5 Outcomes Your School's Safety Drills Should Accomplish

Every semester, you adhere to your school district’s guidelines for drills and evacuations. Your school schedules lockdowns, weather evacuations, fire drills, active shooter drills, and bomb threat drills as necessary.  As the semester winds to a close, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the efficacy of these drills. What are all of these drills actually accomplishing?

When it comes to student safety, it’s pivotal to avoid complacency. To do that, we need to ensure our drills are as realistic as possible. We need to make sure that students, parents, teachers, and administrators are achieving results, increasing safety and awareness — and bolstering communication and resilience. Let’s take a look at the outcomes your drills should be accomplishing:

1. Drills Should Offer Students Realistic Scenarios

For some, lockdowns and active shooter drills are a cause for concern. Will realistic drills alarm students? Will they create needless anxiety? According to the National Association of School Psychologists, research suggests that school safety drills that practice “best practices” can increase students’ confidence and knowledge in an emergency situation, without causing undue anxiety or fear. With that in mind, it’s key to test student’s skills and proficiency in emergency protocols. Prioritize realistic scenarios by creating drills that are:

  • Unannounced. Although it’s great to schedule training, education, and orientations with students and staff in advance, consider the merits of unannounced drills. These can test students on their knowledge and highlight any areas that need improvement.
  • Between classes. It’s a good idea to do drills at unconventional times of day, such as between classes when students are in hallways, the gym, or the library. That way, they can be prepared for a variety of real-life scenarios.
  • Not fully staffed. In the event of a real emergency, you can’t be assured of a fully staffed school. That’s why it’s important to sometimes do drills with key administrators missing — such as the usually involved Vice Principal — to make sure everyone responds appropriately regardless of who is present.
  • Different drills. Practice a variety of lockdown procedures for your school safety drills. Explore safety drills in every category: lockdown drills, bomb threats, active shooter drills, fire drills, chemical threats, etc.

By scheduling unexpected and surprising drills, you can help your staff outline goals for future drills — and help your students develop the skills to respond to an actual event.

2. Student Mindsets: Are They Taking Drills Seriously?

If your students aren’t taking drills seriously, then they are missing out on an important safety and learning opportunity. Though it’s important to make sure children aren’t exposed to high levels of fear or anxiety during drills, these safety tests must actually accomplish their aim of making the school safer. To that end, teachers and students must work together to approach drills with the proper attitude.

Are kids taking out cell phones and snapping selfies during drills — or are they actively engaged with the unfolding protocols? Are they heading quickly and efficiently into safe areas when drills unfold outside the classroom, or are they wondering around without direction? Are they laughing and goofing off during drills, or recognizing the importance of the exercise?

With each drill, your staff should be taking note of student behavior and responding appropriately to students’ attitudes. If drills aren’t taken seriously and enacted efficiently, then they might not making the desired impact on the school community. Empower your teachers to discuss the importance of proper attitudes during these events, and encourage your staff to take notes on progress.

3. Are Errors Decreasing with Each Drill?

In an article published through PBS NewsWire, Heather Jancoski, a highschool teacher from Phoenix, AZ, highlighted the results of an imperfect safety drill. At her high school, some students went to incorrect places on campus for refuge. Other students didn’t follow procedure. It was clear they lacked a cohesive shared vocabulary for discussing drill safety.

Though this is alarming, situations like Jancoski’s offer an opportunity for improvement. By noticing flaws and identifying errors in procedure, school administrators can streamline drills. If you have a system in place where you can seamlessly track each event over time, this will help you zero in on issues:

  • Do certain classes over the course of a semester have the tendency to exhibit low attendance during drills?
  • Have certain students failed to improve on responding appropriately to the drill?
  • Do any of your teachers express difficulty or confusion during the drills?

Rather than looking at mistakes as an opportunity to discipline, think of errors as a learning opportunity. Emphasize to all members involved the gravity of these tests and drills. Measure outcomes with your drill-tracking software, then apply solutions to each specific situation.

4. Efficient Drills Keep Dialogue Open

As we said, errors offer an opportunity for learning. And fostering open communication and dialogue between students, teachers, and administrators is a key aspect of learning. If you don’t have dialogue enabled and encouraged after each drill, you’re missing a valuable opportunity.

Prioritize feedback and interaction. Allow students the opportunity to present suggestions or opinions on how the drill unfolded. Encourage dialogue within classrooms about safety and response. Teachers and administrators have valuable input in these cases as well.

A Gallup poll recently found that four out of ten teachers don’t think that their school is well-protected in the event of an active shooter. That’s an alarming statistic, one that should prompt you to ask some tough questions about your school. Are your drills helping teachers feel safer? Does your staff feel like they can contribute to the dialogue?

5. Drills Need to Broaden the Community of Security

If you’re alerting local authorities prior to drills, this is an excellent way to have preliminary conversations with first responders and law enforcement. Their input is valuable in these situations as well. If police officers go to the school to observe a safety drill, use this time to garner their expertise.

And while you’re including community, prioritize parent involvement. You may have heard the recently-reported story of 12-year old Ajani Dartiguenave, whose school had an unexpected lockdown drill due to a threat. The child wrote and addressed a farewell letter to his mother in his distress. Alarmingly, the child’s mother was not made aware of this drill by the school through an email or other notification — and had to find out through a second-hand source that her child had experienced something scary.

Parents are a pivotal aspect of the conversation. Without their active participation, children miss a valuable opportunity to talk about safety drills. And parents miss a chance to feel involved. As you head into next semester, try and think of ways you can involve parents, first responders, and the greater community in a more inclusive dialogue.

BONUS: Better Safety is the Ultimate Goal

At the end of the day, the goal of holding drills is to make sure that your school — and everyone in it — will be as safe as possible during the event of a disaster. Unfortunately, this vision can get lost in the rush to schedule and accomplish a set number of drills. As this semester winds down and you begin to prepare for next semester, ask yourself these questions and define measurable outcomes:

  • Prepared? Are your students truly prepared for an emergency situation? Are your drills realistic enough that they present an accurate model for students and teachers to practice?
  • Secure? Have you identified security risks in your school? With every drill, are you narrowing down on possible issues — and creating the most secure environment possible?
  • Open dialogue? Does your administration have an open dialogue with students, teachers, and non-teaching staff? Do parents feel comfortable with the drills you’re providing? Are relations with local law enforcement and first responders better than ever?
  • Improving? As you head into the next semester, do you feel like your drills and safety protocol are going to improve? If not, why?
  • Measurable? Are you defining measurable outcomes and taking strides with each drill?

We truly believe that well-planned and executed safety drills can accomplish a lot. Ruvna’s technological solution for lockdowns and evacuations helps streamline drills so your school can get the most out of each event. By helping you stay connected and analyze reports after drills, Ruvna helps you highlight your goals and measure your outcomes. If you’re interested in scheduling a demo, contact us today.