Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at SUNY Oswego and a nationally recognized expert on the topic of mass shootings. Her most recent research focuses on the effects of lockdown drills on the individuals who participate in them. Her research has been published in three books to date, including “Columbine, 20 Years Later and Beyond: Lessons from Tragedy” (2019, Praeger), and more than three dozen peer-reviewed academic journal articles, book chapters, and policy briefs.
What Do We Know About Lockdown Drills?
Mass shootings in schools have led to a number of different policies, practices, and products being introduced into our nation’s educational settings to help save lives in the event of another tragedy. This includes lockdown drills, which are currently used in approximately 95% of U.S. schools.
News stories of drills gone wrong – including teachers being shot with pellet guns and students exposed to sounds of simulated gunfire and bloodied crisis actors – have led to a number of calls to end these practices in schools. Most of the claims surrounding these practices, however, are not based in evidence.
My research team and I wanted to understand the impact of lockdown drills on the people who participate in them. Over the course of an academic school year, we worked within New York’s fifth largest school district, administering surveys, conducting lockdown drills, and providing emergency preparedness training with more than 21,000 students and 4,300 educators and community partners.
Our research found that continued participation helps to build muscle memory. This helps the body be able to perform steps as trained even when cognitive functioning might be impaired by stress or some other factor. More practice meant more steps were being conducted correctly. We also found that introducing training into the process helped improve feelings of preparedness because people knew not only what they needed to do but why it was important. Perceptions of school safety did decrease over the course of the project, but research shows that people are motivated to engage in protective behaviors when they believe they or others are at harm.
Taken together, our research shows that lockdown drills, when conducted in accordance with best practices, are important tools for schools to be prepared for the very worst day and any other emergency they may face.