Should a School Declare a Lockdown (And Not Tell Students and Teachers It’s a Drill)?

Readers, this is just a fascinating Texas Monthly story about a lockdown drill that everyone but the principal and a few administrators thought was REAL. At the heart of it lies the question the reporter asks (see below). And also: How does a terrifying drill  make the staff better prepared than a calm one? And the uber question: What kind of administrators think a shooting is so likely, it is worth putting everyone in their school through a horrifying experience? That’s the kind of thinking that gets us all sorts of drastic laws: “I don’t care if the odds are TINY, I still demand we do something huge and inconvenient that could easily backfire!” 

Is It Possible to Prepare Teachers and Students For School Shooting Situations Without Traumatizing Them? by Don Solomon 

When Hans and Jessica Graffunder sent their kids to school at Small Middle School in Southwest Austin last Thursday morning, they didn’t expect that by mid-morning, their children would be in the middle of a lockdown situation. The Graffunder’s couldn’t have anticipated that their daughter, 11, would find herself in the school library with a librarian urging her to find a better place to hide so she wouldn’t get shot, or that their son, 13, would be locked in a room with a teacher who drew the curtains at the windows as unknown people rattled the door handles from the outside.

And when these terrifying scenarios happen, there is no anticipation, no warning. But what about when there is no actual shooter? When there is no emergency? What happens when it’s a lockdown drill simulating a gunman on campus planned by the Austin Independent School District and the middle school itself? Shouldn’t parents and teachers anticipate that because they’ve been given plenty of advanced notice?

On the morning of the December 12—after they’d sent their kids to school—the Graffunders and other parents at the school received an email from the school informing them that there would be an unannounced lockdown drill later that day. According to Hans Graffunder, the unannounced nature of the drill, which happened almost a year to the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, had both students and teachers in a panic.

“The only people at the school who knew it was going to happen, or knew it was a drill, were the principal and a few administrative staff,” Graffunder said in an email to Texas Monthly after the drill. “The teachers did not know it was a drill. The simulation took place in a passing period, so all the kids and teachers scrambled for a place to hide. My daughter ended up in the library. The emergency team went around to rooms where kids and teachers were hiding and proceeded to rattle door handles and beat on locked doors to simulate someone trying to break in. The librarian told my daughter that she better find a better pace to hide or she would get shot. She was told that a bullet could dome right through the library window and hit her. She was absolutely terrified. Kids and teachers were screaming and crying. One of her teachers had a complete meltdown, which made all of her kids break down, as well.”

Graffunder’s interpretation of the drill is pretty consistent with that offered by the school’s principal, Amy Taylor. (Taylor does say that door handles were checked to ensure that they were locked, not to simulate someonewas breaking in.) Both the school and the outraged parent agree on the basics of what happened: The school simulated a lockdown without warning teachers, and parents were informed the day of the drill with, at least in some cases, insufficient warning to give them the opportunity to pull their kids out of school for the day.

While no one would dispute the importance of emergency preparedness, the way the unannounced drill was carried out raises an important question: Is it possible to prepare schools for this sort of emergency without traumatizing the students and teachers involved?…

Read the rest here. And if you’ve ever been traumatized by a scary situation, I’d particularly like to hear your take! – L. 

UPDATE: In response to the commenter who plans to hold an unannounced drill at this school sometime soon to make everyone “better prepared” than an announced drill would: There’s just  zero reason to make people temporarily believe they are at the hands of a madman, considering this is still one of the very rarest of crimes (even though it gets a lot of attention). It’s like snatching kids off the street in a windowless van without first explaining this is not a real abduction.

Small Middle School, Austin, TX.
It began as an ordinary day….

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77 Responses to Should a School Declare a Lockdown (And Not Tell Students and Teachers It’s a Drill)?

  1. Silver Fang December 18, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    And I thought the fire drills we had when I was a kid were scary…

  2. Chris December 18, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    So it’s OK now to yell “fire” in a crowded theater? There goes THAT metaphor.

    Is the school going to pay for trauma counseling for their students, just like when a real event like this occurs?


  3. Sara December 18, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    It’s like they’re trying to give people PTSD

    We had a (planned) lockdown drill a couple weeks ago. I had Kindergarten in my room and warned them ahead of time and two of my kids told me they were nervous because the bells were loud, I told them it was fine, just practice. Then when we had the drill I told them we were pretending that was a pretend bank robber in the school who wanted to steal my lunch so we had to be quiet and then constantly reminded them that it was all pretend (and still had a set of twins on my lap). I can’t imagine how those kids would deal with a situation that they thought was real.

    I’ve got no problems with drills or procedures as long as they’re not done too often, (I think it’s good practice for situations inside and outside of school — knowing to evacuate when a fire alarm goes off and knowing to hide if they’re alone and scared that someone is trying to get in).

    These lets scare the pants off of kids drills are absurd and not good for the mental health of fragile kids who get scared. If anyone above the age of 7 is crying during a drill (assuming that it’s a normal kid) then the school is doing something WRONG.

  4. mt noise December 18, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Eons ago, when I was a substitute teacher, the local high school had lock down drills that weren’t called that. The teachers were told that when a ‘code orange’ came over the PA system we were suppose to lock our doors and continue on as if nothing was happening. Of course the kids knew what was going on.

    What was interesting was the day I was there for one I hadn’t been given a door key because they had run out of spares. The classroom door was a type that you needed a key to lock it. It also had frosted glass, not reinforced, built in so locking it wouldn’t have done much good anyways.

  5. E December 18, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    That’s awful. I was against the staged “robbery” that was discussed here as well (under the guise of learning about observations). There is no legit reason to put unnecessary fear into children.

  6. BL December 18, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    And what happens if one of the students decides to be a hero, grabs a baseball bat from the gym, and breaks the skull of someone he thinks is the gunman (maybe even pretending to be the gunman)?

    I know that’s not approved behavior according to the authorities, but some folk actually believe that saving lives takes precedence over following policy.

  7. Beth in Md December 18, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    This is so absurd! I am one of the incredibly few that has been involved in a sitaution these lockdowns are preparing for. I am by no means of the mindset that ‘oh it happened to me, it can happen anywhere’. The idea of subjecting kids to even a fraction of the fear that I had to go through… for a drill? It kills me inside.

  8. Bridget December 18, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    I would loose my shit. LOOSE IT. Heads would roll. I cannot even think straight right now. I would be in jail for assault.

  9. baby-paramedic December 18, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Have I been in a stressful situation?
    Have I participated in stressful drills?
    Have I ever had a stressful drill sprung on me?

    Drills make you practice for when things are going wrong. So that when things go wrong, when that adrenaline is pumping, you hopefully don’t freeze. This is partially why emergency services and healthcare staff are more likely to survive mass disasters they find themselves caught up in (another part is the believed to be the need to help people, and tendency to try and take control in situations).

    I fail to see the learning opportunity for the participants here. There is too much adrenaline pumping around to retain any possible education. (however, for the people organizing it, they will have be able to learn from it, but it is a pity people are unwilling participants).

    Incidentally, I hope the school will be paying for the inevitable counselling that will be required. PTSD is no fun for anyone, and I reckon thinking you’re about to be shot at could cause it in some people (I got jumpy after doing a drill, when I KNEW they were firing blanks).

  10. SKL December 18, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    I have been hearing some of this stuff happening from my parent friends. In one case, only the police knew it was a drill. They were testing the school administration, teachers, and kids to see if they would do it right. Well, not being forewarned, the principal lost his shit and went yelling “THIS IS NOT A DRILL” up and down the hall. One teacher had a heart attack. Kids threw up. This is just what one parent gathered on the day it happened, but I would bet there were other bad results. Another friend who is a teacher (in an other incident) described how she lost it, panicked, yelled and cussed at the kids because she didn’t know it was a drill. Another time a KG teacher told a hyperactive kid that he was going to get the whole class shot.

    So. Since most people insist they MUST have these drills, they should do it this way. First, over summer break if necessary, do drills with only the teachers / admins until they get it down. Then let the cops come in but still with no kids. Maybe add some fake shooters – but still no kids! When the grown-ups have it all down, then have some announced drills with the kids. Where the kids know it is a drill! Teach them what they are supposed to do without scaring them. Then once they get it, tell them that there will be unannounced drills throughout the year, but since they never know whether it’s a drill or not, they must do as they have been taught. Achieve compliance via discipline, not via terror.

    That’s how they taught us to do fire drills, tornado drills, and if I remember correctly, even fallout drills as a kid. I always assumed it was a drill but I did what I was told because I didn’t want to be disciplined.

    Another thing. A teacher in my area pointed out that there is a program called ALICE that teaches a different way of responding to armed intruders. This program teaches that it’s not so smart to cower in one place like sitting ducks. If a gunman did get in, it would be ridiculously easy for him to kill everyone in the room. The techniques ALICE teachers include moving around (not an easy target) and getting the hell out of there, among other things. Makes sense to me.

  11. Kimberly Herbert December 19, 2013 at 12:02 am #

    Maybe we just handle it different but all our drills are unannounced but I don’t think they are traumatic to the kids.

    1. We have by law a fire drill once a month. We had one yesterday. Kids were not upset. Just something we do. I’ve been at the school since 2001 and had to evacuate for real for fire 2x both times having to do with overheating machinery.

    2. Lock downs we practice 1 time a semester unannounced. We lay on the floor lights out – I’ve had kids go to sleep. They do test doors but we have pod doors – 4 classrooms in a pod doors to the outside breezeway are locked and classroom doors are locked. Since 2001 we have had 3
    1. Man beating the hell out of his wife 2 yards from my classroom door (I was in a portable trailer then).

    2. Parent on a rampage through the building after already injuring a teacher (Teacher was supposed to be psychic a know to not send kid home on the bus. Parents did not send a note, did not tell the teacher, did not call – just told their 4 yo to tell her teacher).

    3. Armed robber ran through our playground pointing gun at kids and police. Because of the way our building is designed they thought he could have gained access to the building. That one the kids were scared because it was in the middle of the lunch schedule and the day before the State Test.

    We have partial lock downs in nasty weather. Has to do with the 1960’s open plan of our school. The vast majority of students have to go outside into a court yard to get to the bathrooms. During NASTY thunderstorms with lightening dancing around, micro burst, possible tornadoes and ankle deep water in the courtyard we don’t let the kids out. Adults deliver lunch to the classrooms. We also hold our walkers in the school during this weather. THe parents can come pick up or we will walk them in a break in the storm if the streets aren’t flooded.(In one direction we have on a few occasion had water up to mid thigh on adults on the narrow side walk. Over the heads of kids and over the heads of even our older kids if they misstepped off the sidewalk into the ditch. Not to mention snakes, fire ants, and other nasties floating in the water.

  12. Warren December 19, 2013 at 1:13 am #

    Depending on the law in Texas, this could be illegal. Just because it is a drill does not change anything. Intentionally causing a panic, is against the law in many places, such as yelling FIRE in a crowd.

    Also the school would probably be in lockdown the next day, as I would be in the office raising hell, with the morons that called the drill.

    What would have happened if a teacher called 911 on his/her cell?

  13. J.T. Wenting December 19, 2013 at 2:03 am #

    Given that people react differently if they know in advance it’s a drill, they shouldn’t ideally know in advance.
    Of course some people have to know, as there’s people involved in organising the whole thing, but that’s far from everyone.

    Companies don’t tell (typically) most employees in advance there will be an evacuation drill for exactly that reason. Guiding the flow of panicky, unprepared, people who’re doing weird and random things is part of the training scenario, much needed to test whether your procedures actually work.

    With kids it might need to be somewhat different, as they’re typically more impressionable. But then again, your procedures also need to be different for them…

  14. J.T. Wenting December 19, 2013 at 2:06 am #

    “What would have happened if a teacher called 911 on his/her cell?”

    on a drill this large, emergency services would/should have been informed beforehand, and probably actively involved.

    We’ve done fire drills like that more than once, including towing a car wreck into our parking garage, dousing it in petrol, and setting it on fire (that one was done after office hours). Fire department knew it was coming so they could hold a truck in reseve, but didn’t know the exact time (only a window).

  15. SKL December 19, 2013 at 2:11 am #

    Another thing. I was shocked by how many parents insisted that it was necessary to terrorize adults and children in this way because someday it could be real. That heart attacks and vomiting were an acceptable risk! With this attitude, the casualties from lockdown drills are going to exceed the casualties from school shootings pretty soon.

    My comment was, OK, now we know what happens when people think it’s real. They freak out and do everything wrong anyway! So – what is the point of these drills again???

  16. SKL December 19, 2013 at 2:14 am #

    There are some children who have anxiety and other issues that make it really damaging to scare the crap out of them. Some of these kids are going to lose focus and lose sleep and then lose more focus over a long stretch of time. At some point people need to start acknowledging the risks of over-doing “readiness” for something that is extremely unlikely to happen.

  17. Warren December 19, 2013 at 2:16 am #

    JT, are you serious? Where do you live that companies can get away with drills like that? Our labour laws require drills, but they also state that the employees are to be notified it is a drill.

    Panic, and fear can lead to mistakes, which can result in injury. If an employee gets hurt during a drill in which they are led to believe is real? I can guarantee you that our Ministry of Labour would be issuing fines, and the employee would be going after the company for liability.
    Holding drills that will intentionally cause panic and fear is not only irresponsible, but highly dangerous.

    Drills are meant to be held in a safe and controlled enviroment, without the panic, and the fear. This type of controlled practise is supposed to make people’s reaction second nature, so they do not panic.

    The school employees in charge of this TEST, not drill, should be suspended and or fired. They do not understand what they did, or how it should be done.

  18. Warren December 19, 2013 at 2:27 am #

    JT your examples are so insane, that you have to be making them up. If companies in Ontario pulled stunts like that, the management that approved such things would be brought up on charges.

    Setting fire to a car inside a parking garage is just moronic. Considering that the sprinkler system would discharge or would have to be disabled, to prevent discharge.

  19. SKL December 19, 2013 at 2:37 am #

    When I worked in a tall building and had fire or terrorism drills, we were not told if it was a drill. However, we could tell by the demeanor of the folks in charge of evacuation (because they knew it was a drill).

    As a kid in school, same thing. And I feel it’s better for kids to think it’s a drill even if it isn’t, because they are less likely to create additional risks by panicking.

  20. Andy December 19, 2013 at 4:31 am #

    @J.T. Wenting I just love having to work weekend just because some jerk decided Friday is a great day for fire drill and forgot to tell us in advance. Drill may be just made up, but the lost deadline and consequent problems are real.

    Now, I never went through fire drill disguised as a real fire, but that seems to be even more moronic. How much does it cost to fix everything that got broken during such stunt?

  21. Lisa December 19, 2013 at 5:22 am #

    I usually agree with everything on this site, but I can’t get worked up about this one. I don’t think drills should be announced. When I was a kid, and now in my daughter’s school, when they hear the fire alarm they exit the building and go to the approved gathering spot. AFTER they follow procedure and are outside, THEN teachers and kids are told if it’s a drill (if it were not, they would be told what to do next – stay where they are, or head to the emergency shelter).
    Lock down drills are no different. Kids are told at the beginning of the year that they will have unannounced drills. I don’t agree with staging elaborate productions with someone pretending to be a gunman, but a (calmly delivered) announcement (code whatever), teachers locking classroom doors and directing kids to follow the procedure (lay on the floor, sit in a corner, whatever it is), and be silent, while administrators check the building? It is the job of the teachers to stay calm and NOT incite panic in kids. The teachers in the article who talked to kids about the possibility of getting shot should be fired, or at least receive a warning. The kid in the library should have been told “come over here… Remember, the procedure is to stay away from the windows.” Then, afterwards, students and staff can be told how they did and go about the rest of their day. It’s best if they *don’t* know it’s a drill, but assume that it usually is – if a school does lockdown drills several times per year, but has never or rarely had a real situation warranting it, wouldn’t the default assumption be to assume that it’s a drill? When a fire alarm goes off, don’t they assume it’s a fire drill, but get out anyhow because they’re not completely sure?

  22. K December 19, 2013 at 5:47 am #

    I agree that I don’t think this level of fear and panic in a drill is necessary to prepare people for the real thing. At our school, we mainly just have fire drills (school shootings are pretty much unheard of where I live). I’m not sure how often we have them, maybe only once or twice a year, plus at one stage we had a hyper-sensitive smoke alarm in one of the science labs. In any case, it was enough to set us into the “hahaha lol a fire drill or that hyper-sensitive smoke alarm again” mode whenever the fire alarm went off.

    At one stage, a fire alarm went off during an assembly, apparently due to some “problem within the school” (probably in the kitchens or something) and everyone made their way out to the designated area in good time, though still quite relaxed because we were all just like “ahaha a fire drill! Those people who skipped the assembly are going to get caught!” Meanwhile, the deputy principal, who would have been informed of any drills, checked his phone and freaked out when he didn’t see any messages informing him of a drill. So, basically, it’s probably better to think it’s a drill all the time, so long as you’re following the safety plan “just in case.”

  23. K December 19, 2013 at 5:52 am #

    @Lisa- I think part of the issue is what Lenore calls “worst first thinking”- the kind of thinking that if the lockdown alarm went off and the teachers didn’t get notified, there MUST be a real gunman walking around the school! As you very well put it, “When a fire alarm goes off, don’t they assume it’s a fire drill, but get out anyhow because they’re not completely sure?”

  24. Ben December 19, 2013 at 5:54 am #

    Yes, of course it’s possible to prepare people without traumatizing them. In fact, how to act in an emergency is something that stays with you better if you can act as mock victim for first aid school staff and emergency responders.

    By the way, if this drill went as planned, they could wait a long time until they do the next drill, because if scared, non-warned people act as planned, there’s little to drill anymore.

  25. Ben December 19, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    I’ve had several drills, primarily fire drills, while in university and in several companies where I’ve worked. They’re more fanatic over them than usual, because I work in chemistry.

    In most of the cases I was unaware whether it was a drill or not, but the company safety officers stayed calm and made sure everyone gathered in the right spot. No panic, no anxiety.

    You don’t do shooter drills like this, because only one “hero” could turn it into a real tragedy.

  26. Per December 19, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    It is interesting to contrast the paranoid fear of physical injury discussed in the previous posts to the complete disregard for emotional injury here.

    On a related note: Some things don’t cause any measurable emotional “injury”. For example, it is not necessary to give a medal to every kid that participates in a competition. Those who didn’t get a medal may whine about it, but they are not “hurt” in any measurable sense.

    On the other hand, thinking that one is about to die causes measurable damage. There is correlation between the number of such episodes that a child experiences and the probability of not finishing high shcool.

  27. Shira Weiss December 19, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    Hi Lenore,
    I’m so angry because they do this in my son’s school but each time (it’s happened twice so far this year), he’s come home to tell me he’s scared because something bad happened in school. He told me that during the last drill they announced it was a “REAL EMERGENCY”. The class huddled all together and one of the kids yelled out “we’re all going to die.” I called the school later on and they acted as if I was from Mars. “It’s one of our mandatory drills. We can’t tell the kids (or the teachers is what I understood) that it’s not real.” Write me if you have a moment, Lenore, curious what you think! -Shira

  28. Donna December 19, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    I thought that point of a drill was to teach you how to do something calmly and correctly so that should an emergency occur and panic set-in rote action takes over? What exactly did anyone learn from this? In the case of a true emergency, we’re screwed because we will panic and go off the rails? Great lesson.

    While I am anti-lockdown drills at all, it seems that unannounced ones do more harm than good. Say a true emergency does occur at your school – it happens – do you really want people trying to mentally figure out if it is real or another stupid drill? Or worse, half-assed going through the motions assuming that it is another stupid announced drill?

    Really think back to your fire drills as a kid. The bell went off and your first thought was “cool a fire drill” and you generally exited the building laughing and joking around with your friends until told to stop. Not a problem when you are trying to protect yourself against a fire, tornado or earthquake that doesn’t care how loud you are. A HUGE problem when the whole point is pretend that you don’t exist. If kids experience too many unannounced drills, they will start thinking “another drill” every time they hear whatever the lockdown drill notification is.

  29. Donna December 19, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    That should be “another stupid UNannounced drill.”

  30. E December 19, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    I’ve been thinking about this and was recalling that occasionally you will read about a school that was on lockdown because a crime was committed nearby (seems like it’s always a bank) and they believe the person was armed. I’m presuming that those “lockdowns” are simply that all school entrances/exits are locked and kids aren’t allowed to go out for recess or PE. I’m guessing that they may not even changes classes, but not sure.

    So, I’m guessing there are various types of lockdowns and the kind above is vastly different when they suspect an active shooter on school property or in school buildings.

    Fire drills don’t even need to be in the conversation because the only goal is to exit the school building, that’s it. You do that, you are safe (plus kids can use their own senses to detect if a fire is nearby, so I wouldn’t imagine much panic of there are no sights or smells that are fire-like.) That’s completely different than a lockdown/shooter situation.

  31. Pete December 19, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    As a newer school administrator, who has been tasked with school safety at two different high schools, we just finished an announced lock down and are preparing for our second one, which will be unannounced. The goal is not abject terror. It is actually quite the opposite. The idea being that if students are used to hearing a school go into lock down, they will not be terrified in the unlikely event that it is ever needed for real.

    Now saying things like, “You are going to be shot” is uncalled for. Having a discussion afterwards about areas of concern with your class or with students in the library is a teaching experience. One of our phys ed teachers actually took ideas from the students in terms of what they thought would be a safer means of concealment in the gym from what the standard protocol was.

    It does not, nor should it, an attempt to make it a terror filled event. Do I check doors? Of course. Do I pound on them to make it sound like I am trying to break in? Not on your life. If students panic every time there is a lock down, not only is it unhealthy, but it decreases the likelihood they will follow protocol as they are in a state of fear.

    There has to be a balance between protocol and reason. If for no other reason that students need to learn there is a way to have both. That we can balance safety and not be a zero sum/zero tolerance society. For me, that means having unannounced drills so people are ready for them and in the event of a real event, they act the same way, and possibly because they just assume it is a drill.

  32. Donna December 19, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    “The idea being that if students are used to hearing a school go into lock down, they will not be terrified in the unlikely event that it is ever needed for real.”

    Why is it that you think that a person is not going to be scared in a real lockdown just because they’ve been in several unannounced fake lockdowns? Really. I am very curious as to what the logic is here? Because it just sounds like one of two things are going to occur here, depending on the personality of the particular people – (1) People are going to be terrified by BOTH the unannounced drills AND the real lockdowns because an true emergency is SCARY; or (2) People are going to blow off the real lockdown because you’ve already tricked them with fake ones that you pretended were real.

    The point of drills is not to desensitize you to the truly scary reality of a shooter (fire, earthquake, tornado). It is to teach you what to do so that you can just react as per your training despite being terrified. This can be accomplished by announced drills far more effectively than scaring the pants off of everyone in fake drills.

  33. Warren December 19, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    They are used to teach reactions and skills, they are to practise reactions and skills, so that they become instinct or second nature. So that when in that particular situation a person acts without thinking. They just do what they have done, over and over.
    Drills are used in all sorts of areas, from military training, emergency training to sports. We ran drills in hockey, football, and pretty much every sport I played.

    This was not a drill. This was a test or experiment, no different than that one awhile ago with the mock robbery or the one where they were firing blanks in the hallway.

    Lockdowns themselves are ineffective and moronic, but to make people believe it is a real shooter, with rattling doorknobs and such is beyond any explaination.

  34. QB December 19, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    I would yank my kids out of that school so fast it would make their heads spin. It is bad enough that at our school we now have a camera/buzzer at the door, which my 5 and 8 year old say “Is to keep the robbers out”. This crap is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Who needs to terrorize children and their teachers?

  35. QB December 19, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    I would yank my kids out of that school so fast it would make their heads spin. If someone terrorized my kids with this I would lose it. It would not be pretty. They might have to come up with a drill to keep angry parents away.

  36. Maggie December 19, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    1-If the US did this to prisoners of war, it would be considered torture.

    2-If parents did this to their kids, it would be considered abuse.

    3-If a business did this to their staff and customers, there would be lawsuits.

    This is appalling.

  37. E December 19, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    I’m with Donna — I don’t understand why this is thought to be more valuable.

    And I’m really confused because people that are being held in a building while there is an active shooter nearby SHOULD be scared. Who would ever NOT be scared? How could you not be scared — unless, as Donna points out, you don’t think it’s real to begin with, which would seem to encourage ‘boy who cried wolf’ mentality.

  38. E December 19, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    And Warren brought up a good point about teachers or students texting 911 or whoever saying they are in lockdown due to an active shooter. Imagine the parent who didn’t get the email saying “BTW we’re going to run a realistic drill” and then gets a text from kid saying there’s a shooter at their school.


  39. Donna December 19, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    E brings up a good point on parents. Not everyone hangs out at a computer all day to see emails immediately upon arrival. Not everyone has a smart phone that allows them to access email away from their computer. Heck, not everyone has regular access to a computer at all.

    Even for us who do have smartphones and computers, I don’t always read my email regularly during the day, but I would definitely read a text from my child. If I received a text from my child saying that there was a shooter in her school but hadn’t read the email, not only would the school have terrified my child for no reason but also ME and anyone else in my family that I talked to before I became aware that it was just a drill. The whole scenario is just ridiculous.

  40. anonymous this time December 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    Perhaps, in the same way certain people become addicted to stimulants like caffeine, there are those who “come alive” when there is adrenaline involved, and they project that onto everyone around them.

    Anxiety and excitement are different things to different people. For some, “anxiety” per se is never part of their experience. They just say, “Oh, well, that’s thrilling, exciting, etc.” But for others, excitement is too much. They hate surprise parties, and even anticipating certain pleasant things is stressful. Never mind jumping out of an airplane or being in an unannounced, realistic lockdown drill.

    So the person who planned this “drill” is likely one of those who can’t imagine that there is anything but a positive impact on people who get the rush of adrenaline in their bodies. One would hope, of course, that the person charged with supporting a safe and effective learning environment for hundreds of kids would factor in the idea that an exercise like this one would be enormously traumatic and counter-productive to a whole lot of people in their care, but oh well.

  41. Marni December 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    When I was in my residency at a hospital in NYC, we practiced “disaster drills” at least twice a year. They were big deals- actors were made up to look injured (or dead). We had to triage people, go to assigned areas, etc. Everyone in the hospital had an assignment.

    We all knew it was a drill, obviously.

    They worked great. People were calm and it allowed us to find weaknesses in our preparation, which came in awfully handy on 9/11, when we were the closest Level 1 trauma center to the WTC.

    When the planes hit and the disaster code call went out over the PA and the pagers, we all knew it wasn’t a drill. We were calm, efficient, and treated hundreds.

    Drills work.

    Random ridiculous scary experiences like the one in this post don’t.

  42. mystic_eye_cda December 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    Assuming that there really were a lockdown, a very serious one, wouldn’t you STILL tell the kids it was a drill? As far as I know the actual authorities will often lie to get people out of a building without causing mass panic.

    You want the staff to be prepared, send them to proper training. You want to hold a drill like this, you still send the staff to proper training first.

  43. Jenn December 19, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    I realize that planning drills sounds like something easy and fun, that anyone can do, but this is really something that needs to be left to professionals.

    There are a hundred reasons why this was a terrible idea, and many commentors have hit a lot of the main points. This pretty much did the opposite of what my goals are in an exercise:

    * Train the participants to perform the processes calmly and effectively – they have to practice these in a “safe” environment repeatedly before this truly becomes second nature.

    * Find the gaps in the processes – no one is going to perform well if they haven’t practiced adequately, and it doesn’t sound like they had done that. In fact, they are going to perform erratically, and their performance in this is no way an indicator of how they will do the next time.

    * Train safely – you are going to have heroes in any group, and you don’t always know who they will be. This could be a huge risk.

    * Prepare for the real thing – so, if, by some minute, very unfortunate chance, this actually IS the next school to have an active shooter, what is the response going to be if they think it is another drill that they haven’t been told about? I am going to guess that this group of people will NEVER be able to perform well in this type of situation, as they will always have to second guess themselves.

  44. In the Trenches December 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    I question the usefulness of these drills at all. They do, as far as I can tell, more harm than good. We have to do 3 a year, and yes, the police come rattling the doors and yelling to see if we goof up and let them in. Then we get lectures about safety from a heavily armed person who has brought the only real weapon that has ever been in our school. Sometimes we use lockdowns (or “secure school”) announcements to protect the privacy of a student who is having a medical episode and has to be taken through the halls to hospital. That I get. But pretending that it is even remotely likely that a shooter will be roaming the halls is just plain paranoia, pure and simple. The statistical likelihood of any given student being the victim of a shooter is zero. I remind people sometimes that our city is on a fault line, but we don’t have “earthquake drills”, even though it’s far more likely to happen. If anyone is interested in reading more about my take on this issue, here’s a link to a blog entry I wrote a while ago on the matter:

  45. Papilio December 19, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    So if someone holds you at gunpoint to steal your car and later the police returns it and says, ‘oh by the way, the gun wasn’t loaded’, then you’re supposed to just forget about how scary etc it was?

  46. A broken man on a Halifax pier December 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    I think it’s only a matter of time before someone in the middle of one of these drills uses serious force, as in lethal violence, in good faith, believing the situation to be real. Many of the male bystanders at the Ecole Polytechnique shooting were tortured by guilt that they hadn’t overwhelmed Marc Lepine – at least one of them has since killed himself. Whoever is organizing these things needs to be very cautious about the violence that might be unlocked by the rage and terror of people who really believe someone is about to kill them.

  47. Bob Cavanaugh December 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    I remember several different types of drills from when I was in school. The first lockdown I remember was not announced to students, but the principal came over the intercom and explained the situation, and that it was a drill. Sometimes fire drills were announced just before they happened, usually when they were in with an earthquake drill. The ironic thing about that, is I only remember earthquake drills after the one earthquake I remember, which happened in 2001. We had a drill similar to the one described in this story my first year in high school, but everyone knew it was coming since we were going to be on an altered schedule that day and there was going to be restricted parking. Yes drills did happen in high school, and we actually knew about most of them. The weird thing there was that we had a significant number of real incidents too. The first one I remember was a teacher burned her lunch in the microwave, which set off the alarm. There was also a kid that lit a toilet paper dispenser on fire and one that pulled the alarm after a basketball game. The one I really remember though was when we had a gass leak. We just acted like it was normal thing, and when we found out, the newspaper staff started posting updates to the website. We got an award for that one.

  48. Michelle December 19, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    I’m not going to repeat all the posts from all who disagreed with this insanity, as they all have very good points.
    However, this situation was not ‘practice’ or ‘effective teaching’. Terrorizing people is not teaching. It is just plain abusive.

    Those poor kids and teachers.

  49. W December 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Maybe next we can have doctors randomly telling people that they have an incurable, fatal disease, and that they will be dead in a month. You know, just to prepare them in case it really happens someday. /s

  50. Claudia December 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    It is ridiculous that this was carried out by people who probably believe that kids will fall to pieces at the most minor difficulties and so must be protected from anything tricky.

    But we can make them think they’re going to die, that’d be just fine because it might save someone’s life.

  51. Chihiro December 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    The last year or so of high school, my school stopped telling teachers and students lockdown drills were drills. This was mainly because nobody was taking the drills seriously, students were being very loud in the classrooms and treating it like a break from class. It didn’t work very well, because a lot of students just figured it was going to be a drill anyway and continued on being obnoxious. But I understand why we weren’t told ‘this is a drill’ every time we had a drill.

    This school handled the drill horribly. During a lockdown drill, people shouldn’t be ‘scrambling for places to hide.’ Even if it is during passing time, students should know where they’re supposed to go in an emergency lockdown if they’re not already in a secure area like a classroom. My high school told us if we were in the hallway or cafeteria, we should immediately go to the closest classroom/whatever room. (they were a bit more specific with who should go where, but I’m not going to list it all) And banging on doors, trying to simulate an actually break-in? How is that going to help anyone? Did they fire blanks too, to simulate someone shooting up a neighboring classroom?

    Honestly, I understand why they had to carry out a drill unannounced. As rare as it is (thankfully), schools still need to be prepared to deal with an intruder. If kids aren’t taking the drills seriously, the school isn’t prepared, because the kids will lose it if there is an actual emergency. This school was unprepared. If a school is well-prepared for a lockdown, kids shouldn’t be freaking out if they think someone *is* breaking in. These kids just lost it, probably because the school never gave them proper instruction and because they’ve heard about the latest school shooting tragedies so freaking much. Combined with the fact that the school was attempting to emotionally scar them by simulating a psycho pounding on doors and crap…yeah, that’s not cool. If school’s handle it right, kids should act in a lockdown like they would during a fire, calmly and efficiently.

  52. Papilio December 19, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    “It is ridiculous that this was carried out by people who probably believe that kids will fall to pieces at the most minor difficulties and so must be protected from anything tricky.

    But we can make them think they’re going to die, that’d be just fine because it might save someone’s life.”

    It’s quantity over quality every time.
    It’s also doing something instead of nothing every time. Sort of like gambling: spend 5 dollar, maybe win 1.

  53. anonymous this time December 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    In the Trenches, if you see this, can you link to the “open letter” from the psychologists pleading for unstructured, unsupervised play as a remedy to mental health issues brought on by adults’ indoctrinating kids with “stranger danger” ideas? The 2007 letter?

    Would love to read that. Cheers.

  54. BL December 19, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    @Halifax pier
    “I think it’s only a matter of time before someone in the middle of one of these drills uses serious force, as in lethal violence, in good faith, believing the situation to be real.”

    Or someone might decide jumping from a window (second-floor or higher) is preferable to being a sitting duck for a shooter.

  55. SteveS December 19, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    Add me to the list of people that question the value of these types of drills. I am all for realistic training, but this just seem to cause more harm and anxiety than it is worth. Here in MI, we have seen a few schools pull this kind of stunt and parents and community members were, predictably, very mad.

    We have seen other instances of unnecessary lockdowns when a parent engages in some other kind of normally lawful behavior and they just like it.

  56. Maggie December 19, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    Drills are a wonderful way to prepare for emergencies. My children participate in tornado and fire drills at home. That said, they always know that it’s a drill. The high school in my town had a lockdown drill a week or two ago, in order for the local police department to bring their new drug dog in for training. Students were not informed at first that it was only a drill- school officials simply announced a “code red lockdown” and left students to wonder if they were about to be shot at. Some of them were pretty freaked out.

  57. Donna December 19, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    To quote Lenore’s update: “It’s like snatching kids off the street in a windowless van without first explaining this is not a real abduction.”

    Which would still be kidnapping! I can’t speak for every state and country, but I will go out on a limb and guess that none have exclusions in their kidnapping statutes for “kind-heartedly snatching kids off the street to teach them how to be better prepared, and not scared, in the case of a real abduction by a real pedophile.”

  58. Andy December 19, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    “The goal is not abject terror. It is actually quite the opposite. The idea being that if students are used to hearing a school go into lock down, they will not be terrified in the unlikely event that it is ever needed for real.”

    Pete, this has got to be one of the most inane things I have every seen, and there are a lot of inane things on the internet.

    Tell me, what, exactly, is the basis for this conclusion? I am truly curious to read the study that shows that by putting the fear of death into a child a couple of times, that child will not be scared to death when facing the danger again and, more importantly, doing so will not increase the anxiety and stress level of the child in the process.

    I truly can’t believe there are people out there trying to convince others that they should voluntarily put a child through one of the scariest experience that a person can face (an experience that even causes soldiers to suffer PTSD). What have we come to as a society?

  59. Pete December 20, 2013 at 12:01 am #

    @Andy – At one point did I say to put kids into terror? or to bring about the fear of death? I said the goal was the OPPOSITE. It was to help them keep calm in the event a real crisis happened. Maybe I wasn’t clear in how I crafted my post. Fire drills are generally not announced in my neck of the woods. There are no students who are running for their lives when these are run and we usually run 12 of them each year. The same for bus evacuation drills. Maybe the difference is that I work in a high school and a lot of people are discussing elementary or middle schools? I am not sure.

    In my experience, and I realize this is anecdotal, lock downs gave me a great opportunity when I was a teacher to have discussions with students and look for weaknesses in systems and protocols. I am NOT condoning what this school did in any part of my post. The purpose of the unannounced drill for me is not to trick students into thinking it is a real situation and at no point does any staff member involved do that. The point is to see if the training done with the announced drill holds up when people are asked to follow procedures when they don’t have a head’s up it is coming.

    The reason I posted here was not to get attacked. As someone who is trying to raise range free children, I wanted to have a discussion because my end goal is having the safest system we can have without also having my school just a set of orange jumpsuits away from a prison. I generally find the back and forth respectful and I learn a great deal. But if that is not possible with this topic, that’s fine. I can go back to just reading. If you are interested in having a conversation and some dialogue, please respond. I am eager to learn how to better at what I do.

  60. Nadine December 20, 2013 at 12:59 am #

    Movies that depict that kind of fear arnt even consided fit for those kids.
    Shoulnt that be a give away?

  61. Jenna Wood December 20, 2013 at 1:10 am #

    We had the opposite thing happen at our elementary school a month or so ago and it wasn’t great either. In our case someone believed that a man was walking toward the school with a gun. Turns out it was a hammer and he was walking to a construction site.

    Our school felt silly and began telling parents and teachers it was a drill. It wasn’t. Both methods cause you to lose the trust of parents and students at you school. Call it like it is. Period.

  62. Tsu Dho Nimh December 20, 2013 at 5:06 am #

    “Drills work. Random ridiculous scary experiences like the one in this post don’t.”

    As several people have said – you need to have fully trained adults in charge and not just pull random stuff out of your nether regions and call it “preparedness”. This was cruel and stupid. All it showed was that untrained people will panic. We already knew that!

    Banks have robbery drills for their tellers – and they don’t start by having an armed group burst into the bank. You walk through the procedure over and over in a calm environment until it’s almost a reflex. I wrote a training manual for those drills once and it was fascinating.

    We had disaster drills at every hospital I worked in, and none of them came before we had been run through at least one training session by the hospital and the relevant department. These were not announced as drills, it was just a coded page of a certain non-existent person, because part of the procedure was to get to your assigned station without alarming visitors or patients, and leave the evacuation of visitors and patients to whoever was assigned that task. Shrieking “OMG it’s a DISASTER” was discouraged.

  63. J.T. Wenting December 20, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    Warren, Andy: yes, those things happen here, and yes, people don’t get told in advance.
    In nearly 20 years I’ve gone through dozens such drills. Nobody panics, nobody gets hurt, people just follow instructions and know where the fire exits are.
    In fact first day anyone starts at a new company they’re supposed to be shown the escape route from their work location, in detail.

    Every company with more than a few employees is by law required to do this at least twice a year AND have a minimum percentage of staff trained as first responders (including EMT procedures, crowd management, proper use of firefighting equipment, etc.).

  64. J.T. Wenting December 20, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    “As several people have said – you need to have fully trained adults in charge and not just pull random stuff out of your nether regions and call it “preparedness”. This was cruel and stupid. All it showed was that untrained people will panic. We already knew that!”

    yes, train your staff in advance, THEN test whether your procedures work without the kids present, THEN test them in an announced drill with kids present, THEN do it unannounced.
    And keep up that pattern, doing each several times a year.

  65. In the Trenches December 20, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    @ anonymous this time

    Yes, I ought to have included a hyperlink to the letter in that entry. It can be found in this other post, about a third of the way down:

  66. Clark December 20, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    As I posted under the original article:

    Just a few numbers: according to the NCES, there are about 100 000 public schools in the US. There were about 120 attacks on schools since 1989, so 120 incidents in the last 25 years, or about 5 incidents a year. That alone would put one’s child at a risk of 20 000 : 1 of something would happen at her school every year. ON average there are about 180 school days a year, so that number increases to 3.6 Million to one as the chance of something happening at one’s child’s school every day. With an average of 1500 students at every school, and about five injured children in every school incident, this leaves a chance of about 1.1 Billion to one for one’s child to be injured.
    There are about 11 000 children under 15 injured every year in traffic accidents. If this would be destributed evenly between children at public schools that would give a 10:1 chance of a child from one’s childrens school being injured every year. With the numbers from above that’s an amazing 2.7 Million to one odds of one’s own child to be injured in traffic every school day, These are [much] higher odds then something happening at her school! With 10% percent fatal injuries [NHTSA numbers] that gives a chance of 27 Million to one for one’s child to be KILLED in a traffic accident every day. So the chances for one’s child to be killed in traffic is 40 times higher than the chance to be hurt at a school incident…

    I love my daughter very much, but this just shows how irrational the whole issue is. If I could teleport her to school and the number of attacks increased to 2000 a year [that’s 11 for every school day!] she would be as save as before.

  67. Donna December 20, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    “Fire drills … we usually run 12 of them each year.”

    You run 12 fire drills a year? With a 180 day school year, that is an average of a fire drill every TWO WEEKS! WTF!

    On top of that you also run bus evacuation drills (that one’s new) and lockdown drills. How do you actually find time to teach your students anything other than how to prepare for the impending apocalypse? Do you really think that this level of drilling is necessary? Or healthy?

    “Fire drills are generally not announced in my neck of the woods. There are no students who are running for their lives when these are run”

    Well, of course not, they have the darn things almost as often as they change their underwear. I can’t imagine that their response is anything other than “here we go again” by Thanksgiving of their Freshman year. Is that really where you think we should be concerning safety drills? Drilled to the point of exhaustion for things that will almost assuredly never really happen?

    I’m skeptical that high school students need fire drills at all, but they certainly don’t need 12 a year. We got by just fine in my childhood, even in elementary school, on 1-2 pre-announced fire drills a year, and yet, still didn’t freak out when there was an actual emergency.

    You still have yet to provide a single bit of evidence that says that people need pop-drills to be properly prepared for an emergency and that planned drills don’t work. Or why we need to be so damned prepared for things that are highly unlikely to ever happen anyway.

    While I see no point in surprise fire drills either, the difference between fire drills and lockdown drills are major. First, as someone pointed out, well before a fire is close enough to harm you, it is readily identifiable with your own senses. Students are not scared during pop-fire drills because they can’t smell smoke, see flames, hear roars or feel heat. They know through their own senses that this is most likely a drill, but if not that they are in still no immediate danger.

    Second, the action during a fire drill is to move away from the fire. So you have students who know that they are not in any immediate danger based on their own senses AND that they are in the process of moving away from any danger if there is actually one. Any fear they had at hearing the bell is pretty immediately removed by being outside the building and seeing that it is not engulfed in flames.

    Contrast that with a lockdown drill which appears to be used for anything from there are people dressed as pirates near our school to there is a gunman inside the school. The people inside have no way of independently determining with their own senses the level of risk and shift into panic mode. AND the only plan is to stay put and hope that it is pirates with donuts. The initial fear is not alleviated quickly. It stays with them, building, for the entire length of the drill.

    And third, school fires are just not that big of a deal in most people’s minds. I can’t recall the last time anyone died in a school fire. I actually can’t imagine a scenario in 2014, with all our fire alarms, fire extinguishers, intercom systems, multiple exits, etc., where a school would burn to the ground with the children still inside. School shootings are very much in the news and on people’s minds so the fear level is naturally higher.

  68. Jim Collins December 20, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    I’m waiting for the teacher who has a gun in their desk to shoot though the door when the knob is rattled. If I’m on the Jury the teacher walks.

  69. Papilio December 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    @Clark: I love it when people crunch numbers like that.
    But how many times should that message be repeated before the terrorist drill money will be spent on increasing traffic safety around schools?

  70. Mom of traumatized kids December 20, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    This makes me sick. I have two children adopted from foster care and one who has PTSD due to things the other two have done. FIRE DRILLS, upset my children for days. They are sobbing messes taking them to school each day, I don’t think I could get them to go back if they had to live through that. At the very least, parents need to know days in advance so they can remove their children from school that day. My kids do not need any more trauma in their lives.

  71. Pete December 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    @Donna – the 12 fire drills, eight in the fall and four in the spring, as well as 2-3 bus evacuation drills (generally one each season) are mandated by the State Education Department. I agree that it can have an impact on instruction. I generally tried to get through them in relatively short order, never doing it during the same class twice, and even having one or two during after school periods to reduce that impact as much as I could. That said, total time out of the room was generally under five minutes. That is still an hour of potential instructional time wasted, but I did my best to limit it as still follow the law.

    While I am taking some heat for posters for discussing what I am seeing in the school where I work, and that is okay, the reason I am here and I am posting is because I realize it is not a perfect system. But schools are bound by state law and there is some evidence that unannounced drills in general can have some positive impact on preparedness and performance. No, the study I will cite ( does not pertain to school, but it does pertain to adults.

    Again, I am here to talk about this because I value Free Range perspectives and I don’t want to have fear dominate my school. You are also right that there are vast differences between a lock down drill and a fire drill, but I find the response is largely the same. Students go through the motions. Is that a good thing? Well, that is why I am posting here. To have that conversation and to learn from your thoughts. I don’t see the anxiety, fear, and apprehension that people are concerned about, whether I was serving as a teacher or as an administrator.

    The decision to engage in one announced and one unannounced lock down drill (and by unannounced, I don’t mean that it is an active shooter drill or that anything simulating an actual traumatic event is carried out beyond the announcement and the classroom procedures – we just go into lock down without giving the specific date and time ahead of time) was put forth by state law enforcement. To be honest, I have also been doing some reading about a movement called active resistance where you attempt to physically impede aggressors by stacking furniture and fighting back because there is a sect of law enforcement and security that think it is the way to go.

    I wonder if anxiety of staff would be higher if they felt like they are not trained to respond. I will say that some recent events clearly have school safety on the mind of staff and that knowing we had uniform procedure that we would practice at and try to make better through that practice assuaged some of that anxiety. I know this from conversations and general group discussions. In turn, generally calm and collected teachers can lead to calm and collected students. I think knowing that as a building we are as prepared as we can be (because you can never prepare for all cases without turning your building into a prison) actually lessens the anxiety level of the building as a whole.

    Maybe that argument upsets people because it says something about the state of fear as a whole society which is the very topic that brought me to this very blog years ago, but I am just going off what I have witnessed and experienced during the past 14 years in education.

  72. Donna December 20, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    Pete – The people involved in education in your state need to protest the state laws then and not just fall in line like sheep. No school, even a school for the seriously mentally challenged, needs 12 fire drills, 2-3 bus evacuation drills and what appears to be 2-3 lockdown drills every year. That is beyond utterly ridiculous. And it shows a completely unhealthy absorption with drama and fear, to the point that it is even impacting learning time at the school. I am 100% opposed to homeschooling and, yet, would homeschool if my child’s school conducted that many safety drills a year.

    And all this drilling has to have an impact on everyone’s psyche. Good God, I would think that school was the least safe place on earth if I were made to go through 18 safety drills over a 180 day time period. You average a safety drill of some sort every 10 days. I imagine that you have many classes that don’t give tests that frequently. What does that tell your students is the focus of their school? It sure isn’t learning biology, literature and physics. It is safety drilling.

    You are routine-izing mass hysteria. Not that the kids are hysterical, but that they will grow up believing that there is a high level of danger in the world that they were just lucky to miss. How can they not when the thing tested the most throughout their school years was how to deal with a horrific emergency?

    As for lockdown drills, even if there is some research that says unannounced drills can have some positive impact on preparedness, why is a high level of preparedness needed for something that has a 20,000 : 1 chance of happening (thanks, Clark)? There is an increased risk of stress and anxiety for what value? To more prepare for something that is extremely unlikely to ever occur in the first place?

    And what has convinced us that we need all this drilling? Lockdowns and lockdown drills are new inventions. Since my high school graduation, there have been 120 attacks on schools (thanks again Clark). Despite a lack of intense drilling, I don’t remember a single instance where it was determined that had teachers and students reacted differently lives would have been saved. To the contrary, each one that I recall has lauded the behavior or the teachers and students — all on their own merits and using their own natural instincts.

    I can’t help but think that all this drilling is going to eventually make people LESS safe. The more we drill specific procedures, the less we will be able to think and react outside the box that has been created and the scenario that we are facing is highly unlikely to fit neatly in that box. We will become more mired in what we’ve been told to do and less able to think through the problem ourselves.

  73. AlaskanAnon December 20, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    Where do you guys live that they announce drills in advance? When I was in school we had fire drills, tsunami drills, playground evacuation drills (in case a dangerous wild animal wandered onto the playground), and (after Columbine) lockdown drills. None of these were ever announced ahead of time; there was an assembly at the beginning of the year where they told you there would be unannounced drills and what to do during them. Otherwise, we never knew they were drills until the teacher told us to go back inside. Were we traumatized for life because we had to wait 15 minutes to find out whether a tsunami was going to destroy our homes or whether there really was a shooter in the building? No, we had a gasp and a giggle and went on with our lives. Then again, my school also had real fires, wild animals on the playground, and situations that required a lockdown (no tsunamis, though), and nobody panicked like they did in the article.

    IMHO, announcing drills ahead of time is pointless. The whole point of drills is to make sure that you can stay cool and follow procedures under a stressful situation. Announcing that it’s just a drill takes all the pressure out of it and turns it into just another exercise. Then again, I considered discovering that I was on an actual would-be school shooters hit list to be one of the excitement high points of my school career.

  74. Donna December 20, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

    “Where do you guys live that they announce drills in advance?”

    Maine, New Jersey, Georgia, California, and American Samoa

    “The whole point of drills is to make sure that you can stay cool and follow procedures under a stressful situation.”

    Ummmm, no. The definition of drill is a “disciplined, repetitious exercise as a means of teaching and perfecting a skill or procedure.” It is not “an exercise to see how cool you are under pressure,” which would likely be called “a fire stress test.” The whole point of drills is to teach you how to react in a particular emergency so that the actions are rote memory and not something that you have to think to remember when you are under stress.

  75. Pete December 20, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Donna I don’t think it is routinizing mass hysteria or anywhere close to making students feel like school violenec is likely to happen and they need to live in a culture of fear. Heck, I even agree with Clark that more time and resources could be spent on an ongoing basis on traffic safety if the numbers he portrayed are accurate.

    The feel here is that we have a plan in the event something happens that requires us to stay in rooms in the event of some type of emergency. In all my years, I have NEVER heard a student complain of the stress or trauma from a drill. And I am someone that students are generally comfortable speaking with.

    I understand your issue with the time that is taken to do the drills, and I agree that 12 is excessive and in my experience unnecessary. But I have worked in largely suburban schools. Maybe that changes depending on location and structure. And while I did take the time to petition State Ed (and local and state government) last year, it was to petition their stance that ESL students should have the same mastery of English in four years that native speakers have had after 17 years in terms of high school graduation for a country that does not have a national language. Sadly, that petition was rejected.

    I am also wondering if the issue that some here have is not that the drill itself is unannounced but that in the instance of the original example, it wasn’t portrayed as a drill.

    Another thought occurred to me. The Boy Scouts motto is “Be Prepared.” Does that mean they are a group that is terrified that the worst possible scenario is always afoot? In my experience with the Boy Scouts as a youth, I would say no.

  76. ~~Silk December 20, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    Is Texas one of those states that wants to arm teachers? Wouldn’t that lead to shooting doorknob-rattlers in unannounced drills? Just wondering….

  77. Donna December 21, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    “The feel here is that we have a plan in the event something happens that requires us to stay in rooms in the event of some type of emergency.”

    You really think that “staying in rooms” needs to be drilled regularly? And under stressful conditions because “stay where you are while we resolve some issue” is such a difficult concept to master? And somehow repeated pretend stress is going to make it so that nobody is freaked out when an actual shooter is in the school?

    I don’t really think that it is matter of actual stress or fear during a drill – although we’ve read several examples of where that was a real issue during a drill. However, treating these EXTREMELY RARE situations as something everyone needs to drill and drill and drill for regularly, and under the most realistic situations possible, absolutely does normalize the societal view that the world is a dangerous place that Free Range kids is fighting so hard against. If you really don’t understand that requiring your students to conduct some emergency drill every 10 days or so affects their psyche and view on the world and normalizes this fear in society, then you really don’t need to be molding young minds.

    And the Boy Scouts of my childhood “Be Prepared” meant things more in line with “always carry a pocket knife because you never know when it will come in handy” and learning CPR and not 60 scenarios to defeat everything from pedophiles, school shooters and even the zombie apocalypse because you can never be too safe or have too many safety drills.