic, accident or rumor of war. She spends a lot of her time and energy fretting over the safety of her family. I know we have a lot to worry about, but it's not what God wants for us.

    Philippians 4:8: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

    I think of that verse often after hearing of bad news. I understand that it's good to be aware of what's going on to a certain extent. The constant media replay of horrible events doesn't serve any good purpose, though, in my opinion. I tend to be worrier, so I remind myself of the verse above, pray and try to move on.

    I'm really saddened by what's going on in our country, and world. I think the basis of all of this is that most people have turned their backs on God.


    1. I completely agree, Angie. Worry does nothing for us, and only eats the time we could be spending living how God intended. It's easy to get sucked into watching too much news. Wouldn't it be awesome if there was a news channel that only highlighted the positive things happening?!
      I think you're completely right about where all this tragedy comes from, a society that no longer lives in harmony with God's will and love.


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