Gun crime in the US has everyone living on edge
I WAS on the train from the suburbs the other day approaching Harlem, tapping away at my laptop, and didn't pay attention to what the voice was saying over the loudspeaker.
People started running down the aisle and there was a second, urgent announcement, that due to "police activity" we were to evacuate at the next stop. The train seemed to speed up.
The man's voice said we had to "clear carriages 1, 2 and 3". We were in the second carriage and a bottleneck was building in the aisle next to my seat.
I looked over my shoulder at the growing queue, jostling to get through the narrow compartment doors. Their faces were tight, distressed. At least one older woman was in tears, clutching her handbag close to her body and bundled up in her winter coat. Somebody called out: "Jesus, get moving up there".
I decided to lay down across my seat until they cleared, because if the bad person with a gun you come to expect in America was heading down the train, at least they might not see me. I swore at myself for wearing heels and a tight dress because I was on the way to a function in the city, and started to take off my shoes in case I had to run.
A couple of minutes later the same voice was calm as it said: "False alarm, folks. We're continuing on to Grand Central". Now some of the faces appeared resigned, weary. Others looked angry as they returned to their seats, a couple were shaking their heads and swearing.
Last month, when my oldest son said he was going to see the new Joker film on a Saturday night, I reminded him to check the cinema for exits before it started.
"Of course, Mum," he said. "Don't worry."
He knows, as do his brother and sister, that if they are outside and hear gunfire, they need to get down. Preferably behind an engine block, because most bullets can pierce a car door. There have been two "credible threats" made through social media to our local high school since we moved here two years ago, with extra police posted and most parents keeping their kids home for the day.
When the summer break ended in September, I was speaking to another Australian journalist, a father from California, who agreed that the worst thing about the end of the holidays was that school shootings would start again.
People ask what can be done about America and guns.
An Australian-style firearms amnesty would never work here. Responsible gun-owners rightfully say they won't take part because they are scared the badly-intentioned won't give up any weapons. In a country awash with guns, everyone is frightened of something.
Sarah Blake is News Corp's US Correspondent.