Late in 2014, the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers published a guide to best practices for schools to consider when running active shooter and other armed assailant drills. From our perspective, the guide highlights several excellent items that we believe are important components for schools to consider when developing a training and response plan. Across the country, we've worked with some very proactive schools, law enforcement and public officials, but even the most well-meaning can still omit some crucial components of active shooter and armed intruder response preparedness.
The guide itself is comprehensive. It draws on multiple key areas of information to flesh out a greater operational framework. For some schools, a fundamental consideration may be the cost-benefit analysis of conducting drills. For example, will the cost of facilitating a full-scale preparedness drill take away resources that can be more effectively deployed for safety preparation activities like first-aid training, environmental design and staff safety training?
As we read through, several points stood out to us as great ideas to highlight for school administrators and law enforcement working in tandem on active shooter and armed intruder drills and preparedness:
- Age and development level needs to be considered for not only the training but also the response. Instead of a district-wide policy of lock-down, maybe it should only be applied for elementary age levels and high schools should teach options-based responses, like Run, Hide, Fight. Age-appropriate conceptualizations can help provide valuable instruction without potentially causing trauma or instilling unnecessary fear.
- Simulations need to be considered carefully. Firing off blanks or using air soft guns in training adds to the realism but may be causing psychological harm or physical harm to the participants. Keep in mind that fire drills almost never include fire or even smoke. The purpose of simulations should be well thought out by administrators and law enforcement before initiation. While displaying simulated weaponry can help to achieve the desired effect for an active shooter/armed intruder drill, the consequences on a student's psyche can be damaging. First and foremost, a school is an institution of learning, so while the simulation may be necessary, it should fit into the ideological pursuit of education, rather than adversely affect pupils.
- Staff and students should have an opt-out option for more intense drills. But these people still need some training - table top type discussions for example. Having at least talked through emergency situations in a group setting and in detail is very beneficial to preparing people.
- The four appendices listed at the end of the guide are strong, high-level points that school safety committees can use to help create a planning document, including examples of discussion-based exercises, operations-based exercises, safety instructions for simulated weaponry, and developmental considerations.
There is no doubt that a greater focus on school safety is being taken across the country, but it can be overwhelming to dive into the level of planning and details necessary to develop a comprehensive safety plan. We've found this document to be a helpful tool for demystifying the process and hopefully you will too.