There have been numerous stories about the harm active shooter drills have caused. A recent article from the Associated Press cited statements from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association that disavow unannounced drills or simulated gunfire. Most of the time these drills are not thought out well enough to apply to the civilian population. Teachers have been injured diving under desks, tripping in hallways, or attempting to protect themselves. Property damage has occurred to doors, windows, and furniture without proper oversight by training safety officers. In some cases, students have been traumatized by the site of simulated assailants pointing practice weapons at adults. While these types of drills are essential for officers in training, they don’t translate well to school staff and students.
Administrators across the country defer to local law enforcement for active shooter training. That training is designed to actively address the threat of an armed intruder. This type of training doesn’t translate well into the school district. We must train for the possibility but understand the probability is extremely low. Of the 133,000 schools in the U.S. less than 100 per year deal with an armed attacker with a gun. We don’t set the school on fire in order to practice fire drills and we don’t need to have a simulated attacker in order to practice lock down/secure in place drills. Simply announcing there will be a drill, letting the teachers review the individual classroom protocols with those students and then initiating the drill is an effective means to accomplish the safety drill. Drills should be designed to practice procedures; Door locked, lights out, safer corner, silence electronics, and prepare to protect.
Teachers need to know how to talk with their students about the drills. Talking openly with students about active shooter situations in schools is an important component of the safety posture of the schools. Almost every school has some portion of the emergency action plan that addresses steps to take in the event of a hostile intruder. Administrators should make sure to discuss with staff what the expectations are for each roll. Support staff should be told to look for straggling students in hallways or open areas and move them to safety, if safe to do so, staff unattached to students should get outside and make sure any fleeing students are directed to safety, and teachers should know their primary responsibility for safety are the students under their charge so independent action must take the safety of those students into account.
Safety drills have always been a part of student life. We come from an age where most adults had to practice ‘Stop, Drop & Roll’. Generations of elementary students regularly went to the gym and rolled the length of the floor on a mat. There wasn’t an epidemic of children bursting into flames but there were injuries from those with a lack of experience on what to do if they found themselves in such a situation. It was not uncommon to practice ‘Duck and Cover’ drills in which students climbed under their desk with a book over their head to survive a bombing or nuclear attack. Trauma comes from the type of drills performed not the existence of the drill itself. We all came out okay from these drills, mostly.
Active shooter drills are better left in the realm of a mental exercise. The drills should be announced. Teachers should discuss with students what exit would be utilized if escape is the best option. They should predetermine where the safer corner is within the classroom and have students practice heading to that corner. Teachers should demonstrate how the room will be arranged to offer the most protection, and what to do in the event they are confronted by an intruder. Parents have given their children advice that might conflict with the teacher’s plan. If a student is trying to get out the door while the teacher is setting up a barricade this can be catastrophic. The most important aspect is that the students understand that there is a plan in place, working together offers the greatest likelihood of not being injured and that help is on the way. Students will look for leadership in a crisis. It is best that this comes from the teacher. Planning ahead so that everyone knows what to do is what will reduce casualties.