School Safety Drill Best Practices

Being Prepared Is Imperative. So is Satisfying Compliance Mandates

We cannot predict emergencies, but the more your school community is trained to respond, the more successful your emergency response will be. A drill management system is key to analyzing drill performance, maintaining compliance, and creating muscle memory for a real-life emergency. 
School Safety Drill Best Practices

“In an actual emergency, things are very stressful, and the first thing that goes is our cognitive functioning,” Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York Oswego, stated in a Raptor webinar. “Our minds go blank and our bodies do what they’re trained to do… it’s like we go on autopilot.” 

For your school community to confidently respond to actual emergencies, they need to create muscle memory through practice. 

1

Best Practices for Scheduling School Safety Drills

Drills require a lot of upfront planning, like deciding what scenario to perform and when. Think about the location, duration, time, and frequency. Schedule them to ensure everyone is on the same page and can get the most out of each drill. Make sure you comply with your district and state requirements.  

Resources

Practice at Various Times  

Emergencies can happen at any time, so practice at different times of the day. Map out every scenario someone may be in when a crisis strikes. For instance, if a student is in the bathroom or on the baseball field when an active threat arises, they need to know what to do and where to go.  

Inform the School Community in Advance 

No one should be caught off guard. Make sure your teachers, staff, guardians, first responders, and students know about drills in advance. This can mean informing them days in advance and/or making an announcement before each drill (“This is a drill. Not an actual emergency.”). 

While it’s critical to let stakeholders know about certain drills in advance, it’s also beneficial to have spontaneous drills. Paul Timm, board-certified Physical Security Professional (PSP) and nationally acclaimed school safety expert, calls these ‘stop and think drills.’   


TIP: Stop and Think Drills
Stop and Think Drills are typically conducted outside of class hours, such as during arrival or lunch, when people are dispersed. This forces everyone to critically think about their surroundings and what options they have to get to safety.

Consider Different Types of Drills and Exercises  

There are many different types of drills and exercises schools can conduct, including:  

  • Tabletops: allow small groups to assign each of its members distinct roles in safety scenarios, so they can communicate their ideas and develop solutions to later share with a larger group.  
  • Walk-through drills: slowed down drills that allow students to practice how they would respond to an emergency.  
  • Preannounced drills: these are discussed beforehand, so participants know that the drill is scheduled and there is no real emergency.  
  • Unannounced drills: these are not discussed with all participants before. However, once the drill is initiated, participants are immediately told it is just a drill and not a real emergency.  
  • Simulation drills: involve modifying the environment to resemble different emergency scenarios. This makes them ideal for emergency responders, as they will likely be put in similar conditions if they respond to an incident at the school.  
  • Full-Scale (advanced) simulation exercises: require the collaboration of schools with emergency response teams. Multiple different emergency scenarios are typically presented. 

FEATURED RESOURCE

Understanding the Role of Lockdown Drills

Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut and Dr. Amanda Nickerson discuss the importance of understanding the role of lockdown drills.

Make Sure Drills are Age and Developmentally Appropriate 

School safety drills and exercises must be appropriate. Read the blog for more information. 

  • Pre-K through Early Elementary: Although these students typically have a basic understanding of danger, they ultimately need an adult to tell them what is dangerous or safe. 
  • Upper Elementary: These students can determine what is dangerous but may still have difficulty knowing the difference between probable dangers and real dangers. 
  • Intermediate, Junior High, and Middle: The students have a proficient awareness of danger and know the difference between probable dangers and real dangers. 
  • High School: These students can typically determine what is safe or dangerous and understand what response is needed for each situation. 


TIP: Build Confidence Not Fear
To build confidence—and not fear—drills should be age and developmentally appropriate. Drills that use realistic simulations, like firing blank rounds of ammunition, using special effects like smoke or fog, etc.) can potentially traumatize students, staff, and teachers by triggering past trauma or scaring participants so significantly that new trauma is developed.

2

Best Practices for Executing Effective School Safety Drills

It can be easy to fall into the routine of each drill and continue to use the same emergency response plans every year, but that is dangerous. Drills are conducted to test the procedures and policies your school has in place

Best Practices for Executing Effective School Safety Drills

Take Drills Seriously 

Your school community should treat every drill—whether it’s for a hypothetical fire or a violent intruder—as if it’s a real emergency. Taking shortcuts, allowing staff or students to sit out and not participate, or not taking the drill seriously will lead to your school not being able to respond well in an actual situation. Every drill should also strictly follow your emergency operations plan. 

Encourage All Staff Participation 

“An emergency is not going to discriminate based on what role you have or what task you’re trying to get done,” Dr. Schildkraut says. 


TIP:
All staff need to participate in school safety drills because students can be anywhere—including the lunch line or in the cafeteria—when an emergency response is called.

All staff need to participate because students can be anywhere—including the lunch line or in the cafeteria—when a lockdown is called. These staff members will have to know what steps are needed to keep these students safe, and they can only know this if they are actively practicing with the school. 

Involve First Responders 

Involving law enforcement and first responders in your drills is the perfect opportunity to establish a relationship and get feedback on your processes. It also helps law enforcement and responders become familiar with your campuses, and vice versa, for school staff and students to become familiar with law enforcement. This is critical when an actual crisis occurs, as it makes the response go smoother and safer.   

FEATURED RESOURCE

A Raptor Guide – Bridging the Gap Between Schools and Public Safety

Collaborating with public safety improves school emergency preparation, response, and recovery.
Bridging the Gap Between Schools and Public Safety

3

Best Practices for Assessing Drill Performance

Safety hinges not just on how well you conduct your drills but what you learn from them. Your safety team should immediately debrief after every drill. Teachers and students should be encouraged to provide feedback. It’s also imperative for law enforcement and other public safety officials who participated to share their feedback and to discuss lessons learned and areas that need improvement. 

Best Practices for Assessing Drill Performance

Learn from Your Stakeholders 

“It’s amazing what you can learn from both sides [during these conversations],” Kevin Burd, a 23-year police veteran and owner of Priority of Life Training and Consulting said in a Raptor webinar. “I’ve seen situations where first responders don’t know what schools are doing and then vice versa” where schools have not considered what response looks like from a first responder’s point of view. 

FEATURED RESOURCE

Reunifying Midlothian

Watch the Midlothian ISD leverage Raptor Reunification, the “I Love U Guys” Foundation protocols, and Critical Response Group to reunite students in their reunification exercise.

Analyze Drill Performance with Data 

The best assessment requires a method to track data and create comprehensive reports. Technology collects performance data to show what is working and how you can better protect your students and staff. Reports enable you to demonstrate compliance with state and district requirements.  

 

4

Best Practices for Incorporating a Training Curriculum

Training, including active shooter training, can teach students, teachers, and other staff how to prevent and survive these incidents and other violent threats. Training should include evidence-based lessons and drills that give everyone the confidence to respond to any kind of violence.  

Best Practices for Incorporating a Training Curriculum


TIP:
Talking about worst-case scenarios, active shooters, and other violent school threats is one of the hardest conversations to have with students, but it’s an important one. Students and staff must know how to keep themselves safe, and in worst-case scenarios, survive and remain calm. How can schools do this without increasing their anxiety or trauma?

Choose Words Wisely 

The terminology you use matters, too. Consider how you would react if someone told you there is an armed assailant outside your door and you’re going to have to fight them. ‘Fight’ is an aggressive word, and right off the bat, some people may disengage because they know they would never fight anyone. Using the word fight during school training also contradicts what schools teach (i.e., fighting is bad).  

Simple is Powerful 

The best programs are teacher-led, interactive, adaptable, problem-based, and developed by both school safety and mental health professionals. The curriculum should also be reviewed and updated annually to incorporate the latest best practices and have easy-to-remember strategies.   

One such example is Safe Kids Inc.’s H.E.R.O. Program, designed by experts from law enforcement, education, and school psychology. It emphasizes empowerment based on successful outcomes. 

FEATURED RESOURCE

Video – Especially Safe

School Safety Needs Drills

Empower Students to Feel Safe 

“As much as you try to protect kids from the news, we’re in this over-information age. The news is coming in every direction and the kids are picking up,” Adam Coughran, co-founder of Safe Kids Inc. warns. “We’ve had first and second graders be able to name the Las Vegas shooter by first and last name… Obviously they don’t fully understand [the situation], but they’re piecing together something’s not quite right… We’ve also had high school students tell us [they] are the age or the generation of active shooters.”  

Being prepared creates and instills a sense of calm and direction. “Following the empowerment theory essentially means that we can empower kids against [the violence],” Adam continues. When students know how to keep themselves safe, it helps build their confidence and reduce their worry and anxiety around attending school. 

Setting Students Up with Life Skills

Students should be able to take the skills they learn through the training and apply it whenever needed. Emergencies and life-threatening situations can happen anywhere. “It [is] important, especially for [our] younger kids, to know that they… [can] overcome someone trying to hurt them in a classroom or [someone] trying to take them in a park or lure them away,” Adam explains.   

Practice and More Practice

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