Active Shooter Drills—Are They The Best Way To Prepare Students In The Event of A School Shooting?


School shootings are, unfortunately, a necessary topic to discuss in schools across the country. American schools, in particular, have been searching for ways to prevent school shootings and drill their students on what to do in the event of a school shooting. For this reason, many schools have turned to active shooter drills, but few studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of these drills. However, the U.S. Secret Service has researched the threat assessment model, which analyzes a student’s risk for violence with its design “to gather the most relevant information about the student’s communications and behaviors, the negative or stressful events the student has experienced, and the resources the student possesses to overcome those setbacks and challenges.”

Active Shooter Drills and Lockdowns

Students in Illinois are required to participate in active shooter drills at their school, which includes lockdown and sometimes evacuation, and parents have differing opinions about it. On the one hand, some parents believe that having a harsher and more rigorous drill is preparing their children for a real situation, but others have reported that the drills are more harmful than helpful. For some students, especially those who are young or have special needs, the drill has sparked a considerable amount of fear in their hearts. Screaming, crying, worrying, and refusing to go back to school, seven-year-old Rory of Champaign, Illinois, was frightened to return to school after participating in a lockdown drill. Scaring a few students for the sake of preparing the school for a shooting may be reasonable if the drill has been proven to save lives, but because there is no conclusive evidence of its effectiveness, it’s necessity is being questioned. 

The effectiveness of the famous lockdown security measure is also being questioned due to a recent Secret Service report, which provides statistics on targeted school attacks in the past several years. Overall, the majority of the schools, which were the locations of attacks, had lockdowns in place. But though these lockdowns were necessary for the protection of students and staff during the attack, they could never prevent the attacks. Lockdown procedures are carried out in response to an attack, but schools are beginning to conclude that they need to implement preemptive measures in place. Instead of solely taking defensive measures, they should also be taking offensive steps.

The Threat Assessment

The threat assessment model for school shootings takes a different approach than active shooter drills and lockdowns, as it helps guide schools in carrying out threat assessments on their grounds to prevent possible violent acts in the future. In the words of the staff of the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, “The goal of a threat assessment is to identify students of concern, assess their risk for engaging in violence or other harmful activities, and identify intervention strategies to manage that risk.” The model itself provides schools with a guideline of the steps they should take, including establishing a threat assessment team, defining prohibited and concerning behaviors, establishing assessment procedures, etc., to keep their students safe. Also provided are “investigative themes,” which are the aspects of a student’s life that the school should consider and/or investigate while determining if they are a threat. Information and real-life examples into the investigative themes of motives, inappropriate interests, weapons access, stressors, emotional and developmental issues, desperation or despair, communications, capacity to carry out an attack, planning, and others are provided. Ultimately, this model is a proactive way for schools to tackle the threat of school shootings.


Coming from an anxious student, I’m not so quick to knock the active shooter drills, but I do agree that more should be done to prevent school shootings before they occur. Unfortunately, it is impossible to stop every possible school shooting across the country, which is why I believe the lockdowns and active shooter drills are helpful if not necessary. Still, quite a few could be avoided if students who could possibly carry out a mass shooting were given the help they so desperately needed at a time of distress. Bullying, mental health issues, disciplinary issues, and violent social media posts are just a few of the most common themes of the perpetrators of school shootings in the last ten years. If schools had a better bullying intervention plan, provided more support for mental health, monitored social media, etc., would they be less likely candidates for school shootings? It’s very possible.


This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.

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