What Does a Google Ngram Tell Us About the Direction of School Safety?

The Google Ngram Viewer is a phrase-usage graphing tool which charts the yearly count of selected word or phrase combinations as found in over 5.2 million books up to 2008.  In looking at the Ngram below, you will find that I entered the words/phrases:  fire drill, tornado drill, lockdown, and school shooting. 

Fire Drill:  The peak period for fire drills in literature was between 1920-1945.  It rebounded a bit around 1958, probably due to the Our Lady of the Angels fire in Chicago in which 92 students perished.  The United States hasn’t experienced a fire-related student death in 50 years – hence the flat line for fire drills in publications.

Tornado Drill:  You have to look carefully, but between 1990-2008 tornado drills barely made it above the x axis.  There’s never been much attention given to tornado drills.  Even the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, which killed 69 students, did little to spark a literature flurry about tornado drills.

Lockdown:  This term is a little broad, and certainly includes some reference to jails and prisons.  However, we can see that since 1980, the term “lockdown” has gone from relative obscurity to prevalent in publications!  No wonder why it is common language in today’s schools – it’s getting a lot of press.  We didn’t do lockdown drills when I attended K-12 schools back in the 70s – 80s.

School Shooting:  School shootings received little media and publication attention prior to the 1980s.  They were considered localized events.  Since the mid-1990s, we have observed a steady ascent of the term “school shooting” in publications and they have also become instant national media events.  Although there was a dip in 2008, expect that the green line has headed north since the Newtown massacre.

So, what does this Ngram tell us?  It tells us that society has shifted its crises focus to school shooters and lockdowns.  We can expect that more legislation will follow these trends – and more media coverage will be directed on school intruders and lockdowns.  As of this moment, the orange and green lines are certainly trending up.  Be ready.