What Isn’t Working: Active Shooter Drills

School shooters are school children.  They target their home and their school.  School shooters research vulnerabilities and rehearse their plan with every active shooter drill. 

Realistic Active Shooter Drills Can Traumatize Young Children

Research has shown that realistic active shooter drills can actually traumatize young children and cause anxiety in older children.  Emerging research suggests that the mere act of rehearsing an active shooter incident can be traumatizing to children.  According to The Violence Project drills can actually trigger a fascination with mass shootings contributing to the copycat phenomena.  Rather that rehearse an active shooter scenario with children, do the drills with teachers and staff only.  Most school shooters are students at that school, you’re giving them a script to follow and normalizing the concept of extreme violence. 

Most schools have done basic target-hardening and building fortification such as being able to lock classrooms from the inside, which is extremely important, but building fortresses or prison-like environments doesn’t help because the perpetrator is inevitably a student at that school. 

Arming teachers and building schools resembling prisons give a false sense of security.  We need to look closely at the root cause and focus our limited resources on prevention, not reaction.

What Isn’t Working: Punishment. 

If at all possible, avoid harsh discipline of a troubled person.  The FBI states, “these can strain relationships, negatively impact climate… and discourage reporting.”  (Federal Bureau of Investigation (2017). Violence Prevention In Schools: Enhancement Through Law Enforcement Partnerships, U.S. Department of Justice.)When someone makes an actual threat of violence, it is natural for schools or a business to expel or fire that individual.  However, research is showing that that actually increases the risk of violence, because in most cases, the threat is a cry for help. 

That person is in crisis and likely suicidal.  That person needs an immediate intervention offering holistic support, wrap-around support, from a therapist to social service support, to peer support, spiritual support, and of course get that person on board to remove any weapons from their home until their crisis passes. Schools have a responsibility to create a safe space for their students, but rigid zero tolerance policies can backfire. 

Additionally, if a peer thinks their friend may be expelled for using threatening language, it can deter reporting. 

“When a student makes a threat and is automatically expelled, stakeholders immediately lose their optic on the student once he is homebound. In addition, this action may exacerbate the situation by isolating the student, confining him to a potentially negative home environment, and cutting off services available to the student via the school system. A flexible policy, however, permits the school to impose less harsh measures with greater latitude for promoting safety. And organizations ability to address bad behavior should include multiple options, focusing on an individualized response.”

(Federal Bureau of Investigation (2017). Making Prevention a Reality: Identifying, Assessing, and Managing the Threat of Targeted Attacks. Behavioral Analysis Unit, U.S. Department of Justice.)
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