SuperEval Blog

Are School Lockdown Drills Helpful or Hurtful?

December 3rd, 2019

View of typical American school building exteriorSchool leaders need to proactively educate faculty, staff, and students on safety protocols. Today, one way many districts are attempting to prepare students and staff through the use of lockdown drills. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2015–2016 school year, 95 percent of public schools ran lockdown drills, while a recent analysis by The Washington Post found that during the 2017–2018 school year, more than 4.1 million students experienced at least one lockdown or lockdown drill, including 220,000 kindergarteners and preschoolers.1

The growing use of lockdown drills in our schools raises a critical question: Are such rehearsals helpful or hurtful? Do they adequately prepare faculty and youth of all ages in the event of an in-school shooting? Or are they anxiety-provoking, and could they put our children at risk of suffering from daily school-related fear and stress?

To help school leaders decide how best to safeguard their students in the event of an incident, we are offering both sides of the debate for careful consideration.

How are Lockdown Drills Facilitated?

The sad reality in a world twenty years after Columbine is that students not only need to know what to do in the event of a fire, earthquake, or tornado but now they must also know what to do in the event of an active shooter event. The way that schools are attempting to instruct and prepare students, through rehearsals and simulations, range greatly. Some schools are facilitating minimal stress drills in which teachers lock doors, turn off lights, and instruct students to remain quiet until the exercise ends. In other schools, hyper-realistic simulations play out with plastic pellets, fake blood, and participation from local law enforcement and emergency responders. While the more realistic the lockdown, the more at-risk students become for unnecessary trauma, some question the value of lockdown drills of all varieties.

The Pros of School Lockdown Drills

  • Rehearsals Reinforce Behavior. Telling a young person that in the event of an active shooter, they should run, hide, and fight, may be necessary advice, but instruction alone may not be enough to will someone’s body to instinctively act when an emergency transpires, and their flight or fight instincts are initiated. Practicing procedures, such as the process of hiding in a corner or under a desk, may help students know precisely where to go and what to do without having to question or doubt themselves, giving them the best chance of survival during an active shooter event.
  • Proper Techniques May Help to Slow a Gunman. During most lockdown drills, teachers are instructed to lock their doors and turn off the lights, eliminating an intruders ability to get inside a classroom.Lights out and doors locked, in theory, may thwart an attack.
  • Practice Builds Confidence. Just like with fire drills and the “duck and cover” drills that students were required to practice during the Cold War, the goal of active shooter drills is to build confidence. Both students and the adults responsible for them should be prepared to act more quickly and decisively in the event of an emergency, having practiced repeatedly the proper protocol steps.

The Cons of Lockdown Drills

  • Realistic Rehearsals can be Terrifying. For those schools facilitating realistic active shooter simulations, while the intention may be good, they may be unnecessarily terrifying students and scarring them emotionally. Not only may unexpected and unannounced drills be devastatingly frightening to students, but they may also alarm parents and guardians as well. During an unannounced, realistic drill at Lake Brantley High School in Orlando, FL, students hid, cried, and made terrified phone calls to their families.
  • Evidence of Their Effectiveness is Inconclusive. As reported in The Atlantic, there is little evidence to support the idea that active shooter drills help to minimize tragedies and save lives.2
  • The Odds of a School Shooting are Rare. Despite the growing number of active shooter events across the country, statistically, the odds of a child dying during a school shooting are minimal, raising concerns that the scale of school preparedness efforts and the fear they induce is disproportionate to the actual risk. According to The Washington Post, since the first mass school shooting event at Columbine High School in Colorado, fewer than 150 children and adults have been shot to death in American schools. The leading cause of death for children is an accidental injury, which includes fires, car crashes, and falls. The next most prevalent cause of death is Cancer, followed by all homicides.

Conclusion

School leaders are responsible for protecting the students, faculty, and staff who spend their days on school grounds. While our nation still fights to address the issue of gun violence, school leaders need to assess the pros and cons of conducting regular active shooter drills as they determine the most effective ways to protect their students. When considering how best to proceed, school leaders should include parents, faculty, staff, and older students in the discussion. By maintaining an open dialogue with all impacted parties, school leaders can make the best determination for how best to protect their students—both emotionally and physically.


1. Rich, Stephen, and John Woodrow Cox. “’Scared to Death’: More than 4 Million Children Endured Lockdowns Last School Year.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 26 Dec. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/school-lockdowns-in-america/.

2. Hamblin, James. “What Are the Psychological Effects of ‘Active-Shooter Drills’?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 13 Mar. 2019, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/02/effects-of-active-shooter/554150/.

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