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A parent's guide to helping kids using their phone during an active shooter event

Crisis situations come in all shapes and sizes, and when you are not there with your kid to protect them these events can be equally terrifying. While the most important thing is staying safe, there's nothing wrong with being prepared and knowing the best way to navigate a bad situation. It's not always easy to remember the right thing to do in those situations even as adults, but if your son or daughter has their phone nearby they have access to a ton of things that can be both life-saving and eye-opening.

Here are a couple of simple ways you can teach your kids to use their phones effectively in these situations, to keep themselves and others safe.

Know who to contact first

First and foremost, your phone is a communication tool. If something terrible has happened around you and you notice it first, get somewhere safe and call 911. Give the operator as much information as possible, and do everything you can to follow their instructions. If you need to remain on the phone with the operator, leave the call app and text your family while the call is happening. Communicate with as many people in your immediate family as possible, but remember to give as much information as you can about what is happening around you.

If calling isn't an option, either due to noise or concern for your safety if you are speaking, don't hesitate to text. Whatever kind of message you can get out to your immediate family, do so. You may not be able to call 911, but there's a good chance they can. Regardless of how you are communicating, make sure you include:

  • A simple, direct description of what you think is happening.
  • Whether you are safe, and if you feel like you will continue to be safe.
  • If this event involves people with malicious intent and you have seen them, describe them.

A solid app for giving multiple family members some information immediately is Google's Trusted Contacts app. It lets you quickly share an "I'm OK" kind of message, and if your family members ping you first and you don't answer within a few minutes, the phone will share its location with only your family members.

It's also important for parents to do as much as possible to respond as frequently as possible, but not to demand responses. Do not try to call them, make sure they know to call you when they feel they are totally safe. Being calm and patient in this situation is impossible, but it's what your child needs right now. Use the information your child is providing you to communicate with the authorities. Ask simple questions, remind your child to give as much detail as possible to help you, but stay as calm as possible.

Apps to help in a crisis

You don't have to be constantly using your phone for it to be useful. There are some basic apps you can have installed on your phone to help you out no matter what.

  • Install a voice recorder app (opens in new tab). Turn it on when something happens and put your phone back in your pocket.
  • Use an ICE app (opens in new tab) so someone can find you if your phone is left behind.
  • Download maps for your area so your phone has a map even if you can't connect to a network.

Your phone also has a few tricks baked in that will be useful:

  • Set your phone to power save mode when you are somewhere safe, so no matter what you've got some extra battery.
  • Remember most phones have a radio built in when you add headphones, but not every phone has an app built-in to use this feature.
  • Many USB-C phones and tablets can charge other electronics, so if you are with a group of people you can charge a single phone and keep it alive longer if necessary. Just make sure you have the right cable.

Using your camera in a crisis

If you feel compelled to record or broadcast what is happening around you, do it. Just make sure you are doing it as safely as possible. If you see something that you feel needs to be shared with as many people as possible, you absolutely have the tools to do so with your phone. Just make sure you are not endangering yourself or anyone else in the process.

  • Stay low, and don't move around too much. Try to record where you are, and nowhere else.
  • Stay quiet, and try to ensure others near you are doing the same. Don't draw any unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • Make sure you have included the appropriate information in the broadcast or video via text, so there's no confusion.
  • Make sure your volume is all the way down before you do anything.

Finally, don't try to install a new app right there. Use what you have, even if that's just the camera app. Recording video to publish later is a lot safer. If you already have a live streaming app installed, there's nothing wrong with using that instead of recording. Use what you are most comfortable with.

Stay safe, no matter what

Nobody wants to think about what they would do in a bad situation, but talking to your children about the right things to do will help prepare them for the worst. Even if this information never gets used, having it is better than not.

Stay safe, keep those around you safe, and remember your phone is an incredibly helpful tool if you know how to use it.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

35 Comments
  • Samsung and iPhone have the sos function built in where if you triple press the power button it will send a text and turn on the camera... I tested it and it works.
  • I can't believe there even has to be a discussion on this topic!
  • THIS. F the clowns on both sides of this circus called a government. The fact that this is even an issue just points out what utter crap society is. It's no different from people having worthless arguments about iOS or Android being the better platform. The government WANTS us at each other's throats, no matter what the issue is. We are being manipulated, and people don't see it. Nothing will change; not as long as these politicians continue to be Big Money's (W)itch. That includes accepting donations from the NRA, Wall Street, the Koch Brothers, Monsanto, and whatever else. It's beyond my comprehension that the people who are supposed to serve US are allowing kids to die in schools. SCHOOL! It's the one place where a parent should feel like their kids are safe when not at home. Yet all supporters of 2A can think about is not losing access to their damn guns. There's a difference between fearing having your guns taken away and adopting COMMON SENSE laws to ensure that guns don't end up in the hands of the wrong people-the same people that are capable of such heinous acts. That's what's being asked of the NRA, but no. And those politicians that dare accept donations from them while refusing to act to ensure that shootings NEVER happen again, are 100% complicit.
  • Did pull this straight from the DNC or CNN talking points? There is not a single original argument here and the mass generalizations are laughable. I find it extremely ironic that the you write two paragraphs of pure trash right after saying "The government WANTS us at each other's throats, no matter what the issue is. We are being manipulated, and people don't see it." My advice to you would be to do your own homework and quit logging on to website just to post the same tired BS that you can find in the mainstream media. You are not winning any hearts and minds and you look like a parrot, not a intelligent human. If you would like to have a rational argument on why you think passing more laws for authorities ignored in Parkland we can do so, but you are going to be required to think for yourself. Legislating evil away is going to be a pretty difficult task. It would be fun to hear your reasoning on why you think that is possible.
  • Your first mistake is thinking I watch CNN. Your second mistake is thinking I parrot any talking points from any MSM. Both sides have their agendas to push. I prefer to think for myself. And if I do watch, I watch both sides and find fault and manipulation from both. I happen to be a moderate. Do I lean left? Perhaps, but I'm certainly NOT extreme left. If you wanna keep your head in the sand about thinking the government actually works for you, that's your choice. If you think electing a billionaire celebrity who lives in a golden tower in NYC means change for middle America, that's your choice. I live in NYC, and Trump's exploits are well documented. It's sad that you think the government works for you. I choose to think the opposite- that those that WE elect to represent US are in reality trying to line their own pockets. BOTH sides are a bunch of self-serving, corporate shills, including the leader of the "Nasty Women" herself. You have a lot to learn if you don't think governments DON'T engineer it so citizens aren't at each other's throats. You have idiots fighting in YouTube comments, talking about how Android is better than iOS, and vice-versa. They're frigging PHONES. You have more idiots fighting over religion. You have even more idiots, fighting over race, or acceptance of differing "genders" or sexual orientations. And of course, the gun issue. Do I begrudge people owning guns? No. If people wanna protect themselves and their families by arming themselves, fine. What I have a problem with is guns ending up in the hands of the wrong people, because they're so easily accessible; especially illegally. To me, being able to get a gun license doesn't only involve shooting targets at a shooting range. It should involve EXTENSIVE background checks. If you've been convicted of a crime, depending on the severity of the offense, it should be more difficult for you to obtain a gun. Also, people need to undergo mental health testing. But then again, who's to say that even the most responsible gun owner wouldn't "snap" if faced with certain situations? That's why "fight or flight" exists. And when you're running on adrenaline, your ability to take the time to THINK rationally goes out the window. There's a difference between wanting to take away your right to bear arms and wanting to adopt COMMON SENSE laws to make it so that weapons don't end up in the hands of those that aren't equipped mentally or physically to handle them. Obviously, the fact that our forefathers sought to make bearing arms a right says something. You have the right to bear arms and fight against tyranny. But you tell me, what kind of threat of tyranny do students going to school to learn, or spectators going to a concert, or patrons going to a night club to have a good time, pose?! And yeah, what if... what IF we train teachers and arm them? Or have armed guards? Who's to say that they won't make a mistake and shoot innocent people, while trying to aim for their target? The guard assigned to the school in Florida resigned in disgrace. He stood outside for 4 of the 6 minutes that shots were being fired! He heard the gun fire. It was his JOB to storm the area, and apprehend the guy, wasn't it? Or are you of the opinion that, oh "as long as the damage is limited", so that there would have been 10 victims, instead of 17, as long as the shooter is among them? That doesn't fly with me, either.
  • Evil exists in the world. Whether an active shooter, maybe a bomber in London; perhaps a knife attacker in China or even people driving vehicles through crowds in Spain. Not only man-caused events, hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Earthquakes in Mexico. Volcanoes around the ring of fire. The concept of crisis situations is broad and you can use these ideas to benefit you in a variety of situations. To assume that the only bad thing in the world is an active shooter in a man-designated gun free zone is intellectually dishonest.
  • A good, logical point.
  • But by sensationalizing the headline they can create more ad revenue and more money. How a child can use their phone around a volcano wouldn't cut it. DuckDuckGo blocks 27 trackers on the AC main page. This article has 34 trackers. All about that money.
  • Great article. Sad but true in these crazy times we're living in.
  • I wish somebody could be there to return fire. I'm sick of these wack jobs killing innocent people.
  • Yes, the solution to gun violence is more guns... Stop drinking the kool-aid
  • What then? More laws for the criminals and nutjobs to ignore?
  • Just scrap all laws then.
  • May be stop making guns as easily available!!! The constitution is just an excuse for the nra!
  • Yup. Because it works in other countries.
  • The guard at Parkland had a gun and wasn't there to return fire. He douched his way outside and waited.
  • They had a cop in Fl who had a gun and did...nothing.
  • And potentially kill more innocent kids? 🙄 It’s a fact that Europe bans all types of weapons and they don’t have school shootings.
  • They just have mass bombings and people driving trucks and vans through crowds as well as events like the November 2015 Paris shootings/bombings (yes, shootings do still happen) that killed 130 people alone. That seems like a pleasant alternative.
  • There going to equip teachers with handguns next
  • Don't need to. I wouldn't trust most teachers with a gun anyways. Most of them would not be mentally prepared in such a situation and that is not fair to them or the kids to ask them to be mentally prepped to be a police officer as well as a teacher. There are some teachers who would be great for this. I would wager the vast majority probably would not. But there is an alternative solution. Snoop Dog's bodyguard reiterated the fantastic idea that we have hundreds of thousands or unemployed veterans who were in fact trained for such hostile situations. Let them guard. We use them to guard money, celebrities, important people and our freedom - so use them to protect our children.
  • I'm not sure if this problem can be fixed. We can ban all the guns we want but we're going to have to fix the people. This is a huge problem. Much bigger than guns.
  • This. If it's not guns, it will be something else. It's a heart issue, not a weapon issue.
  • I am sad that this kind of article needs to be written. Every time I watch footage of Americans greiving over these horrendous incidents, I wish and pray that more of you were exposed to the experience we have had here in Australia. Caveat being that we are not perfect, no one country is... But... We can unequivocally say that tighter restrictions on gun ownership and less guns in society ( not more ) DOES lead to fewer shootings. In 1996 we had our Sandy Hook moment... 35 people ( including kids on a school excursion ) shot and killed at an historic tourist site. Yes the young man had many psychological issues but he also had almost unfettered access to guns. Later that year, the Government at the time passed sweeping legislation that both provided amnesty and buy back for anyone handing in guns ... And far stricter legislation in being able to buy / own a gun including significantly heightened requirements to secure guns on your premises ( Locked gun cabinets... Ammunition and guns stored separately as well as bolts for rifles ). People that needed guns for livilihood ( eg farmers ) and genuine sporting reasons have, with the benefit of hindsight, not been unduly affected. Since then, Australia has had ZERO mass shootings at public places. There have been a couple of in house sieges where multiple people have been shot and killed ( family related ) and 2 terrorist attacks ... But no random mass shootings. Gun reduction and increased control on gun ownership works and I continue to be saddened that this argument can continue to even occur after each one of these terrible events. No ... It won't stop everything completely... But YES it WILL reduce ... And surely we owe it to our kids to at least try! Sincerely... From an Aussie that is hurting for you all.
  • Australia is not the shining beacon you think you are portraying. Homicides were already on the decline prior to 1996 and the rate of firearm-related homicides post-1996 was unchanged. i.e. the gun buyback (which itself is a misleading word since it was mandatory) was a colossal failure.
  • You need to check your facts. 1 - Gun related homicide decreased from 1996 through to 2005 from close to 100 down to about 25..since then they have crept back up to about 45 in 2015... But once you take into account population growth, that increase looks much smaller. 2 - the "gun buy back" - was only 1 part of the legislation change. As I mentioned the vastly increased requirements of gun ownership ( background checks, licensing, restrictions information types of weapons , requirements for safe storage ) were just as important as the reduction in total weapons in circulation. Interested to hear on what basis you claim the "buy back" was a "colossal failure" ?? Given the some research that indicates every homicide costs the state in the order of $2.7 million .... I am more than happy to spend money on reducing them...
  • Have homicides, in general, decreased as well, not just gun related?
  • Yes they have - at a directly proportionate rate to the reduction I gun related events. Again, I am not claiming that Australia is perfect - far from it - but it is clear an irrefutable evidence that the reduction in total guns in circulation and the tightening of gun ownership laws leads to a reduction in gun related homicides - most specifically mass events perpetrated by random people in public spaces. I am not American.. but even I can recognise that the 2nd amendment was written for a vastly different time when arms were intrinsically different from what they are today.... It makes sense that it is revisited and legislation regarding it should continue to be adapted to changing society. Sometimes it takes a point of view from outside to give one the perspective needed to change. And that's not me of course... But so very many other far more intelligent and knowledge people from all around the world are saying the same thing.
  • Like others - I'm disgusted that this even had to be written. One comment, Russell. When you call 911, some phones (or maybe it's Android in general) go into "emergency mode", blocking incoming calls from anyone but emergency services, allowing them to call back and get you without dealing with you being in another conversation. This lasts for 5-15 minutes (I don't recall exactly, it's been 3 years since I had to call 911). This may also block text/internet use to be absolutely sure an incoming call can come through. Please look into this in case it changes some of the wording of the article. Obviously, you can't actually TEST it. For others, and not to be TOO political. While I'm not a "gun nut", nor one that feels that all guns should be banned I also don't feel that more restrictions on gun ownership are the answer. If someone is going to break the law and act in the manner this person in Florida did, they're GOING to find a way to get the tools they feel they want for the job. While this instance in Florida is a talking point in favor of banning "assault-style rifles", the signs were there that this was going to happen, the FBI knew about it and did NOTHING.
  • I actually saw some moron on Twitter claim that AR-15s are not assault rifles. Really?! A weapon that allows one to fire hundreds of rounds in mere minutes, assuring that you can kill as many of your targets as possible is not an assault rifle?
  • In the technical sense they most certainly are not. The definition of assault rifle has loosely been redefined to include any "black, scary looking gun." The original usage however implied an automatic weapon that was for military use or extremely wealthy private owners as automatic weapons have been banned from the public for decades. The reality is that a common looking standard, brown huntin rifle can be loaded with many rounds of .223 and achieve the same affect as the scary, black rifles. But no one cares about them in the selective outrage. Also, to fire hundreds of rounds in mere minutes in a semi-automatic in the traditional sense would take incredible finger dexterity and strength. My finger hurts just thinking about trying to pull the trigger than many times so quickly as to fulfill your scenario.
  • I was pretty skeptical about an article like this on an Android site as most non-directly-related tech articles on tech sites are full of utter crap. This, however, is a pretty decent article that easily transcends the buzzword of 'active shooter'. The suggestions and tips are good for, as the article opens by saying, crisis situations, which is indeed universal.
  • What is unsettling are the reasons terrorists like that student have to justify their terrorist acts.
  • I'm surprised by this article (finally). When there is an active intruder in a school, I believe the most important thing a parent can do is NOT call/text their child. Imagine a room that is supposed to look empty and dark...and suddenly gets lit up with all the student's phones lighting up from their parents calling them. The teachers and staff are trained in these situations and people need to let them get their students to safety without parents interrupting the process. Have your students contact you when they are safe is a much better plan. Also, after listening to some 911 operators, if you don't have anything specific to add, the don't want you to call. If you saw the intruder, then call since you can give details such as location and description. If all you do is call and say, "I heard shots", then it makes better use of the operators time to handle other calls.
  • AND MOST IMPORTANTLY... As soon as you become aware of a threatening situation, turn ringer, notifications and alarm sounds off. An ill -timed message may alert a killer to your presence.