I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on April 19, 1995,when I heard about the horrific devastation in Oklahoma. I was in my office talking on the phone when one of my staff informed me that a building out West had exploded in which a daycare was housed. Facts were scarce, but it was believed that a number of children had died in the blast.
As director of a bustling preschool twenty minutes outside of Pittsburgh, the news was extremely personal. After saying a prayer for those who had perished, all I could think of was what if such a catastrophe ever happened here? If I were to be spared, what immediate actions would I undertake to save as many lives as I could? Where would I start?
My first inclination would be to dial 911, but what if the lines were inoperable? I know getting the children and staff out would be my top priority, but since I'd never devised an evacuation plan other than posting an escape route in each classroom, would that be possible?
Hearing the screams and crys of the little ones entrusted to my care would be unbearable, yet I would need to provide my charges with a soothing environment, and assurance that everything would be all right. How would I accomplish this objective and sincerely mean it?
Having required everybody employed at the school to have CPR training, would we as a group jump into action, utilizing our skills on whomever was in distress? Would we remember the techniques? Would we have the courage to even initiate them if we did indeed remember them?
And what about the severely injured? Would we have the know-how to deal with uncontrollable bleeding, head truama, limb amputation, and crushed organs? Unless there were medical professionals available, my answer would be a definite 'no.' We would do what common sense would dictate, but unfortunately our efforts would result in few positive outcomes.
Thankfully during my tenure, nothing like the Oklahoma tragedy ever happened at our beloved preschool. Our children and staff enjoyed a safe, happy environment where learning to share and a few scraped knees were the only emergencies we faced on a daily basis.
After the inexplicable actions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols on that sorrowful day, my view of a preschool director's responsibilities drastically changed. If it could happen in Oklahoma, it could happen anywhere. I no longer walked through our facility with the same care-free spirit I'd had before April 19th. Over the next five years, there always lurked a nagging fear in the back of my mind, that things weren't exactly as they appeared. Previously I had embraced a false sense of security, but now I knew better. We are only as safe as the people that come into our lives are morally grounded and mentally sane.
Yesterday I prayed for the victims and families impacted by the Oklahoma City bombing, and again realized that we are all potential targets of similar devastation. We can simply hope that we will be spared such pain throughout our lifetime, and be strong enough to live each day with happiness in our hearts and a zest for living that nobody can rob us of, even when they inflict the most hideous of brutalization.