School Active Shooter Drills – Finding the Right Balance by Jorge C. Castillo

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Virginia Tech University, Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stoneman Douglass High School. The mere mention of these schools’ names conjures up painful memories, while highlighting an added role educators are now expected to perform; that of first responders. The challenges typically faced by teachers have become more complex by societal expectations that, in the face of an active threat or shooter, teachers will take the actions and steps necessary to safeguard and defend their students.

This article intends to explore the efficiency of certain methods being used to train educators (and students) to prepare for active shooter situations. We provide some questions for consideration to assist you with striking the right balance at your school.

A number of schools across the country still struggle with how best to tackle this challenge, or continue to hang on to the belief or illusion that an active shooter incident may never occur at their school. However, for the most part, academic institutions have realized that this threat is significant. As a result, they have begun taking the steps to increase their security posture and harden their campuses. In some instances, schools have conducted drills that are so realistic that they cause discomfort and trauma to the participants.

Education Week reported on April 19, 2019 a case in which trainers shot teachers execution style with pellets during an active shooter training session causing welts and bruises. In another instance, drills have used air soft guns to simulate active shooter situations. This approach misses a fundamental tenant of emergency preparedness. Drills are supposed to be designed to teach and to practice response measures; not discourage participation or scar participants into compliance. Determining what level of realism is appropriate to meet objectives is always a challenge and must be seriously considered.

School administrators continue to grapple with deciding how to train their own faculty and staff, and there is little guidance on the best approach.

We offer the following set of questions for consideration prior to agreeing to an approach in creating active shooter drills:

  • Who is the audience we are attempting to train?
  • Is it faculty and staff? If so, have we defined what our policy is surrounding expectations on the part of faculty and staff?
  • Does it involve students? What is the age appropriate information to share with them? Have parents consented to such content? It is important to engage parents in the process.
  • What are our goals at the end of this drill? Raising awareness? Training for self-defense? Training for neutralizing the threat (refer back to policies surrounding expectations)?

Depending on your school’s location and mission, these questions may vary. However, at CMCG we believe that the curriculum should always be tailored to your particular circumstances and objectives. We have 15 years of experience helping K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities develop realistic drills that incorporate academic culture, goals, and community while being sensitive to the nature and needs of the audience.

From our experience, we know that when developed properly, active shooter drills have a tremendous, potentially life-saving impact. Every school across the nation should be investing resources into preparing for such situations so that what could be a devastating event can be quickly contained, if not prevented completely.

If your school could benefit from professional guidance on developing appropriate and effective active shooter drills, we welcome you to reach out to CMCG so we may help advise you.

Contact us here.


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