I get it. Gunmen on the loose are scary. Sending kids off to school where you lack control is scary. And since our society seems utterly incapable of passing even modest gun control legislation, the logical thing to do is to protect kids in the highly-unlikely but still scary-as-hell event that a gunman is loose inside a school.
Thus it has become commonplace in many schools to practice “lock-down drills.” These are drills which like fire drills are preparedness exercises, but carry the scary “lock down” title and implicit threat of crazy people out to kill kids. They can’t help but illicit comparisons to “Duck and Cover” drills of the 1950’s, when the far-off Red Scare engendered the same type of over-protectiveness impulse:
In response to last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, schools around the country are now doing lockdown drills. Gananda School District practiced its first this school year.
“We are much more vigilant than we were 21 years ago. Events in our country have made us be that way and we practice a lot. We emphasize to the kids that these are drills but we must practice them like it’s a live situation,” Caulkins said.
The practice elicited quite the conversation yesterday evening on Twitter:
— Rachel Barnhart (@rachbarnhart) September 19, 2013
But if I may play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, what about all those fire drills? When is the last time you heard about a fire in a school?
The National Fire Protection Association says about 5,600 fires happen in schools, annually, resulting in about 85 injuries. The National Center for School Statistics cites over 100,000 public and private schools, as in buildings, in the US. That’s not necessarily a high fire-to-school ratio, but we still do drills every year.
Perhaps the problem is that we need to stop naming our safety drills in schools after disasters? Fire drills and lock down drills. There are any number of reasons – not all of them necessarily life-threatening – that a school might need to hastily account for every kid’s location at once.
Rather than the traditional titles, what about “inside drills” and “outside drills?” I’ll leave it to school administrators to stamp those drills with the antiseptic titles that are the hallmark of their profession. Think “lavatory,” but for fire drills.
If one drill means everybody goes outside and another means everybody goes to the gymnasium, the reason why doesn’t matter. No scaremongering. No arch panic if and when it becomes necessary to use one or the other. The kids just get used to a routine that everyone hopes will never be necessary.