Active Shooter Drills – Why They are Still Essential in Schools


Photo courtesy of Bay Harbor Elementary

I recently read an article from Forbes regarding ending school shooting drills (Why School Should End Active Shooter Drills Immediately). After reading the article, I agreed with portions; however, ending active shooter drills completely is unacceptable. There are numerous articles with similar opinions on active shooter drills; however, I’m specifically addressing the Forbes article.


The article began with stats and questioned why continue with school lock-down drills if less than 150 people die from active shooters, “Not 150 people a year but 150 in nearly two decades.” I will cautiously give the author the benefit of the doubt and not assume he means, “if only a few people are dying let’s not do anything because chances of an active school shooter is minimal.”


Stats can be used to put a slant on any topic, especially out of context. Without any research one can conclude there are less than 150 deaths from active shooters in schools because of lock-down drills. Breaking down the amount per year (below), one can hypothesize drills are the reason the “low” death rate (quotes on low, because life is precious, and even one death is too many). But, to be honest, more research must be done to prove the hypothesis.

However, if looking at frequency as a means to stop active shooter drills, what about fire drills? When researching school fires, some statistics show death of a student from a fire is rare. Others suggest the last student death (deaths) related to a school fire occurred in 1958 (Our Lady of the Angels School fire).

1958 Our Lady of Angels School Fire Courtesy of the AP.
"why should schools continue to conduct fire drills?"

Using the same logic of fire deaths during school being minimal, why should schools continue to do fire drills? There are numerous articles explaining the importance and benefits of fire drills. One article provided several reasons why they are essential to EVERY business. Some reasons listed were: Practice makes perfect, Identifying weak spots, along with insuring you have everything you need. They are very valid points showing why fire drills are a necessity.


Just because, relatively speaking, the chances of an active shooter event are rare, schools should not bury their head in the sand saying, “since there's only a small chance of it happening, we're not going to prepare.”


The Forbes article also indicates there are no benefits to the drills. “There is no evidence that [an active shooter drill] prepares people any better than in just instructing them verbally or in writing,” stated by a Professor at Northeastern University.

Alton High School, Il. Photograph by Steven Spencer the Telegraph
"...it is not until a scenario or simulation (or drill) was conducted, the student showed s/he understood (or didn't understand) the concept."

I strongly disagree. Again, if true why do fire drills? Schools can instruct students in writing or verbally. I have taught many classes in a classroom setting. I have also taught by creating scenario-based training with students ranging from law enforcement (L.E.), L.E. Special Response Teams (SRTs, TRTs, SWAT), teachers, armed security, etc. With my experience, I conclude during the classroom portion students may say they understand a concept; however, it is not until a scenario (or drill) was conducted, the student showed s/he understood (or didn't understand) the concept. Plus, people react different when induced with a little stress. Good, objective-based, scenarios or drills can assist in reducing the stress of a real life event. They fix unwanted behaviors and can promote more desired behaviors to limit loss of life.

Alton Police Department. Courtesy of Manuel Espinoza

Further, scenario/simulation based training, and drills have been around a long time. “Simulation-based learning: Just like the real thing” If it wasn’t effective, pilots wouldn't do them; law enforcement wouldn't do them; Doctors wouldn’t do them; Students wouldn’t be doing fire drills; schools would only discuss or provide reading material on how to exit in an orderly fashion.

Drills do not just help assess participants and reinforce best practices. Drills are also important to discover obstacles in classroom and school settings. Many times obstacles were so apparent to staff there were immediate changes to their procedures. If no drill was conducted the obstacles would never been discovered.


I agree, however, we must properly vet those conducting the training. The article states, “It is high time for parents to ask tougher questions who is designing these drills and what their experience really is.” Parents should be involved and at least be presented what is being taught. I have small children and a vested interest in what is taught and how it is taught. I am also aware there are “trainers” who ruin it for everyone. For example, Twin Lakes School Corporation Elementary School in Monticello, Indiana did an active shooter training drill where teachers were shot with plastic pellets execution style. I don’t know who thought that through and unless I missed something, I didn't see any educational value. Plus, with negative training there is a high probability it will hinder any effective training to those involved. It is extremely important to know who is conducting the training and how it is conducted.


Photograph by Steven Spencer Alton Telegraph.

The author of the article also didn't have a high regard for "high intensity drills." The articles stated, “some of them [drills] are so needlessly over the top that they almost seem designed to traumatize students.” I agree with portions of this. The student (staff, young adult, young child) should determine the type of drill conducted. “Elaborate drills” using “fake blood and firing blanks” (scenarios) should at the very least be used for teachers and staff. Elaborate drills may also be useful for young adults. It can provide necessary tools to overcome active shooter events. However, participation for school students in scenario-based training must be approved by their parents. Parents should never be undermined or judged on their beliefs or convictions. I empathize and understand why those who believe participating in such elaborate drills are traumatizing. Who knows, maybe 15 years ago I would agree? Yet in this day and age, anyone (any age) with access to the internet, television, etc., unsupervised, need not look far or hard for anything that several year ago may have been considered extremely traumatizing (but that’s another topic/article).

That being said, large, intensive, elaborate drills are a great training opportunity (and arguably crucial) for teachers and staff, as long as they're objective-based, properly carried out, with educational value. Those overseeing must have the knowledge and wherewithal to handle such training. Just as properly carried out training can be effective and save lives, improperly managed training will have an adverse effect, quite possibly even worse than no training at all. Next thing you know there are articles being written to do away with active shooter drills.


I understand some of the points the author of the Forbes article makes as to why he is against active shooter drills. I agree there should be more counselors or other ways to prevent school shootings. The best way to limit loss of life from an active shooter event is to stop it before it occurs. Unfortunately, they are still occurring so we must continue to prepare.


Active shooter drills are important. Even if it is statistically low occurrence, all life is important. They offer ways to obtain a desired behavior from those involved to limit loss of life. They assist in recognizing obstacles. They are not to replace counselors and resources that may prevent active shooters from committing their heinous act but they should be in concurrence. Don't ever consider ending drills. We should always remain vigilant and continue to prepare.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Halo Defense Training & Tactics instructors believe active shooter training is important if done correctly. We at Halo provide properly designed, objective-based, scenarios/simulation for active shooter response for both armed and unarmed employees. We're also constantly reviewing best practices based on prior events. Halo Defense Training & Tactics customizes active shooter training depending on the needs of the School, Business, etc. Further, we can provide a post training report which includes recommendations, any lesson plans, sources, etc. Stay safe and continue to train!

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