School Shooting Preparedness Drills Become More Realistic

After the tragic Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado in 1999, most U.S. states started requiring school emergency management plans. And as each year passes, those plans continue to grow. But according to data compiled by the Education Commission of the States, the types of preparedness plans vary widely.

For example, Minnesota requires at least five annual lockdown drills; North Dakota added tornado, fire, and other disaster drills to its emergency management plan; and some districts in Tennessee, North Carolina, Illinois, and Washington have used mock shooters to increase the reality of each drill, according to an article published by

The realistic nature of school shooting drills continues to grow. In drills of the past, oftentimes teachers would lock classroom doors, draw the blinds over windows, and cover windows with paper so no one can look in from the hallway or from outside, while students practice huddling in the corner or another location of a classroom without making noise. Today, those drills sometimes include mock shooters and fake blood packets. During one recent New York town’s elementary school preparedness drill, police wore body armor and carried unloaded weapons while negotiating with a mock hostage-taker.

But rather than frighten students and their parents, school officials and emergency workers say the drills are intended to prepare and reassure everyone involved that administrators, students, parents, and others know what to do during an emergency. But according to the article, a 2007 study that measured the reactions of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders after a “relatively calm lockdown drill” that did not utilize guns and props raised concerns about the realism of drilling.

According to the study’s coauthor, Amanda Nickerson, she doesn’t think that extreme realism in drilling is necessary. “I would think it could raise people’s anxiety unnecessarily,” she said, as quoted by Nickerson is an associate professor of educational psychology at the University at Buffalo.

Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, agrees with Nickerson. “We don't need to teach kids to attack armed intruders by throwing pencils and books at a gunman or to have a SWAT team at the kindergarten doors, but it’s not unreasonable for school leaders to make sure that students, teachers and support staff know what to do in an emergency,” he said in the article.

Stamford Superintendent said the goal of preparedness drilling is to make schools safe without “creating an environment where 5- and 6-year-olds come into the building with anxiety and fear.”

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