Lockdown Drills In School (Your Child’s Newest Nightmare?)

Effects of Lockdown Drills on Students and Teacherslockdown drills in school

Most of us remember growing up with fire alarms and evacuation alarms. Today’s students face a more disturbing necessity. They regularly undergo lockdown drills. These drills have become a common occurrence in schools in the wake of deadly school shootings throughout the country. What makes Lockdown Drills In School Your Child’s Newest Nightmare?

A New Reality

Schools in Colorado were among the first to institute these drills. The state revamped its school safety measures after the 1999 Columbine shooting. Today, schools all over the country have instituted similar measures.

A school lockdown drill is specifically aimed at training teachers and students how to respond in the event of a shooting incident. Local law enforcement usually consults with school systems to develop the correct procedures.

Elements of a Lockdown Drill

Typically, a lockdown drill:

Is done at random times. Students and teachers might experience them during recess, during morning drop-offs or lunchtime.

Is highly specific. These drills differ from other drills aimed at protecting children and students in the case of fire or another emergency. A lockdown drill is aimed specifically at protecting them from an active school shooter.

Involves several steps. Most fire alarm and evacuation drills aim at getting children out of the building. A lockdown drill keeps teachers and students inside the building until law enforcement arrives.

What Happens During a School Lockdown Drill?

According to VeryWellFamily, a lockdown drill includes the following steps.

  • Locking all the classroom doors.
  • Covering all windows with shades and other covers.
  • Having students and teachers move out of the line of sight.
  • Turning off all the lights.
  • Covering the door window.
  • Alerting law enforcement.
  • Looking for a possible escape route.

Law enforcement experts say that locking the doors is crucial, because the shooter will move on if he or she can’t get into the classroom.

Most of the drills are based on the law enforcement acronym ALICE. It stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

It’s possible that your school does not follow the part regarding looking for a possible escape route. Schools I’ve had experience with told teachers in no uncertain terms that they and their students were to remain locked in the classroom until different directions were issued.

How These Drills Affect Schools and Students

These drills are a fact of school life these days, but they can be highly upsetting for everyone involved.

Saying Goodbyecrying child

Some teachers and students can treat them as just another break in the day’s routine like a fire drill. Others say they are much more frightening.

In 2018, the Washington Post investigated lockdown drills. The paper’s investigation found that over 4 million students had experienced an active shooter lockdown drill.

The paper found that students were crying, texting their parents to say goodbye, writing notes about who should get their toys and soiling themselves.

One teacher wrote on Twitter that, “As a preschool teacher, lockdown drills are a terrible fact of life. We try to keep it light for the kids but even 4-year-olds know we don’t practice cramming our class into the bathroom and staying silent for fun. It pains me to imagine the day it’s not just a drill.”

Too Realistic?

Both students and teachers can be frightened by drills that are too realistic. Some schools have used mock shooting or bombing attacks to make the drills seem real. But many safety experts say that those steps are unnecessarily traumatizing for everyone.   You can read more about the part school and lockdown drills cause in teen depression here.

Traumatized Teachers

In March 2019, teachers at an Indiana school were physically injured and mentally tormented during an active shooter drill where they were “shot” execution-style with air guns.

During the drill, law enforcement agents playing the parts of shooters brought teachers into a room, made them lie down and shot them in the back of the head.

Music teacher Keith Gambill told BuzzFeed News that, “I was horrified when I learned that teachers were called into a room and this was done to them. I believe educators know and understand how horrific an active shooter event is. I don’t think we have to be so extreme in training individuals for this.”

Gambill probably summed up the way a lot of teachers feel. They don’t have to personally experience a stimulated shooting to know how terrifying a real shooting situation would be.

In conducting my own casual survey, I discovered that each of my colleagues had given this possibility a great deal of thought. They all had a plan B.

Many of them simply consisted of having a heavy object available in case an intruder tried to come through the door. Each individual’s plan called for putting him or herself in harm’s way. Student safety was their paramount concern.

Can We Make Drills Less Traumatic?

At the ACES Connection blog, Stephanie Kennelly writes that a lockdown causes traumatic responses in the body because it shuts down your “flight or fight” response. You aren’t given a choice to do either one in a threatening situation.

Kennelly said that classroom teachers should incorporate three steps when conducting a lockdown drill to ease that trauma:

1. Deep breathing. Have the students practice deep breathing when they’re in the huddle to help them relax.

2. Release. After the drill is over, give students an opportunity for physical release. If possible, let them run around outside. If that’s not possible, have them do a few minutes of calisthenics in the classroom.

3. Stay calm. Kennelly suggests that you pick up your classroom activities as calmly and smoothly as possible to reinforce the idea that this was just a temporary break in routine.

Advice from Teachers

A 2018 Scholastic magazine article offers tips for teachers to make the drills less traumatic. The article offers specific ideas for each grade group. Most of the teachers say they focus on:

  • Being honest about the need for a drill without going into frightening details.
  • Reassuring students that the teacher is there to protect them.
  • Letting them know that the probability of a real event is low.

Can You Make Your School Lockdown Drill Safer?

These drills may be a grim reality of school life, but you can minimize their effects. If drills leave you emotionally overwhelmed, turn to your own sources of support. Talk with other teachers about ways to cope.

If your students are showing signs of distress, consider that the drills might be too frequent or too realistic. Talk to your administrators and school counselors about ways to mitigate the traumatic effects of these drills.

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6 thoughts on “Lockdown Drills In School (Your Child’s Newest Nightmare?)”

  1. Whether we like it or not, this is one of the changes that the society is undergoing. I am not in the position to say that it’s right or wrong to have this as part of vigilance for bad things that may occur. The teachers are doing great expressing the effects  to the school community and designing strategies to lessen the effects of trauma. I want to reiterate the heavy burden it gives to our teachers in any level. Imagine one person setting his/her own fears to effectively try calming a bunch of younger kids. This one of the reasons why teaching profession is really a noble one.

    Parents should also be a part of this lockdown drills by ensuring if they’re ok and talking to them longer than the usual daily conversation. They should look out for any disturbing behavioral change so it can be acted upon immediately. The school board on the other hand should conduct a research, or evaluation and assessment to check the welfare of everyone and to further develop the program.

    Thanks for sharing this. Our country doesn’t have these lockdown drills and I pray there won’t be a need for one. Preparation isn’t bad as long as the school community is not compromised. 

    • I hope students are talking to their parents about the drills.  I believe if more parents understand what’s happening and get involved, the drills may be more productive and less stressful.  

      It’s a terrible situation to be forced to deal with and I’m concerned that we’ve come to accept them as a necessary evil.  Once that happens, society stops looking for the root problem and it can be fixed, and becomes content with band-aid solutions.

      Thanks for joining the conversation.  I appreciate it.

  2. Very sensitive topic you have discussed here and it’s definitely a phase in the society to which we just all have to agree to because of its necessity. It was alarming to me at first when my kid came home and started talking to me about the drills and how scared he was when it all started. I had to visit their school for reassurance and proper talk. Though I can not say it’s bad or wrong but definitely, if taken to the extreme, it’s detrimental and trauma bound to both the teachers and students.

    • I hope that by bringing up sensitive topics, more parents, teachers and students will start questioning why things are the way they are.  With questions come other ways to view the topic, and new solutions as well.

      I’m glad you followed up on your child’s discussion with a conversation at his school.  Nothing changes until parents and teachers get involved.

      Thanks for joining the conversation; I appreciate it.

  3. Hi Nancy!
    It’s so sad to read that now schools in the USA have to implement lockdown drills as a consequence of all the school shootings. However, what what more terrible to read about what the consequence these drills have and their impact on children and the teachers too. I think it is unnecessary to even make it more realistic. 

    From my point of view, I think there isn’t a way to make these drills less traumatizing, as it reflects that it is possible that someday someone can enter there with a gun and put everyone’s lives at risk. The only solution for me is gun control. But you will also have to consider that I am not living this situation, I am not from the USA, so I don’t know exactly how everything goes. All I know is what I read from the news and posts like yours. In my country, it isn’t very easy to get a gun, you need to go through a very thorough and complicated process, so we aren’t living a situation where it is possible that someone brings a gun to school, and even more unlikely, that a kid brings a gun. 



    • Hi Mariana,

      It is a very sad situation.  You brought up an excellent point.  No matter what we try to do to make lockdown drills less traumatizing, kids realize that they aren’t safe.  Even if you control the guns, there are examples of people using other weapons to carry out attacks.  

      From my perspective, we need to begin discussing why and how our children came to believe this sort of behavior was an option.  Most of the attackers aren’t strangers from off the street.  They are students sitting in the classroom.  I think part of the problem will be found in the way we no “do” school.  I discuss some of the issues causing undue stress for our children here.

      Thanks for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!


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