PODCAST-High-drama multi-agency intruder response simulations transpire daily in schools across America. This hyper-realistic approach to school safety has produced a flurry of litigation centering psychological trauma for adults and children. Furthermore, theatrical drills are not supported by empirical research and differ greatly from the ways schools prepare for other disasters, such as fires and tornadoes. For example, when the fire alarm sounds, students don’t enter a smoke-filled hallway. Dr. Perrodin offers key safety suggestions for staff, administrators, parents and students.
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Exercise situational awareness and trust your gut feeling – quickly report concerns to administration. Go thru the harassment and threat input system step-by-step with all students and give extra training to youth with special needs.
Assure staff that you will HAVE THEIR BACK if they exercise discretion to act in the best interest of students, others or self. Inform staff that is there is a school intruder event, the entire school property might be considered a crime scene and they might not be able to retrieve personal belongings or vehicles for a day or more.
Inform parents that in the event of an intruder or other lockdown situation to NOT drive to the school to pick up their child unless directed to do so by the school. Parents converging on a scene interfere with emergency responders. Also, let them know that you will tell them that staging or pick-up areas as the situation will dictate where emergency officials deem those will be located – which could be several blocks or even a few miles away in the event of a tornado. Too often the evacuation site is a location a block away from the school.
Be explicit in covering the school handbook for areas of safety – including threat to others and threat of harm to self. Students can create PSA videos about the handbook. Have students demonstrate the reporting process. Ask for input from students following drills!
ALARMING FINDINGS ABOUT FIRE DRILL RESEARCH
Many schools throughout the United States are mandated to hold drills, or operational exercises, to prepare for fires, tornadoes, violence, and other emergencies. Despite recommendations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and USDOE, no local or federal agency routinely monitors the frequency and quality of school drills. Hence, drills are often checklist activities and not exercises to better inform practice. Furthermore, research that has been done to assess the impact of drills suggests that they produce both benefits, such as students learning the evacuation location, and drawbacks, including student apathy and becoming desensitized to drills.
(Perrodin, 2016): Many schools throughout the United States are mandated to hold drills, or operational exercises, to prepare for fires, tornadoes, violence, and other emergencies. Despite recommendations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and USDOE, no local or federal agency routinely monitors the frequency and quality of school drills. Hence, drills are often checklist activities and not exercises to better inform practice. Furthermore, research that has been done to assess the impact of drills suggests that they produce both benefits, such as students learning the evacuation location, and drawbacks, including student apathy and becoming desensitized to drills.
To test the efficacy of drills, Zhe and Nickerson (2007) conducted a study using a sample of 74 elementary school students divided into two groups. The first group received a training session and participated in an intruder drill. The second group was a “placebo” and did not participate in the training or drill. In a post-test measurement using questions and observations, the researchers looked at the areas of student knowledge of drills, skills, state of anxiety, and perceptions of school safety. The intervention group acquired the skill of safe relocation during the drill. However, there were no differences in state of anxiety or perception of school safety between the groups.
In their study Accountability and Assessment of Emergency Drills at School, Ramirez, Kubicek, Peek-Asa, and Wong (2009), reported their findings about attitudes toward, and perceptions of, drills from a study school district. The authors revealed discouraging attitudes toward drilling. “Drills were not typically recognized as a training vehicle but rather as a compulsory exercise with little meaning. Observations indicated that students, particularly in the middle and high schools, often did not evacuate in an orderly fashion (e.g., in lines) and that staff generally did not correct this behavior.”
While observers recorded the amount of time it took for staff and students to evacuate a building, these figures could only be compared to local averages and not against any known recommended threshold. They also noted that students appeared desensitized to the drills. It is possible that the apathy for safety drills perceived by Ramirez was part of a larger question of students’ indifference to their school. Finally, drills were not used as opportunities to adopt changes in problematic procedures.
Host a community assembly a week before school starts – record it, play it on cable access and make available from school website, how about a 30-second advertisement in the local movie theater? Tell people what to expect during and following a school crisis! Finally, tabletop exercised are very effective, allow for in-the-moment injects and don’t involve the traumatic psychological stress of police running through hallways, firing off blank rounds, as staff and students barricade classroom doors – possibly uncertain if this is a drill or “the real thing”. Memory recall is not enhanced by theatrical drills. Of course, ensure that you invest in a robust threat detection / threat reporting system.
4 SIMPLE QUESTIONS WILL IMPROVE SCHOOL SAFETY
Within 30 minutes of a drill, have all staff respond to a four question online survey that asks:
- Your location during the drill.
- Did you hear the announcement of the drill?
- Any questions / constructive input?
- What questions did students have?
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Articles Referenced in this Post
Ramirez, M., Kubicek, K., Peek-Asa, C., & Wong, M. (2009). Accountability and assessment of emergency drill performance at schools. Family &Community Health, 32(2), pp. 105–114.
Zhe, E. & Nickerson, A. (2007). Effects of intruder crisis drill on children’s knowledge, anxiety, and perceptions of school safety. School Psychology Review,36, pp. 501–508.