The lockdown drill addresses school security issues at the forefront of parental concerns. Many states now mandate multiple lockdown drills each school year to teach students and staff members how to handle emergencies. Most parents did not experience lockdown drills during their academic years. They may need help understanding the logistics of what is involved when a school announces active lockdown.
Lockdowns can be used for any threat that is inside a building. Threats can include an active shooter or armed assailant but also may include angry parents, a dangerous animal, or other things that pose potential harm.
Lockdowns are most commonly thought about in the context of active shooters or school shooting events. It is important for whoever makes the lockdown announcement to not state the individual incident causing a lockdown, even in drills. The most important part of the exercise is building student and staff muscle memory to take cover and be out of sight, no matter the threat.
I worked as a school resource officer in a district that performed lockdown drills for many years. Every school would know that a drill would take place but on an unannounced date and time. My job as the SRO was to assist the safety and security manager and other sheriff’s deputies in observing the actions taken by staff and students after a loudspeaker announcement was made throughout the school.
But what exactly do these drills entail for your child? Below I discuss the importance of lockdown drills and what you can do as a parent to help your child understand what they can do to maximize their safety if a real-life emergency occurs.
Why are Multiple Lockdown Drills Necessary?
Lockdown drills are a way to prepare students and staff to respond properly in an emergency. These exercises do so by teaching and practicing actions to stay safe and quiet in classrooms or other parts of the school. To retain the safety procedures necessary during these drills, schools will often participate in lockdown drills once every school semester or as often as twice per semester. The repeated actions of these drills help encourage muscle memory for everyone involved.
Muscle memory is a neurological process that allows you to remember certain motor skills and perform them without conscious effort. You can lose the movements and skills when an action is performed once. If the same action is repeated in the same way multiple times over an extended period, the reactions of what to do in the situation can be performed without much thought.
In the sense of a lockdown drill, the more times students and staff practice where to go and what to do to maximize their safety in an emergency, the less time they will need to process and think about what they should do and their required motions become automatic.
Throughout the school day, students will be in different areas of the building for extended periods, not necessarily sitting in the same classroom for the whole day. Schools should perform drills at staggered times of the day to prevent awareness and complacency that it is only a drill.
The times of day when an event such as an active shooter is likely to occur is when large gatherings are in the building, such as arrival, lunchtime, and dismissal. While these times aren’t considered the most convenient for drills, it prepares staff and students for where they must go and what they must do during these times.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
According to the United States Secret Service, 83% of the school shootings analyzed lasted less than five minutes. The incident was over in one minute or less in nearly half of the attacks.
Initially, your child may feel frightened by participating in lockdown drills; however, their apprehension should lessen as they become more used to the practice. The statistics above show that an attacker is looking to inflict as much harm as possible quickly. With these numbers in mind, an armed assailant will not spend much time in an area where a person or people are not seen nor heard. Being out of sight from anyone trying to peer through a classroom door is the best practice for staff and students when participating in lockdown exercises.
Research has found that a door lock is the number one life-saving device in such incidents. Solid classroom doors that cannot be opened when locked create a physical barrier between a perpetrator and their intended targets.
A review of 101 school shootings between 1966 and 2020 found that a person was killed behind a locked door in just three incidents. In none of these incidents was it because the door lock failed. Closing and locking the classroom door is the first step a teacher should take in preparation for getting their students away from any line of sight outside of the room.
It is important to emphasize that students and staff should never unlock or open the door if they hear a knock. They should also refrain from communicating with anyone outside the door to make an attacker feel like the room is empty. Anyone who should be entering that room, such as law enforcement or school administrators, will have a key and will not request access from anyone inside the room.
A Parent’s Involvement
As adults, we understand that lockdown drills are in place for a serious reason. A young child will not be on the same level of understanding, and it’s okay to ease their minds by simply explaining that it is just for practice.
If they ask questions about what it is a practice for, help them understand. Explain that it is the school’s job to keep all students safe, and sometimes teachers and other adults in their school may see something concerning that students do not see at the time. The lockdown drill is the best way to keep everyone safe until that concern is determined not to be a threat.
Even if you fully know what a lockdown drill involves, ask your child about the process. Questions about what they did first and what followed can encourage them with a sense of responsibility. Being involved and interested in what they tell you can make them feel that the drill is a necessary part of their school day and not a scary experience.
Be available and willing to talk to your child about this topic. Being there when your child wants to ask questions or express their concerns is important. Communication is key, and listening to their words can help ease their minds. The first few lockdown drills are scary but should become more comfortable.
I hope this information about lockdown drills and their importance has helped you further understand why our schools have them. The world around safety and security is constantly changing with experience, and I want to learn and grow alongside all parents who continue to make the world a safer place for our children.