Due to the rise of gun violence in America, active shooter drills have become far more frequent and prevalent throughout the nation. Schools have students and teachers simulate situations in which there is an on-campus shooter threat in order to prepare for a possible real-life situation. Preparation seems like a good idea, right? Maybe not. Active shooter drills may be causing more psychological harm than good.
The most extreme example comes from Lake Brantley High School in Florida. This past December, the school had an unannounced active shooter drill in which students and teachers were told “this is not a drill.” The students and teachers were distressed, believing they were in genuine danger. Students passed out, threw up and suffered anxiety attacks. Those in the cafeteria at the time panicked and stampeded out of the building. Some suffered physical injuries from the chaos that ensued. Lake Brantley’s unannounced shooter drill left students and teachers traumatized.
It’s not just older students who are exposed to lockdown and shooter drills. According to a Washington Post analysis of news articles and data from school districts, more than 4 million students experienced a lockdown drill, including children as young as five. While preparing for a threat is important, these drills are causing detrimental mental health effects in some children. Some students undergoing active shooter drills experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. Stressful lockdown drills have made some children feel like they are no longer safe at school.
The problem is especially acute with unannounced drills. According to NBC News, students not knowing the lockdown is only a drill has been problematic. Like Lake Brantley High School, students unaware that it is a drill may send final goodbye messages to loved ones, panic and feel afraid to attend school following the event. Some states require these unannounced lockdown procedures leaving students and teachers ignorant of the actual situation. There also isn’t evidence that active shooter drills actually help save lives. Unfortunately, a real-life threat could be nothing like these simulated drills.
This August, for example, students contacted University of Georgia police when a student asked “where the most populated area was to create chaos.” Word of a potential threat spread quickly through social media. UGA students were texting friends and posting on social media to stay away from populated areas such as the Tate Student Center or to go home. While the threat ended up being benign and subsided quickly, students panicked. Despite all the active shooter training they endured from elementary school to this point, students were still unsure what to do when face to face with a real threat.
While college campus shootings are far less frequent, UGA has an optional training program for students and faculty to prepare for an active shooter threat and speakers have come on campus to educate students on what to do in case there is a potential threat. Students are told to notify campus police immediately if they sense a threat. These training programs inform students on how to react without being as invasive and frightening as active shooter drills.
In this turbulent time, drill intensity and frequency have been on the rise. Kids go to school with bullet-resistant backpacks, and schools are taking action to prepare students in case of a potential threat. However, it is likely that active shooter drills ado little to keep schools safer and are instead only psychologically damaging. Some kids no longer view school as a place to get an education, but as an unsafe place they don’t want to step foot in. It is vital that our society does something to protect its younger generations, but active shooter drills are traumatizing students instead of preparing them.