Schools

The Case Against Active Shooter Drills

A criminologist criticizes a popular school security measure.

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James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, is one of the country's leading authorities on mass murder—and a leading voice of caution when Americans react in poorly considered ways to statistically rare crimes. In an op-ed for USA Today, he makes the case against the sometimes gruesomely realistic lockdown drills that have taken hold in many schools:

At Riverdale High, by contrast, they try to keep security threats secret.

Drills to prepare students in the event of fire or other natural catastrophes are commonplace. Yet the aggressive nature of shooting drills staged in many schools makes them qualitatively different and exceptionally more traumatizing to children. The psychological harm that may come from these simulations is not warranted in light of the low probability that such an event will actually occur….

Commercial airlines train their flight crews to handle disaster situations—such as the unlikely "water landing"—but passengers are only asked to watch a brief demonstration of grabbing hold of oxygen masks, without having actually to practice this maneuver. Cruise ships require that guests don life jackets and learn the location of their muster stations, but no one has to step foot inside a lifeboat or suffer the experience of being lowered into the water. In case of a catastrophe in the air or at sea, the passengers will be directed where to go and advised what to do.

This same reasonable posture should apply for schools: prepare the staff but spare the students. As with the usual pre-flight or pre-cruise protocols, a few simple instructions on escape strategy may be sensible. However, over-preparing students needlessly risks intensifying their fears and anxiety.

And for those whose fear of school shootings overwhelms all sense of proportion, Fox adds this:

Airlines and cruise lines don't inspire dangerous ideas by reciting emergency drills. By contrast, there are a few students for whom the notion of wreaking havoc on their schoolmates may seem like an exhilarating idea. Obsessing over the unlikely possibility of a school shooting can unfortunately serve to inspire potential copycats and inadvertently increase the chance of tragedy.

As some schools add fake blood and guns shooting blanks to their drills, there comes a point where what they're doing looks less like disaster preparedness and more like a ritual reenactment. I'll let the anthropologists debate what sort of cultural need such security LARPing might be fulfilling; it certainly goes well beyond what's needed for public safety.

Bonus link: "Are Lockdowns Really Necessary? And Why Can't We Discuss This?"

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18 responses to “The Case Against Active Shooter Drills

  1. The point is to scare the shit out of the kids in order to get them to fall in line and obey. As is the point with the government and politicians using the image of terrorists flying the flag over the White House.

    1. The point also is if parents say nothing police will do whatever it is the fuck they want to do.

      Our small country school cancelled school for their active shooter day when I politely told the superintendent I have no interest in having my kids exposed to police activities in the educational environment.

      I have no idea if any other parent complained but the super reacted properly in this case.

    2. I think it is more to scare the shit out of the parents to use their natural protectiveness as a cudgel to get them to fall in line and obey. The kids are just a bonus.

      My sister, for example, is as rock-hard practical as a woman you will ever meet, but since she had her kids I’ve had numerous episodes where I’ve had to re-introduce reality to offset the various propaganda she’s been feed about threats to her rugrats.

      1. Yup. It’s another aspect of security theater and telling people what they should be afraid of. If we look at what actually kills kids, we should be spending a lot more time on fire drills, swimming lessons, motor vehicle safety, and avoiding accidental poisonings (IIRC).

  2. Is Archie giving the principal a blow job?!? Man, that comic sure changed since I was kid!

    1. I was wondering the same thing “WTF is Archie doing under the principal’s desk?” I’d heard Archie was much more “sophisticated” nowadays. Although it does explain why he could never chose between Betty or Veronica.

      1. Because he wanted them both at the same time, you asshole!

      2. The C- isn’t going to change itself.

    2. Hooper was right!

  3. Emergency Training is suppose to calm you down not pump you up. Its suppose to give you knowlege so that you can minimie the emergency.

    So training is needed, but for the cops, but not Rambo trainng with black uniforms, body armor and a US vs Them mentality.

  4. I thought we had solved this issue by putting up “Gun Free Zone” signs. Have criminals found a way to penetrate the deflector shields projected by those signs?

    1. If there were no guns, there would be no guns inside the gun free zone. See?

      Similarly, if there were no blunt objects, no one would be killed with blunt objects.

      If we cut off peoples hands and feet, no one would be beaten to death.

      I’ve got an idea. We could make the whole country a murder free zone by banning murder. Why wouldn’t that work?

  5. However, over-preparing students needlessly risks intensifying their fears and anxiety.

    I think that’s kind of the point. Fearful, anxious people are more easily controlled than calm, reasonable thinking people. If you raise children to be in a constant state of fear and anxiety, they’ll grow into adults who will unquesionably follow every order they’re given.

  6. Let’s say some unwitting participant in one of these drills takes out one of the “instructors” with a chair, or a baseball bat, or a well thrown coffee mug. Does he get promoted?

  7. Airlines and cruise lines don’t inspire dangerous ideas by reciting emergency drills. By contrast, there are a few students for whom the notion of wreaking havoc on their schoolmates may seem like an exhilarating idea. Obsessing over the unlikely possibility of a school shooting can unfortunately serve to inspire potential copycats and inadvertently increase the chance of tragedy.

    The Devil Drill made him do it.

    1. There’s a reason I prefaced that quote with “for those whose fear of school shootings overwhelms all sense of proportion.” I don’t think it’s a very strong argument in itself?but if people insist on magnifying risks, they might as well consider all the small possibilities floating about.

      1. I think the bigger issue is not inspiring students to commit mass murder, but that the more realistic the cops and admins make it, the more they tip their hand. If Andy Angst is planning to shoot up the school, what is more valuable that a dry run or two to see where the cops deploy, study their tactics, look for weak spots, and acclimate to the panicked environment? Most of these psychopaths plan their rampages for months, but don’t have an opportunity for a dress rehearsal to iron out the kinks. The schools are now serving that up on a silver platter.

  8. I’ll be blunt and to the point: Lockdown drills, and the concept of “locking down” hundreds of potential victims in place, is fucking full-on-retarded. If someone is systematically walking through a school shooting everyone in sight, the last thing you want to do is stay in the building. The shooter is targeting the school. Get off the fucking X stupid.

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