Once only utilized by law enforcement and first responders, active shooter drills are now an unfortunate reality in many schools across the country. The prevalence of school shootings has led many school districts across the country to incorporate active shooter drills as a part of their emergency plans. Many are concerned these drills may cause heightened anxiety among students. Proponents of the drills believe they enable teachers and students to be more prepared in the event of an incident. No matter what you think about active shooter drills, they’ll most likely be a part of your child’s school experience, so how can you help your child manage them?
Melissa Brymer, Ph.D., Psy.D. Director, Terrorism & Disaster Program UCLA/Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, has extensively studied the effects of school shootings. She encourages parents to be informed about what kind of emergency drills your child will be experiencing, telling Parentology, “It’s important to get educated. What is your school’s emergency plan? Understand what’s being done to address all potential hazards.” She urges parents to reach out to their school’s administration.
Over 4,200 use the ALICE Institute’s active shooter protocol. The training utilizes the acronym ALICE which stands for: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate to remind students and teachers what they should do if faced with a potential active shooter.
While many schools use the ALICE method, it’s not the only kind of active shooter training taught in schools. It’s important to understand exactly what your child is being taught to do in the event of an active shooter. Brymer says this enables parents to converse with kids at home when they have questions about activec shooter drills.
The variance in active shooter drills may be causing unnecessary anxiety among students. Many organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and The National Child Traumatic Stress Network are calling for a more “standardized” version of active shooter drills.
Standardized drills would enable parents and students to have a better idea of what’s expected in the event of an emergency. Brymer uses the example of a fire drill, which has become common practice in schools and is well understood by both parents and students.
Brymer also believes drills should be announced so parents and students can be emotionally prepared. “When drills are announced, even if it’s within that day, you allow parents to support their kids, [especially] if their kids tend to be anxious. We can make sure educators are in the building to provide support to those kids who might have had recent trauma or losses to ensure they can get through the exercise.”
Talk About It
Once familiar with the protocol at your child’s school, it’s important to talk to them about it. Brymer encourages parents to think about the conversation prior to having it.
“It’s important we create that script before we talk with our kids,” Brymer says.
Brymer suggests speaking to your children about potential situations and why we have a need for these kinds of drills. The conversation can be tailored based on the developmental level of your child and what feels right with your family’s values.
Parents should be open to answering questions and talking through any concerns their kids might have. Brymer says, “It’s important to let kids know we’re there for them, no matter what their safety concerns.”