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The Lockdown is the New Fire Drill

January 18, 2014

I was disheartened to read an article titled “In Age of School Shootings, Lockdown is the New Fire Drill”.  I have a vivid memory of the Columbine shootings because they occurred several weeks before we convened our round of “coffees” we held in Spring to provide an overview of the school budget that voters would consider in late May. In the week before these “coffees” a rumor circulated in the Lower Hudson Valley where I was working at the time that another school shooting would be occurring in “one of our schools” on Cinco de Mayo. As I met with parents of children and community members, any budget considerations fell by the wayside. Parents wanted to talk the Columbine incident and the Cinco de Mayo rumor.

A decade… and several school shootings later… school shootings remain in the forefront of parents’ minds and, consequently, public schools have changed their way of doing business. As one with an actuarial bent I often questioned the need for monthly fire drills. In my 35 years of experience as an administrator the number of school fires that occurred during the day seemed minuscule in comparison to the hours spent practicing for an evacuation. It seemed to me that four annual fire drills would be sufficient… but State laws enacted decades ago mandated the monthly fire drills and fire marshals aggressively monitored them in most communities where I worked. School shootings are marginally more prevalent than school fires that occur during the day, but I foresee a time when they, too, will be conducted on a regular basis. In the short run, this is likely to instill fear in the minds of many students as they imagine a crazed shooter wandering through their school and plan the way they will protect themselves. Over time, though, the fear may subside and they will look at lockdowns the same way most students view fire drills: as a time out of class.

There is a precedent for stopping these drills: some time between the 1950s when I went to elementary school and 1965, when I graduated from high school, we stopped the duck-and-cover drills.  The reason for stopping them was as mysterious as the rationale for holding them to begin with… and yet the fear engendered by the duck and cover drills persists to this day in the minds of many of my age cohorts. Maybe at some point we’ll see that the fear and unintended consequences generated by precautionary measures like metal detectors, police in schools, and video cameras in hallways and public areas exceeds the danger itself. Until then, we’ll be adding to our “defense budgets” and cutting our support service budgets at the national and school district levels.

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