Active Shooter Drills and Their Psychological Impact

An upcoming article in The Atlantic entitled “Active-Shooter Drills Are Tragically Misguided“ tries making the point that the psychological impact of active-shooter drills and lockdowns on children far exceeds the benefits of the drills. That the time and resources devoted to drills could somehow be better spent on hiring more experienced teachers or providing better educational programs.


While we understand the psychological impact lockdown drills might have on children, the reality of life in 2019 is that school shootings have become a common occurrence throughout the United States. According to Everytown, which tracked mass shootings from 2009 to 2017, there were at least 173 mass shootings in the US. In those 9 years, at least 1793 people were shot, including 1001 people who were shot and killed, and 792 shot and injured. 1 in 5 were under 18.


As specialists in blackout shades who have worked with schools to keep classrooms safe for over six years, we disagree with the assertion that the scale of preparedness efforts is out of proportion to the risk. Since Sandy Hook there have been over 300 instances of gun violence on school campuses and over 138 people killed in those incidents. On average, there have been about five school shootings each month, including episodes that were not classified as mass shootings. Those are imprecise numbers because there is no agreed-upon procedure for collecting and analyzing data about school shootings. After many shootings more time and energy is spent debating the semantics of the Second Amendment and methodologies of collecting data than in finding workable solutions.  What we have also learned is that school shootings have long-term impacts and consequences on the school community as a whole: a recent analysis of school shootings found that those involving a homicide reduced student enrollment in the affected schools, and lowered students’ standardized test scores by nearly 5 percent. Attending a high school where a homicide takes place creates trauma that impacts students’ school experience and achievement. 


One of the most important things we have learned is that lockdown drills work.


Lockdowns have been proven to be a critical first step in school safety. Every school, college, and university needs a varied lockdown procedure that is simple and easy to follow – one that will keep students and educators safe. According to a GAO report to Congress in 2016, almost all of the nation’s public schools participated in lockdown drills during the previous year, although only 67% held active shooter drills. Experience and a recent history of school shootings across the nation have taught us that lockdowns are effective. Lockdowns like the one at Rancho Tehama Elementary School in California saved lives because students and educators knew exactly what to do and how to do it.


“Modernity’s gift” of childhood that the article references is important, but we no longer live in the simplistic world filled with the naivety of an “Ozzie and Harriet” or a “Leave It To Beaver” sitcom. We are not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory if our schools are taking necessary steps to protect our children.


Although the author claims to have seldom heard about realistic live-shooter drills in nursing homes, places of worship, or most workplaces, it does not mean they are not happening. Quite the opposite. In the past six years we have expanded the scope and distribution of our products beyond schools to those same places of worship, businesses, offices, and hospitals nationwide. Active shooter drills and preparation for threats are commonplace as violence extends from classrooms to all areas of every day life (such as the Capital Gazette, a country and western concert in Las Vegas, or the Borderline Bar & Grill). And the low frequency of school shootings should not preclude taking every precaution possible to protect students and teachers. 2017 was the safest year in history for commercial airlines, according to industry research but pre-flight emergency instructions were and still are a standard part of every flight. There hasn’t been a fatal fire in an American school since 1958 but fire drills are still mandatory in every school nationwide.


We have also learned after every shooting that Congress will not protect our children. Not by enacting stronger gun laws that ban assault weapons or the sale of bump stocks that can turn semi-automatics into automatic weapons. Not by implementing background checks on all gun sales, despite support from 95 out of 100 Americans.  Not even by funding research into ways to prevent more gun violence.  We already know that it is impossible for children to learn when they fear for their own safety inside a classroom.  School safety has become the Number One Priority in almost every school in the nation, instead of education principles, curriculums, graduation rates, and teaching skills necessary to compete in a 21st Century world market.


Yes, active shooter drills and lockdowns can be scary for everyone involved. It is important that schools make lockdown drills age appropriate and just as important for parents to be involved in conversations that help younger children understand the importance of drills, as well as the likelihood of school shooting occurrences.  It is our job as parents to not only allay the fears of our school age children, but to keep our children safe.


Together we can help our sons and daughters work through fears that might arise from a lockdown. But we cannot do anything if they are dead.