“Too traumatizing.” “Too intense.” “Too unlikely to be necessary.” As lockdown and active shooter trainings become more commonplace in schools, we hear pushback from some parents and communities. Are lockdown drills really necessary? Are options-based trainings where participants are taught to secure, escape and confront really necessary? At SEC, we believe both trainings are vital to the safety of the school, and can be conducted in a safe and benign way that assuages many of the concerns commonly associated with the training.

What Drills Are We Talking About?

Two of the more controversial trainings are lockdown drills and options-based trainings. Lockdown drills prepare for a situation when the threat is outside of the building. In a lockdown, you secure the perimeter by locking and barricading doors and windows. Options-based trainings prepare for when the threat has made it inside the building. Your options are to secure yourself in a safe place by hiding, escape the building by running, or in a worst-case scenario, defending yourself by fighting and confronting the threat.

Why the Controversy?

Some parents, teachers and community members have expressed concern that students will experience unnecessary trauma by participating in the drills. They argue that the threat is so unlikely that the emotional cost of participation in the drill does not outweigh the potential benefits of the practice. After all, the emergencies they train for are infrequent. 

There have been some examples where drills are taken to the extreme. We hear stories about schools that use projectiles to simulate gun violence or don’t announce that a drill is being conducted in advance, leaving the school under the impression the threat is real. We agree that these situations can cause undue stress for teachers and staff.

There are appropriate ways to conduct the trainings that will inform, but not traumatize, for both lockdowns and internal threats. It is important to know how to respond to threats located both inside and outside your building and we cover both in our teacher trainings.

Our Recommendation

SEC operates by training school teachers and staff, empowering them to pass on the information to their students how they see fit. Teachers understand their own classroom and are best able to adapt the lesson to the age and maturity of their students. We do conduct lockdown drills with teachers. We also conduct an active shooter scenario with teachers where they are able to practice the “Secure, Escape, Confront,” method. Our simulation is benign – there is no blood, gore or projectiles. We never conduct our active shooter simulations when there are students in the building.

We know teachers know their students best and leave the training specifics to their discretion, but we do pass on a few general recommendations. We recommend every student participate in lockdown drills. All students can benefit from practicing walking to the designated lockdown area and remaining quiet. We do not recommend any additional simulation elements are used to make the experience seem realistic, and we encourage that all drills be announced in advance.

While lockdown drills prepare for external threats, we recommend using the lockdown drill to discuss with students a plan of action for the event of internal threats. Rather than exposing students to a simulation, teachers can describe the plan of action (Secure, Evacuate or Confront) in the event of an internal threat. Teachers can tailor the students to their specific students.

The value of the training is immense. In the Secret Service, we preached that you don’t “rise to the occasion” in an emergency, but rather “sink to your level of training.” In emergencies, fine motor skills and the ability to do any sort of high-order thinking or decision making go out the window. Having preexisting knowledge of what to do in a situation — that is automatic and rapid — saves lives. Every second counts and wrong decisions can be costly. Those who perform best are the once who have mentally scripted a scenario, participated in trainings, and have playbook already in their heads. 

When conducted in an uninstructive, safe and informational manner, the cost of trauma disappears and the benefits of the drill are plentiful. Drills can empower students, teachers and communities and SEC encourages all schools. For more information about our training, please email us at [email protected]