School Lockdown Drills Have Become Terrifyingly Real

The staccato snap of guns firing blanks startled me even though I’d been expecting it. Moments later, I heard a deep explosion and then a second one as gas canisters were thrown. Wails of police sirens and the steady thrum of a helicopter in the background finally eased into silence. The lockdown drill at the high school a football field away from my office was finally over.

Lockdown drills have become common in our schools. I asked Joseph about them last year and he shrugged, having never known a life where the idea of a person walking into a school and shooting children and staff was impossible to imagine. I, on the other hand, grew up in a rural community that marked the changing of seasons by not just the color of the leaves but the game that was available. September and October brought leaves falling into wet piles, the smell of wood smoke wafting across the sky, and the sight of full gun racks in the back of my classmate’s pickup trucks. Not once did I worry someone was going bring one of those rifles into the school.

These days I work for a school district that has installed little slips of rubber and plastic to all of its doors. During a lockdown drill, we simply slide it across the door and the door locks in place. Every time I walk out of the office, I see the black patch and wonder if something so simple will keep us safe. I’m reminded of the tornado drills of my early elementary days. Each student kept a Webster’s Dictionary under his or her desk. During the drills, we hefted the books in our skinny arms and filed calmly out to the brick lined interior hallway. We crouched against the wall, our noses touching our knees, our foreheads touching the wall, and Mr. Webster’s book held on top of our heads to protect us from the fury of Mother Nature.

When the police department said they needed a full gear drill of their own at one of our campuses before school started, we cooperated fully. It’s imperative that our police department understands the layout of our schools and the staff understands the chaos of a real-life situation. The pictures in the next day’s paper showed teachers — some of them looking barely older than the students in their classes — walking out of the building with their hands over their heads. The police officers were in full SWAT gear in front of flashing lights and a sign welcoming students back from summer break. Even thought I knew it was a drill, I couldn’t help but shudder; I can’t help but wonder if they will be any more helpful than Webster’s Dictionary. I can only hope they are.

What do you think of the lockdown drills in your child’s school?

Photo: Getty