When I lived in Europe on a military base, our students would not only go through fire drills once a month, but we would also practice bug out drills and lockdown drills. In a bug out drill, the goal was to get every kid off base and out to the airfield to catch a C-130 home back to the United States in under 30 mins. During a lockdown drill, the goal was to get every student into a shelter situation in under 30 seconds. Living on a military base these kinds of exercises were just part of the environment. The idea of pack a bag, have a plan, be prepared, was drilled into nearly everyone. We took it seriously. There were lots of folks who had lived through these situations and could attest to intruders, and evacuations. However, now back in Arizona that culture of preparedness is not the same.
There are two sides of the story and my intention with this blog post is not to take sides, but rather bring about a topic that is becoming more and more a hot button in schools, and that is how prepared should we be? At what point are the lockdown drills too serious and too realistic? Or are we not doing enough? Are we at the point that we should have these conversations with 3rd graders? Or is this something we should only address with high school students. In light of recent events, would more education of an active shooter situation have saved more lives? Does training work? There is lots of evidence to support that it does.
I live in a nice part of Phoenix. However, in the last two years, there have been multiple student shootings near schools close to where I live. I can even say I have students that have shown me bullet wounds that bring this topic very close to home. So, knowing that, how far should we prepare kids during these types of drills? Do these types of drills frighten more than prepare?
Around the country, there are numerous schools and districts replacing their traditional lockdown drills with more robust and active simulations. Situations where students and staff are given numerous options like an evasion of the threat and more controversially how to counter a shooter. Which could entail anything from fighting back to running away in zigzag patterns.
Recently my friend Dan who teaches on the east coast spoke with me about the level their district is now taking with lockdown drills. They are using the ALICE protocol, an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. The response was developed by former police officer Greg Crane and his wife, Lisa Crane, a former school principal, after the 1999 shootings at Colorado’s Columbine High School (Education Weekly). During their professional development day at the beginning of the year, they fully practiced with paintball guns being shot at by an intruder and how to evade. I would say you probably can’t be more realistic than that.
I have met many teachers in my career that don’t take these kinds of exercises seriously. They lock the doors and continue teaching as not to waste class time on something silly and frivolous. I see where they are coming from. I mean what are the odds anything would ever happen on their campus right???
Call me crazy, or maybe because I just know too much horrible information about survivability and preparedness, I take the time to practice during a lockdown. I talk about where to seek shelter, why it’s important to stay quiet, how to barricade properly etc.etc.. In Europe, I was lucky to have German Special Forces teach us what to do and how to survive such an attack. Being at NATO headquarters, my kids were always considered soft targets and so we had to know how to protect them, but now that I am back in my hometown and those kinds of resources don’t exist, we are lucky we even still have our own resource officer. A commodity that would cut down response time in an emergency by 10 crucial minutes.
Here in Arizona there has been a few occasions where lawmakers tried to get guns into schools. This past February, SB 1243 would have allowed concealed weapons in all public buildings. The bill died on a 16-14 vote. But none the less, nearly half the state senate supports concealed weapons as a means of self -defense. I don’t know about you, but I do not know very many teachers that I would trust with a firearm in the classroom, however as scary as that sounds there are now classes nationwide to do exactly that.
As a coach and teacher, I know that people will do what they are trained to do when trained well. If this is the world we now live in, I do not think there is anything wrong with being prepared. Little kids may not totally understand what is taking place in these drills, but if they know what to do and why to take it seriously; I fully believe it is better to be safe than sorry. For older students who understand a little bit better what these types of drills mean, I do not believe we should hold back when teaching how to survive these types of threats. In an ideal world, every school would have a resource officer. Every school would be built with safeguards such as inside locking doors. Every school would have an action plan. In an ideal world, we would not even have to have this conversation. But that is not the reality, and since it is our job to protect the lives of our kids, maybe this is something we should be taking more seriously with more robust plans of action.