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School Safety -- What Parents Need to Know About School Lockdown Drills

What parents and schools can do to boost school security today

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Today, many schools are implementing lockdown drills as part of school safety measures.

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When it comes to safety in schools today, many schools are not only implementing fire drills but lockdown drills as well. Lockdown drills are a set of procedures designed to have the occupants in a building familiarize themselves with ways to protect themselves against a threat, such as an armed intruder. When it comes to school lockdown drills, there is no one set of uniform regulation or mandate, and requirements for what school districts are to implement in their own schools vary from state to state. In general, though, school lockdown drills involve teaching children and adults how to barricade themselves in classrooms and hide from an armed and violent intruder.

States that have laws mandating lockdown drills in school, such as Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and New Jersey, require schools to conduct a set number of lockdown and/or evacuation drills a year. These mandates often require drills to be held for grades from kindergarten to college, in public as well as private schools.

The best way parents can find out what the requirements for lockdown drills and other safety measures are in their child’s school is to ask their child’s school and look on their own state’s Department of Education site.

Safety Drills Currently Used in Schools

Schools today are conducting various types of drills to protect students, faculty, and staff against armed and violent intruders. The most common type of safety measure involves lockdown drills in which students and adults practice hiding, staying away from doors and windows, and staying quiet.

Another type of safety drill involves having local law enforcement instructors teach kids and adults defensive maneuvers that include not only hiding, but also evaluating when to evacuate the building, and, more controversially, fighting back when confronted directly by a gunman. One such program being used today is A.L.i.C.E (Alert, Lockdown, inform, Counter, Evacuate), which was founded by Greg Crane, a former SWAT officer. Crane criticizes the typical lockdown drills for focusing on teaching people to lock themselves in a room and hide. “Having a one size fits all answer to a situation is dangerous,” says Crane. “In ninety-eight percent of these situations, you have a solo shooter,” says Crane. “If I knew that I have a killer inside the building, then I would run outside.”

Crane advocates teaching all strategies, which includes running away or even trying to fight back against the gunman when threatened directly. “If a principal has just told them something is happening in the hallway, kids and teachers should know to think, ‘What are our options? Where are the windows? Can we run out of an exit?” says Crane. A drill, according to Crane, should ideally include kids and teachers developing and discussing the best options to a violent threat and then having those ideas reviewed and evaluated by safety experts. Parents, says Crane, should have a talk with school administrators and ask, “What is the plan? Why is it just to hide? What are all the options?”

But other school safety experts like Ken Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, a private firm that specializes in k to 12 school security assessments and crisis preparedness training assessments, strongly caution against any school security procedures that teach kids to attack intruders or formulate their own plans. “What about special ed children? What’s age appropriate? And how can you ask middle schoolers who can’t choose between lunch entrees to make split-second, coordinated, life-and-death decisions?” says Trump.

Instead, Trump advocates the classic lockdown safety approach for schools, in which school staff and students hide and barricade doors in the event of a school intruder. He advises schools to evaluate their safety procedures, encourages them to continue their work on evacuation planning, and recommends that they work with law enforcement on active shooter drills. Trump also urges elected officials to increase federal funding for school security equipment, officers, and other resources.

What Parents Can Do About School Safety

Some of the questions parents have about school safety may include how school lockdown drills are implemented, what other plans are in place to help kids stay safe, and how to talk to handle kids’ questions or anxiety about school safety. Here are some ways parents can assess how prepared their child’s school is for an emergency.

  • Learn about the school safety drills that are being conducted in your child’s school. Ask your school’s principal and safety officials what plan they have for emergencies such as fires, bomb threats, and armed intruders. Other questions to ask: Are school officials and safety experts meeting regularly to discuss safety procedures? Are they holding safety drills at different times of the day? Do first responders have a floor plan of the school? For more on information parents should gather about school safety, see National School Safety and Security Services’ page on “Parents and School Safety.”

  • If your child’s school lacks a coherent, detailed, and specific plan, contact your school district or state Department of Education to demand that they work with to set up a school security and safety plan for your child’s school.

  • Do your own research. Not all school districts or safety experts agree about the best types of safety drills to prepare kids for emergencies. Read about school security and safety experts, compare different methods, and talk to your child’s school about any questions you might have.

  • Find out what your child knows about lockdown drills. Ask your child if she knows what these drills are and ask her if she knows what to do in the event of an emergency like a dangerous intruder. If she hasn’t taken part in a drill yet, talk to her about what she might experience during a lockdown drill so that she knows what to expect.

  • Reassure your child that these drills, like fire drills, are just to practice how to stay safe in the extremely unlikely event that someone dangerous enters the school. If participating in school lockdown drills triggers any anxiety in your child about scary news events like the Sandy Hook shootings, talk to your child to find out what she’s thinking, what she thinks she knows, and what she’s afraid of or worried about. Young children often have lots of misconceptions about things they see and hear, so you may need to clear up any confusion your child may have about school shootings or lockdown drills.

What Schools Can Do About School Safety

For their part, schools should work with local law enforcement agencies and school safety experts to have safety procedures evaluated to make sure they have all the elements needed to protect kids in the event of a dangerous emergency. If they don’t have a plan, they should work to have one put in place immediately.

Some other steps schools can take to ensure school safety and security:

  • Establish one main entrance, train staff to greet and challenge strangers, and take other measures to restrict and control access to the building, says Trump.

  • Work with recognized school safety experts with experience and extensive recommendations from other clients to assess the strength of their school’s safety and security measures and school violence prevention programs.

  • Make sure that first responders have floor plans to the school in case of emergency.

  • Urge elected officials to increase funding for school security, emergency planning, and school violence prevention measures.
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