Luis Campos knows what to do when gunfire echoes near his Lennox home.
"You lie flat down and cover your head," the 12-year-old said matter-of-factly, demonstrating the technique on his front lawn.
Luis didn't learn this practice on the streets--he was taught the drill in elementary school.
The classroom drop-and-cover routine that became familiar amid the Cold War fear of nuclear attack has been transformed into a mechanism to protect students from nearby gunfire.
Schools from South-Central Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley teach children to sprawl flat at the sound of shots.
They're called drop drills, crisis drills and even bullet drills. In many schools, a special alarm sounds, as it would during an actual nearby shooting. Teachers shout, "Drop!" and students duck under their desks or sprawl on the ground, covering their heads. Many schools also immediately initiate a lock-down during the drill, as they would with a shooting, sealing the campus off from violence outside.
Although crime nationally is on the decline and campus shootings are relatively rare, the most violent incidents continue to receive a barrage of media attention, driving many schools to adopt these policies.
The drills aren't new, but experts say the practice spreads every time gang violence touches a community.
School safety experts say the fear of errant bullets that prompts these drills has become the "nuclear war" looming over communities in the 1990s.
But unlike the distant threat of massive bombs, shootings remain an all too familiar danger many children live with every day.
"There's a big difference between 1997 and the way things were in 1957," said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, a program of the U.S. Justice and Education departments. "There have been enough incidents of shootings and weapons on campuses that the concept of shooting drills has entered discussions in schools all around the country."
Children in the Inglewood neighborhood where a toddler was killed while he sat on his father's shoulders last week say they've learned in class to duck at the sound of shots. Venice schools on turf between two rival gangs order their students to the ground every time gun battles break out near the campuses. And at Luis' school in Lennox, students learn how to avoid bullets in monthly drop exercises and an annual outdoor sniper drill.
Although the drills may be a practical response to street violence, safety experts say they also offer ominous testimony to the level of danger in society.
"It's a national tragedy that a bullet drill would have to be part of any children's regular routine at school," Stephens said.
Like many others, the Los Angeles Unified School District doesn't have an official "shooting drill," but the drop-and-cover routine for earthquakes, explosions and other emergencies is also taught and used as a response to gunfire, district officials said.
"During the Cold War years, with the danger of an atomic attack, these 'drop and take cover' drills came into existence," said Pete Anderson, director of the district's Office of Emergency Services. "Now that the Cold War has gone lukewarm, we do it for different reasons."
All schools must practice the drop drill at least once a semester, and many have modified the general emergency drill specifically for shootings, a procedure that some administrators say is one of the few ways to cope with gunfire near campuses.
Several years ago, Principal Anna McLinn instituted "pancake drills"--so called because children lie flat--at Marvin Avenue Elementary School because shots were regularly fired in the Mid-City neighborhood. Drug deals were made on the corners and gang members lounged across the street from the school.
"If students heard a loud noise, they were trained to drop to the ground and crawl as if they were in the service, keeping their bodies flat," McLinn said. "If you stand up, the bullet could hit you. You can imagine what it was like with 1,000 youngsters on the playground."
McLinn's students practiced the drill every other week until Los Angeles police began a program to clean up the neighborhood around the school.
"This was an area where Uzis would go off next door," she said. "It's nothing for my youngsters to see a shooting a couple blocks from school. When you're looking at a community where this is almost normal, you have to be prepared."
And even schools where the sound of gunfire is not familiar have started training children in how to react.
Students at Burbank Boulevard Elementary School in North Hollywood know to sprawl flat on the ground at the sound of a long, continuous bell. The campus adopted the drill because "you never know what could happen," said Principal Sharon Greene.
"It does tell us that we, as a society, are out of control," she said. "And children have to live with this fear."