However, for elementary students, Klinger says her organization encourages teachers to build on important skills that are already being taught. Among those skills are moving together quickly without pushing or trampling, and obeying certain commands quickly without asking questions. For younger kids, especially, it’s “not necessarily saying ‘this is what we would do if there was a guy with a gun,’ but instead you’re saying ‘this is what we would do if in an emergency we all needed to move quickly away, or if we all needed to get away very quickly, or we all needed to be together.” She adds that these are skills that are transferable to other extreme situations, such as a weather emergency.
John Bruner, founder of In-Crisis Consulting, compares drills to game-day training in professional sports; for example, football players will practice with loud crowd noise being pumped in so they get used to playing in hostile stadiums. He says he has at times used simulated gunfire during drills with teachers and faculty to simulate the noise and smell of gunpowder that might send the individuals into fight or flight responses. He adds, however, that they would only do this when students are not at the school and with advance notice to participants and cooperation from local police and public safety.
“Even though [they] know what’s going on…I’ve seen teachers at the end get a little emotional and start crying because they’ve gotten a true feel for what this feels like,” says Bruner.
Some schools go even farther and use the sounds of live gunshots on drills with student participants. Those sorts of drills may do more harm than good, however, according to Stephen Brock, school psychology professor at California State University in Sacramento and a member of the emergency assistance team for the National Association of School Psychologists. Brock worries that many children are going to be upset and potentially traumatized by being exposed to that type of training.
Brock also says that training for an active shooter could have the effect of making young children, in particular, view schools as violent, scary places, even when their schools are safe. It can help to avoid referring to the events as active-shooter drills and to reassure younger children that the school and the teachers are there to protect them, he says. However, he questions whether active-shooter training is an effective use of school resources. He says limited dollars and time might be better spent preparing for other incidents, including natural disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes.
Other experts agree that schools must not forget about the natural disasters that Brock mentions and other emergencies that need to be prepared for. Watson says that emergency managers should consider using an all-hazards approach because tornadoes and hurricanes occur more frequently than active shooters. Considering the high consequences of this type of low-probability event, however, it is understandable why some schools find it worth a portion of their limited resources.