Cummings: Lockdown drills are important way to keep students safe, aware

Kelsey Cummings

Ever since the horrendous massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, schools across the country have been putting gun safety procedures in place.

About 15 years of school-shooting paranoia later, one New York Times article claims that the “lockdown is the new fire drill.” Lockdown drills, typically held at least once a year, involve students and their teachers locking the classroom doors, turning off the lights and huddling away from windows and doors, in order to remain out of sight from potential shooters or intruders. Students wait as long as necessary for the OK to sound over the intercom, and then resume their daily studies.

Unfortunately, though we had hoped these practiced procedures would never have to be put to real use, the need for lockdown drills is still apparent. Just last Friday, a student opened fire in the gym of Delaware Valley Charter High School at 3:30 p.m. during a game of basketball. The school followed their lockdown procedure by the book, and besides two students injured in the gym during the shooting, no one was harmed. CNN reported that the incident was at least the second school-related shooting in the neighborhood that week.

This shooting was one of the many smaller school shootings that does not receive national attention. According to Dr. Angela Sauaia, an associate professor of public health, medicine and surgery at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, a lot more school shootings are going on underneath the country’s radar. In fact, gun-related violence among youths is what inspired Sauaia’s research.

According to her studies of youths cared for at two Colorado trauma centers, 129 youths with gun-related injuries were cared for at these centers between 2000 and 2008. Compared to the other youth injuries, these were some of the most severe. Half of these cases required intensive care and about 13.2 percent of the 129 youths died.

Not only do these numbers not reflect unreported cases, but they also fail to account for all other reports of gun-related injuries anywhere outside these two trauma centers in Colorado. If those numbers had been included in this small scale study, the data would probably have seemed more shocking.

However, some opposing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that a mere one to two percent of homicides among youths aged 5 to 18 happen at school or at a school-sponsored event. They claim that most children will never experience lethal violence at school.

So what are schools to make of this data? Columbine survivor Katie Lyles finds it saddening that this generation of young children must continue to face the fear she felt 14 years ago. But, as a school teacher, she still believes it’s necessary for children to be aware of their schools’ procedures for gunmen and to have the chance to practice it.

And she’s right. Though some may argue that the chances of a children experiencing a school shooting during their lifetime is low, if a dangerous situation does arise, it would be better for students to be familiar with how to act rather than be caught unprepared. However, the best way to prepare for an attacker is not agreed upon.

The lockdown procedure is what seems to be the norm for most schools (including Sandy Hook Elementary School); however, around 300 schools have implemented the ALICE technique, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate. Former SWAT officer Greg Crane, the founder of ALICE, stated that the passive wait-for-the-police mentality we’ve been teaching our students is wrong. He suggests students take their safety into their own hands.

Whichever program schools decide to use is up to their own choosing; what’s important is that they choose to implement a program at all. Despite the low rate of fires in schools (and even lower rate of fatalities by school fires), schools continue to practice fire drills. School shooting drills should be no different.

Whether or not schools choose to move forward with the more active, more aggressive ALICE program, they must at least recognize the need for any such program and be proactive in moving forward with one. And perhaps once a year is not often enough to prepare students for a tragedy that could happen at any time. Regardless of the odds, students must be ready to defy them.