As an expert in the field of school emergency preparedness, I must share the shame, disappointment, and frustration I felt after hearing how teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary School were treated during an active-shooter drill. These drills led to injury and unnecessary fear in this case, and more broadly make our nation’s schools less safe. For the sake of my own sanity, I have to believe that the organizers of this drill believed it was in the best interest of student safety; the reality is, it’s a threat to the safety of students, teachers and the rest of our country. When people are afraid, the act impulsively and inappropriately and that leads to unnecessary and certainly unintended consequences.
Good drills build confidence in our ability to make the right decision. They allow us to practice our crisis communication plans, support the members of our community who need it most, and go about our days with the peace of mind that comes with preparation. They are a critical part of emergency preparedness, helping us know what to do if there’s an earthquake, or if there’s a fire, or if there’s a police chase in our area.
What defines a good drill? One that students, faculty, staff, and teachers are aware is scheduled.One that helps our schools practice how they will keep their students safe during a lockdown drill, but also gives them the tools to talk about lockdown with students. They exist, and they can happen at every school.
This exercise, on the other hand, was cruel. A group of teachers sought to learn more about how they can protect their community. To take that rich opportunity for education and turn it into a traumatizing, unforgettable moment is depressingly pointless. Obviously, this drill did little to improve school safety. I sincerely hope it doesn’t stop other communities across the country from doing that important work themselves.
At the end of the day, safety starts with confidence; all communities deserve that.