School security drills, often called lockdowns, occur monthly in schools throughout America, in hope of preparing teachers and students for emergencies.

“Lockdown, lockdown, lockdown,” the voice over the loud speaker declares during school hours, alerting students and teachers to run and hide.

The majority of schools do not alert students that the lockdown is a drill. The announcement over the loud speaker, declares “Lockdown,” or “Code Red.” There is an incorrect philosophy among school security professionals, school administrators, and law enforcement that creating the scenario that the drill be the real thing will help train students brains and prepare them for a real tragedy.

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This is incorrect. There is no research supporting this theory. 

“Just Call It a Drill” is the first step toward combating the largest public mental health crisis affecting America’s children. We support the notion that school security drills are necessary while advocating for making the drills less traumatic and anxiety producing. Inform the students it is a drill.

No one wants to talk about the fact that the increase in school shootings and school lockdown drills are creating anxiety in school officials, law enforcement, parents and children. This reality should demonstrate the critical need to inform students when the drill is just a drill. This crisis is not receiving the needed attention or funding for research on best protocols. This all results in gross inconsistencies in the implementation of the drills and training, as well as effectiveness.

The fact is that millions of children hide in closets or under desks, fearing for their lives as they wait to learn if it is a drill or the ‘real thing” is not normal or okay. From our research we conclude that a growing number of children express extreme fear of being killed in school. For example, many students share their fear of going to the bathroom because they don’t want to “die alone.”

School nurses report an increase in children coming to their offices upset after a drill, as well as reporting a rise in somatic symptoms, anxiety and school avoidance. Mental health professionals concur that there is a spike overall in children’s anxiety, depression and a pervasive sense of hopelessness, as well as a rise in fear of being killed in school.

Two billion dollars of federal funding is currently allocated for the hardening of schools, while no money is designated for the mental and emotional health of the students or teachers.

We must do better. Drills that replicate a “real-life shooting” including the sound of gunshots being played over the loudspeaker during lockdowns must stop. 

The hyper-realistic active shooter drills that we have all heard about are scaring and often traumatizing our kids. We don’t fill our schools with smoke and debris to practice fire drills. Why are we scaring kids with active shooter drills that stimulate an armed intruder? We need evidence, not hype, to keep our students safe.

It is critical that we strive to find a middle ground, keeping children physically safe and tending to their emotional and mental health needs.

“Without clear and consistent protocols, the job of security professionals is not only harder but it is hindered,” stated Thomas Shea, assistant professor of police studies at Seton Hall University and director of safety and security at Maplewood School District.

The “Just Call It a Drill” campaign is our plea to school board members, school administrators, educators and parents. While adults are scrambling to get a cohesive mentally and physically safe protocol together, we can at least do the very minimum and let children know that they are not hiding from a person with a gun once a month.

Parents, grandparents, community members, we urge you to call your school board members, parent association presidents, superintendents to learn what is your school protocol. Don’t stop until they agree to “Just Call It a Drill.”

About the Author:

Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT, is a Chatham-based psychotherapist and author of “Lockdown: Talking to Your Kids About School Violence.” Click here to watch her interview with PBS host Steve Adubato in a story published by TAPinto TV.

Robin Cogan, M.Ed., R.N., NCSN, is a nationally certified school nurse  who is currently in her 19th year as a New Jersey school nurse in the Camden City School District. She serves on several national boards, including the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a gun violence prevention research nonprofit organization.