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Pencils? Check.

Notebooks? Check.

Cellphone for emergencies? Check

Bulletproof backpack? On order.

It's back-to-school time, but parents have a new list to work from: how to protect their kids in the event of a school shooting, while shopping for supplies, when their college student visits a bar or if their family visits to an end-of-summer community festival.

It wasn't that long ago when the biggest problem was the kid at the next desk who ate your paste.

Returning to the classroom, or entering a new school for the first time, is a joyous occasion for students, families, teachers, support staff and administrators. But we've been reminded in recent weeks of our vulnerability; how a trip to a store can end in death, how turning in homework can open a student to alleged abuse, how a community festival ends with gunshots.

We want school to be fun and safe. We want our entertainment options to allow expressions of our joy. We want our shopping experiences and business office visits to be routine.

The vast majority will remain so. But the increase in threats and shootings means we now walk into a store and make sure we know the location of every exit and every bathroom; that we make sure our children know to tell an adult if something's awkward or different; that we know our friends and don't trust strangers.

How to fix this problem is a discussion that's been ongoing since Columbine. Many children have grown up learning active-shooter drills in addition to tornado drills. Adults and lawmakers can't decide whether the problem is guns, the people who own the guns, the manufacturers of the guns, or if the gun owners have a mental illness.

So it's on us to be ready.

The Illinois School and Campus Safety Resource Center suggests you get answers to these questions:

  • Find out where children will be taken in the event of an evacuation during school hours;
  • Ensure your current emergency contact information is on file at your child’s school;
  • Pre-authorize a friend or relative to pick up your children in an emergency and make sure the school knows who that designated person is;
  • Teach children with cell phones about ‘Text First, Talk Later.’ Short, simple text messages, such as “R U OK?” and “I’m OK,” are more likely to get through than a phone call if phone service is disrupted following an emergency, the group says. As phone congestion eases, you can follow up with a phone call to relay more information.

In addition, many districts and colleges offer email and text messages to alert students of potential dangers. College students should make sure they know the emergency plans for their dorm or apartment building.

For every person bent on mayhem, there are others trying to outsmart a new idea before there's a chance it takes hold. Knowing the basics, planning for the worst but hoping for the best, and sharing concerns with people in charge can go a long way to keeping everyone safe.

That's kind of common sense from which everyone can benefit.

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