Lockdown drills: How to balance safety and stress

Under pressure to tighten security, K-12 leaders also work to reduce trauma
By: | December 19, 2019
Emergency responders participate in an active shooter drill at Red Land High School in Pennsylvania in 2017. Staff and students spent a year planning the exercise in which two actors used fake handguns loaded with blanks.

Experts continue to question whether lockdown drills designed to prepare students for active shooters and other emergencies do more harm than good.

Researcher Jaclyn Schildkraut asks “Is it possible to be prepared without being scared?” in recent post on The Conversation.

“I believe that kids should be prepared, but also that drills do not have to be scary to be effective,” wrote Schildkraut, who is an associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York Oswego. “Schools can take steps to minimize the anxiety and trauma surrounding lockdown drills.”

More from DA: How to prepare without crossing the line of traumatization

Assessing threats to try to prevent school shootings may be a more effective safety measure than potentially traumatic drills, Anya Kamenetz wrote on NPR.

The U.S. Secret Service in November released a report urging educators to work harder to identify “students of concern” and assess their risk of committing violent acts. “The threshold for intervention should be low, so that schools can identify students in distress before their behavior escalates to the level of eliciting concerns about safety,” according to the report.

Some schools and districts, such as Great Oaks Career Campuses in Ohio, are already putting this method into practice, District Administration reported in February.

Develop intervention teams and talk to local school resource officers about what kids are doing in the neighborhood,” Alvin Gille, the district’s health, safety and security coordinator, told DA. “You get a broader look at a student in crisis so that they don’t become a villain and a perpetrator.”

More from DA: How schools are solving a safety dilemma

Meanwhile, Some parents are questioning at what age students should be expected to participate in a lockdown drill, according to The Detroit News.

In September, Kalamazoo Public Schools suspended drills temporarily at nine schools after several parents reported that their children were being traumatized. The district allowed parents to opt-out when the drills resumed in a modified format, and posted training materials for different grade levels on its website, according to the newspaper.

The district reported that just over 1% of students opted out of a November training, the newspaper wrote.

Many K-12 administrators who feel obligated to hold lockdown drills are also taking a closer look at student stress, DA wrote in January.

“The idea is to teach lockdown procedures like we would reading and math,” Cathy Paine, crisis response team lead for the National Association of School Psychologists, told DA. “We want to make them thoughtful and routine. We can’t just throw students and staff into a drill and expect them to know what to do.”

More from DA: Op-ed—Why public schools remain the safest places