5 Types of School Emergency Drills and Why They Are Valuable

Realistic and varying school emergency drills empower staff and students to make life-saving decisions during a stressful event.

5 Types of School Emergency Drills and Why They Are Valuable

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When it comes to school emergency drills of value, we have to engage staff and students. There should be some level of stress which comes from a realistic scenario without being so real that people can’t function. We have to conduct drills that are age-appropriate, and we should also consider any special needs students as well. If our drills are nothing more than checking a box to indicate we ran a drill, then we are not really prepared to respond to violence.

A quality drill will challenge your staff to react and respond to danger not just by policy but as they assess the circumstances taking place around them. A real event such as an active shooter attack can be very fluid, and our people have to be able to make good decisions based on fact and not on fear.

There are several types of drills to consider:

1. The simple call of lockdown to see how quickly the building can be secured. The administrators can walk through the school to see who is locked down properly, who can be seen in classrooms, and who did a great job. This can provide good feedback for staff or help to adjust deficiencies in how staff perform the lockdown.

2. The impromptu drill. This is a simple lockdown call without prior notice to staff on the day of the drill. To prepare everyone, when you initially brief staff on the drills you will run during the year (usually at the beginning of the school year), let them know they should be ready at all times to lockdown, and you will test it.

3. The intermediate drill. This requires some planning and preparation. You choose a date and advise your staff a drill will take place on that date but don’t tell them the time of the drill. During this kind of drill, you might want to include the local police because it allows them to respond and practice their training for securing the school.

4. The advanced drill. This requires coordination with the local police. You might also consider inviting other school administrators from your district to witness the drill. It can include non-public schools as well as witnesses. During this drill, the date is known. Parents are advised that a large-scale drill will take place but we do not give them the time and we post signboards in front of the school saying “School safety drill in progress.” You can offer students who may be unable to handle this kind of drill an “Opt-Out” option. Their parents can keep them home the day of the drill. This kind of drill is set in motion by using a role player — a student or an adult volunteer. This role player takes some action that alerts staff to danger by screaming or causing a disturbance, and then running out of the office down the hallway. This action will hopefully cause your staff to initiate a lockdown.

Someone will notify the police who are standing by in the area. Once they are notified, they will respond to the school and seek out the role player as they would in a real situation. Once confronted, the drill is over and you can conduct your “end of drill” procedure to notify everyone that the drill is over and to reopen their classrooms.

You can conduct an after-event de-briefing with the staff and police to see how the drill went from their perspective. It is here you can identify any problems in response and adjust them.

There are a lot of moving parts in this advanced type of drill. I have done them and much more complicated ones in my own district. I have also helped other schools run these kinds of drills as the coordinator.

5. Besides these kinds of drills, consider running a drill at the start of the day as kids get off the busses, at the end of the day as they load onto the busses, at hallway passing time, or lunch. How would your staff react if they were out on a sports field when a lockdown occurs?

These kinds of drills are difficult, and most places never run them, but you could do a tabletop version at a staff meeting. I also offer an electronic version that runs a tabletop live and staff have to react to unfolding events in a virtual world.

The key to a drill of value is that it has some realism and stress for the participants. A saying I use is, “The first time we react to a situation should not be the first time we thought about it.” We build up and empower our staff by inoculating them to fear so they can function and make decisions during a stressful event. That only happens when we practice realistic drills and don’t just check off boxes.


Joseph Pangaro is a retired police lieutenant from Ocean Township, N.J. and the former director of school safety and security for a large school district in New Jersey. He is a Certified Public Manager (CPM) and the owner and CEO of True Security Design. He can be reached at JPangaro@TrueSecurityDesign.com.

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