Active Shooter Drills: More Harm than Good?
Does your school participate in active shooter drills? What about “Lockdown” drills? If so, who is creating and administering these drills and ensuring their safety and efficacy? As evinced in a recent New York Times report, the majority of public schools (96%) currently participate in “Lockdown” drills, despite the fact that active shooter incidents are statistically very unlikely to occur. And according to Bruce D. Perry, founder of Child Trauma Academy, a new cottage industry of “developmentally uninformed” active shooter training exercises are being conducted in schools across the country. To understand how and why law enforcement training methods ended up being used in classrooms, it’s important to recognize how the response to active shooter incidents has evolved over the years.
Historically, law enforcement officers have been responsible for mitigating active shooter threats. Accordingly, they have developed a set of specialized tactics designed to be utilized by armed, trained, first-responders. Unfortunately, law enforcement trainers have passed on their own hyper-realistic, high-stress training methods to “civilian” populations, including schools. Educators tend to trust the advice of their local law enforcement partners, even when this advice includes high-stress training methods. Again, these high-stress training methods are very appropriate for law enforcement, military, and security professionals, but can be highly traumatic for students and more sensitive members of the general public.
Key Learning Points
- Your local law enforcement partners are likely experts in active shooter response, but they are likely not experts in delivering these same concepts to students and educators in a developmentally appropriate manner.
- Educators should avoid the knee-jerk reaction to “do something” in the wake of recent active shooter incidents. Due care and serious consideration should always precede any active shooter drill, policy implementation, or training session.
- When considering an outside active shooter trainer, don’t focus solely on their law enforcement or military experience – focus instead on whether or not their training methods are research and evidence-based, trauma informed, and tailored specifically for educators and students.
Off-duty Police Officer Stops Walmart Shooting
Only weeks after the horrific Walmart shooting in El Paso, TX, an off-duty Indiana police officer interrupted a shooting in an Indiana Walmart. At the time, the officer was shopping for Labor Day supplies with his family and hundreds of other patrons. A shot rang out inside the store and chaos ensued. The off-duty officer left his family in the parking lot, re-entered the store, located the suspect, and detained him. One victim was shot by the suspect and police believe the shooting was an isolated incident. The off-duty officer has been praised for intervening and ending the shooting before lives were lost.
Only a year earlier, a 9-year-old boy and his father were shot and wounded in the parking lot of the same Walmart.
Key Learning Points
- Ensure that you have a family emergency plan in place that accounts for all types of emergencies, including natural disasters and fires. For more information on family disaster planning, please visit https://www.ready.gov/kids
- Understand that many businesses train employees to close, lock, and barricade interior doors during an active shooting. Make sure you and your family are prepared to immediately bypass locked interior doors and RUN or ESCAPE to safety. Also, avoid hiding in restrooms that do not have a locking exterior door.
- Remember: Only OVERCOME as a last resort! In the above-mentioned incident, an armed, off-duty police officer returned to the scene of the shooting to intervene. This officer was trained and equipped for a confrontation of this kind. Unless you possess similar training and equipment, you should avoid returning to a dangerous area to confront an armed aggressor. Similarly, teens and children should not be encouraged to leave an area of safety to confront an active shooter or other assailant.
Ohio Police Fire Blanks during High School Active Shooter Drill
Early this month, law enforcement officers fired multiple shotgun blanks during an active shooter training drill at an Ohio high school. Several students experienced panic attacks and requested to see counselors after the drill began. And even though the drill was planned and conducted in an orderly fashion, it’s impossible to say how this hyper-realistic drill affected the psyche of students and staff members.
Key Learning Points
- Blanks should not be used in active shooter scenarios when students are present. This is the equivalent of lighting a fire on campus to make fire drills more realistic.
- Trauma-inducing drills (e.g. causing students to have panic attacks) could potentially expose schools to lawsuits.
- Great care should be taken when selecting a “danger stimulus” for active shooter drills. Certain props (such as simulated firearms, blanks, and Airsoft guns) can create physical and psychological dangers for students and staff.