Lockdown Drills: Should We Treat Them Like Drills?

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Lauren Salzman My 2017 Lockdown Drill: Dr. Hooker’s Calc AB class huddled into the alcove in our science  center classroom. While the room itself was dark from the blackout shades, our hiding spot was illuminated by the countless phone screens. Laughter and hushed conversations. My 2018 Lockdown Drill: Dr. Hooker’s Calc BC class huddled into the alcove in our science center classroom. The room itself was dark from the blackout shades. Nobody dared to move or look at their phones. It seemed as though everyone was listening intently to the boat horn-like sounds coming from the P.A. system, hoping each blast would be the last. Maybe this 2018 lockdown drill felt so different from all  of the others because of its proximity to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida just a month prior. Or maybe it was because we were all a little older and a little more scared. When the fire alarm goes off, I will admit that I almost always assume it’s a drill. Sometimes our teachers will even notify us ahead of time that there will be a fire drill so we can prepare and predict what class we’ll be able to miss. But we don’t hear about schools bursting into flames on the news. Instead, we are the generation of mass shootings and student-led protests, the generation who attends memorials for elementary and high school students. So when that boat horn-like sound went off just four weeks after the Parkland massacre, it took on a new meaning. Now, lockdown drills are on the forefront of people’s minds, not excluding parents. When I was leading a tour recently for parents of accepted lower school students, one mother said, “I don’t know how to ask this, but how do you prepare for school shooters?” I stopped in my tracks in the third floor hallway and started to explain to her our lockdown drill procedures and front desk security system. It wasn’t until after I completed the tour that I realized how unfortunate it is that lockdown drills are one of the first things parents of a four-year-old ask about. Until we no longer have to live in fear, lockdown drills are an unwelcome reality. We live in a country that braces for 1.4 school shootings a week, so, for now, unpreparedness by our students, teachers, parents is not an option. We must talk about our school’s approach to lockdown drills, continuously searching for more efficient, safer practices. Latin’s director of operations, Mr. Guzman extensively reviews emergency response plans, consulting with the Chicago Fire Department, Chicago Police Department, and school security consulting firms. Many security precautions that may be unknown by the community, such as hidden safety materials and water bottles, as well as emergency notification systems and two-way radios, are in place and constantly being improved upon. When asked about her take on lockdown drills and whether or not teachers should be notified they are in fact drills, Ms. Barker said, “Well what’s the purpose of a drill?” “It’s to help everyone,” she continued, “both teachers and students, to increase our safety in the event that this actually happens. I think when students are aware that it’s a drill, people are more likely to chat and joke.” Teachers not only have to know what to do, but they have to do it while feeling complete panic. So while being unaware of a drill is sure to spike levels of adrenaline, “it’s conditioning [teachers] to be able to act in an appropriate way during times of real stress. To me, that’s the point of the drill, so for the safety of everyone, maybe we shouldn’t all know it’s a drill.” Mr. Stroup had a similar thought to Barker’s when he said, “I would like to know about lockdown drills ahead of time to assuage my anxiety around those situations. However, I can also recognize why it is important for the efficacy of the drill that participants be unaware if it is a drill or not.” Ms. Stevens added a different layer to the conversation by pointing out that “if you have people who are scared and highly anxious about the idea of gun violence, you could have someone who is triggered by drill noises, procedures, etc.” While highly realistic drills will, on the whole, better prepare our community, it’s important to be cognizant of the potential for severe emotional strain. “I think about things I never would have thought about five or ten years ago,” Ms. Stevens said. Her office is on the 4th floor behind two doors and a waiting room. She never used to question her safety, but now she looks at all the possible scenarios, like being in the lobby or the theater, where she will not be as safe. “While it’s not healthy to live in fear,” she said, “I’m afraid that your generation will become desensitized to mass shootings, especially if these drills aren’t taken seriously.” There’s no perfect way to plan for a real lockdown, but, in our unfortunate reality, nothing is more important than preparedness. We need to prepare for the worst, perpetually scrutinizing our processes and procedures, while always hoping that our practice is fruitless. ]]>