Keeping Students at the Center of School Emergency Drills

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On any given day in schools across the country, educators are facilitating instruction, analyzing assessments, collaborating with peers, interfacing with parents, and maintaining a supportive learning environment for students. These days, there has been a recent addition to this list: how to keep schools safe.

Conducting safety drills is nothing new for educators. Most schools are mandated to conduct monthly fire drills. In addition, depending on where the school is located, school emergency drills are also commonplace on a monthly basis. For example, schools in the midwest practice tornado drills while schools on the west coast routinely conduct earthquake drills. In addition to these and other natural disaster drills, schools have begun to conduct intruder drills. These types of drills are very different than natural disaster drills in nature. Educators must be cautious about how these are conducted as well as communicated to the school community.

Students must always be at the center of emergency drills, no matter what kind of drill they are. However, extra consideration should be made when conducting intruder drills. Some schools have decided to increase the realism of such drills, complete with fake weapons, noises, and yelling. In some cases, teachers are shot by rubber bullets during active shooter drills. This is not only detrimental for teachers, but traumatizing for students.

When conducting intruder drills, or any drills for that matter, we must ensure that we are always instilling a sense of safety and security for the students. Schools should always be seen as a place of safety, not fear. Putting certain students through emergency drills might increase their anxiety, especially if they’ve been involved in difficult situations in the past. The act of banging on a classroom door might bring back memories of trauma or abuse suffered in the home. Many schools also have children who come from war-torn countries, where the sound of a gun, be it fake or real, can bring back intense feelings.

As school leaders prepare to conduct emergency drills, especially intruder drills, the focus must remain on students. Understanding the overall wellness level of the student body will help educators determine whether certain students will need special accommodations during the drills. This will help to build trust and confidence within every student. It is also advisable for teachers to employ social emotional learning programs year-round so that students can regularly express their feelings, fears, and strengths. Being able to talk through these fears will help students perform better under stressful circumstances, thus helping to keep them safe. It is important to remember that all aspects of emergency preparedness, as well as the drills themselves, must always have a learning objective.

Parent communication is also an important element in taking the social emotional barometer of a school. As with students, parents need to feel at ease and trust schools when it comes to emergency drills. Transparency in communication and clear protocols will only help in addressing any concerns that parents might have. It’s only when schools work together with their communities that all parties will be truly prepared when it matters most.

About the Author

Dr. David Franklin, Ed.D. is a nationally and internationally recognized speaker and an experienced school administrator, consultant, curriculum designer, and professor of education. Dr. Franklin has presented at education conferences around the world delivering keynotes and breakout sessions and is currently serving as National Education Consultant for Securly.

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