Lockdown drills most effective way to prepare students during emergency

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Every new school year, districts across the country look to update their safety measures in the event of an active shooter, but emerging research shows few things have the same effect as simply performing lockdown drills.

“There’s a lot of emotional arguments when it comes to school safety, but we wanted to say if we do careful research about school safety, what will it tell us about this topic?’” said Amanda Nickerson, a school psychology professor at the University of Buffalo and co-author of a new study that looks at the effectiveness of lockdown drills. “Anytime we can give you some more control or agency, as you say, about what specifically to do, it can presumably help to decrease that worry and anxiety and also increase the preparedness.”

The research is the largest study of lockdown drills in U.S. history as it surveyed more than 10,000 students and accrued data from hundreds of schools nationwide.

According to Nickerson and her co-author Jaclyn Schildkraut, the study shows:

  • Participation in training and drills led to increased perceptions of preparedness for both students and educators.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that any hardening approaches, like arming teachers, metal detectors, and increased armed security, etc., are effective. Nickerson and Schildkraut found they often make students more fearful, disproportionately impact students of color, and require hefty financial measures to maintain them.
  • Securing behind a locked door has been identified as the most effective way to prevent injury or death during an active shooter situation.
  • Students did not exhibit greater anxiety after participating in lockdown drills; rather, they actually reported feeling better overall, which may be a result of feeling more prepared. Drills may even have had positive effects by empowering students with the skills necessary to respond in an emergency including increased knowledge and awareness of disaster response.

“You know, I have so many people misconstrue lockdowns as we’re teaching students just to passively hide and pray futures and we’re not,” said Schildkraut, a criminal justice professor at the Oswego State University of New York. “We know these are concrete steps that can help save lives in one of these events, so we want people, when we talk about being active, to stay aware of their surroundings.”

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