School safety has been in the media spotlight in recent years due to the catastrophic incidents that have plagued the United States in the last decade. This graph from the K-12 School Shooting Database reinforces the sad reality that every school community must be prepared for any and all situations making us all ask the question, "What would you do during those vital few minutes before first responders arrive if there is an incident at your school?"
Good communication during an emergency helps us coordinate, pivot, and take advantage of opportunities. By using good communication, first responders can move people to safety, inform others of the situation they will face when they arrive (creating better situational awareness), and even prevent additional situations from arising. However, emergency response, speed, and communication require practice and with the numerous drills your school district need to complete within a given school year, it can easily turn them into a hollow routine that results in a "get it done" attitude.
The important thing to remember when conducting school safety drills is to practice them as if they were a real-life situation. For some situations like fire drills and shelter-in-place, this isn't too difficult to accomplish. Fire drills can be easily simulated by having someone pull the fire alarm, which will then cause teachers, staff, and students to react as if it was a real situation. While a shelter-in-place can be triggered using an intercom to inform everyone that there's some type of severe weather heading your way that will require them to take action. But how do you perform some of these newer safety drills, like active shooter, that replicates a real-life situation but doesn't frighten students?
Some schools bring in outside firms to assist with active shooter drills, but they can be frightening and traumatic for not only students, but your staff. While other schools try to find alternative ways to facilitate them through the use of emails and intercoms. Regardless of the method being used, these drills tend to require advance notice, which allows your stakeholders to be more prepared than they would be during a real situation. Remember, the point of a school safety drill is to help your stakeholders build the skills they need to respond and react during a moments notice.
The recent school shooting at Saugus High School further demonstrates the importance of practicing school safety drills as if they were real-life situations. In the words of Andrei Mojica, 17, he was in his AP government class going over a worksheet when his teacher went outside and saw people running. Nobody in class panicked; then somebody opened the door and said there was a shooter on campus. His heart sank. In an instant, about 30 students in the class were up and barricading the doors with desks and tables. They'd practiced this before, but "there was something different about it from a simple drill to real life," Mojica said.
So how would your teachers react to an active shooter incident? Would they run, avoid, or deny/defend? These are the skills you're trying to develop and understand during a school safety drill so that you can help keep everyone safer.
During a recent presentation titled: "Safety Drills that Work: Practicing Safety without Frightening Students," Kevin Wellborn, Assistant Principal for Reagan Elementary School shared several ways his district and schools are using technology to facilitate realistic safety drills. Thanks to technology, Kevin and his safety team are able to trigger active shooter drills via their school safety app's panic button that then triggers an alert to all teachers and staff making them aware of the situation. Through the use of the same school safety app, they are able to relay key information like the type and location of the threat, allowing teachers and staff to determine their course of action. During one of these active shooter drills, Kevin and his safety team observed a situation where several teachers were trying to avoid the situation (since the threat was pretty far away) but it resulted in a bottleneck at the exit as there were several classes trying to exit the building at the same location. Thanks to the observations made during this safety drill, Kevin and his team realized that not only do teachers, staff, and students need to take into account how far away the threat is, but they should also consider what is the best way to exit the building. In this instance, it might have been better for some of the classes to exit through a different door (even though it was further away) then waiting to exit out the one closest to them.
Furthermore, we all know even younger kids are not immune to school shootings and need to be taught how to respond and react to these types of situations as demonstrated by the Grover Cleveland Elementary School shooting that occurred on January 29, 1979 by Brenda Spencer. In the attempt to keep active shooter drills from being frightening to younger students, one creative teacher at Reagan Elementary Schools told her students they were running a "hide and seek" drill. During the drill, the students are taught the essential skills, like listening to the teacher and how to stay out of sight, but without the scariness that's associated with a typical active shooter drill.
Reagan Elementary School also combines some of their school safety drills to keep teachers, staff, and students "on their toes" and ready to react at any point during a situation and to ensure they are keeping alert for any communications that may come across that will require additional action. Thanks to technology, all of these new drills can easily be facilitated and communicated with all stakeholders that would have otherwise proven to be quite difficult to achieve. To learn more about how Reagan Elementary School is practicing school safety without frightening students, be sure to watch the on-demand event.
Even though every school has to do them, it doesn't make school safety drills any less of a hassle. If you're looking for ways to streamline how your district and schools are managing, conducting, and reporting on school safety drills, we encourage you to take a moment to learn how our digital safety and crisis response platform can help you focus on drill skills and safety improvements not the post-event paperwork.