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Innocent Blood: Shots Fired in Newtown

Author: Barry Furey

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2012-12-14
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For the past few days I have been contemplating what to write as an end of year column. The doldrums of working the holidays was pretty much covered by Paul Bagley in From the Chair.  Would I cover this same topic from a manager’s perspective? No, it didn’t seem that interesting or pertinent. Would I fall back on my "Ghosts of Christmas Past" theme that I ran just this last year, and discuss those tragedies that make our holidays a sadder place? What was to gain?  While I tried to decide, some madman with a gun made my choice for me.

Active shooters have now become such a part of public safety’s life that the names of the communities in which they occur run together in a liturgy reminiscent of the battles of our Civil War. When I first wrote the column, "What if Columbine Were Mine?," the name of that Colorado town itself had become singularly synonymous with the devil (or should I say devils) incarnate. Now, Columbine is not even alone in Colorado in this distinction. And if misery truly does love company, they are comfortably surrounded by the Virginia Techs, and Clackamases, and Newtowns of our country. These are the new names that replace those of one-hundred fifty years ago. They are the Antietams, Gettysburgs, and Manassases of the 20th and 21st Centuries.  But unlike those battles, all of the blood spilled here is the blood of innocents.  There were no differing ideologies that could not be resolved short of a clash of weapons.  In our most recent stain there was nothing more than the counting down of minutes until Christmas vacation came to call.

Aside from the human emotions that cannot help but overwhelm incidents of this ilk, I am, as a professional intrigued by the ever increasing impact of social media on our industry, and how we must learn to manage this aspect of future emergencies.  How many parents were notified by Tweets? How much information “leaked” before it was corroborated or prior to victim’s families being formally and properly notified? I don’t know the answers, but I do know that one civilian being interviewed by the regular media gave the name of a teacher who had been shot, so I suspect at least some data was changing hands.

As I scroll down my Facebook page I am amazed at the number of condolences that have already sprung up, interspersed with the point and counterpoint of postings exalting the need for gun control as well as those in support of better mental health care.  It is all part of a national catharsis, which I suppose could be said of this column, as well.   But my Facebook also told me, erroneously, that the shooter was the older and not the younger brother, and so with text to 9-1-1 just around the corner, so to speak, I wonder how well we will manage both with rumor control and with the validation of facts when more popular and diverse forms of social media come knocking on our door in the Next Generation. 

In the days and weeks to come new information will develop, plans will be thought and rethought, and debriefings will occur. Hopefully the families and first responders will find closure, and somewhere some smidgen of sense can be found in all of this. Right now, and for a long time to come, finding peace on earth this holiday season will truly require a miracle. One doesn’t need the Mayan calendar to see the evidence of the end of civilization.

Tonight, I’ll hug my kids a little tighter and say a prayer, especially for those telecommunicators who had to work through this. I’ve worked and managed my share of messes in my time, and I can’t some close to imagining the emotional toll this takes; especially at this time of year.  But, unfortunately, I can guess. Though very little at this moment is either calm or bright, may we all sleep in peace tonight. Tomorrow brings another day. And another challenge.

Our PSAP Management columnist Barry Furey has been involved in public safety for more than 40 years, having managed 9-1-1 centers in four states. A life member of APCO International, he is the current director of the Raleigh-Wake County (NC) Emergency Communications Center.  As an independent columnist for 9-1-1 magazine, Barry’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his public safety employer.

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