“This is a lockdown,” our principal’s voice comes over the PA system. “Everyone get out of the halls and into a safe space immediately.”
My first few years of teaching, this message scared me no matter if I knew it was a drill or not. Now, seven years in, I don’t even think twice. I just lock the doors, turn off the lights, close the blinds, and make sure the students are sitting out of sight and below desk level. The whole process takes less than a minute, and we practice it so often that my nerves don’t even kick in anymore; I just respond quickly to secure my room.
With several lockdown drills required by law each year, it’s no surprise that the process has become routine. It’s a good thing, too, because if and when a real crisis were to take place, I want to be ready.
It may sound pessimistic to assume that a crisis might happen in school, but the fact of the matter is that we live in a post-Columbine world. I remember the Columbine High School shooting like it was yesterday; I was a freshman in high school, and I watched the whole event unfold on my television once I got home from school. Before that, no one had ever thought to run lockdown drills or have an emergency management plan in place for a school shooter. Tornado and fire drills, yes, but not a malicious intruder. Columbine changed all of that. Now we run lockdown drills several times a year and during different situations; some are during class, others during lunch, and still others during passing periods.
The fact of the matter is that lockdowns are scary and do take away from instructional time — an average lockdown lasts about 15-20 minutes – but they can be used to control a variety of situations. When we think of lockdowns, our first thought is a school shooter, and locking down the school can do a great deal to stop someone with a weapon. With everyone else out of sight, the intruder is easier to spot, and students and staff are safe. However, lockdowns can be used for other reasons as well. If there are drugs on campus, drug dogs can be brought in to sniff them out while students and staff are safely in their classrooms. Sometimes, a lockdown is used to find and identify an estranged parent who entered the building to try to find his or her child. In the case of one school recently, a lockdown was called because a girl was allegedly attacked in a bathroom.
Because lockdown drills take away from instructional time and sometimes scare students unnecessarily, many question whether or not they are actually worth it. Staff could just explain the procedure to the students and frequently remind them of what to do in an emergency situation rather than actually practicing the lockdown itself. However, the old adage is true: Practice makes perfect. In a real emergency situation, chaos ensues. We want students and staff to know what to do and practice it so, if an emergency did ever occur, the school would be secure without anyone having to think twice or be told what to do.
While we never want to think that an emergency will happen, but the reality is that it could at any time. Being prepared is our best defense, even if that means a few minutes out of class.
Photo Credit: Jose Kevo