This column originally ran in USC’s Daily Trojan on Jan. 29, 2014.
When I was young, my elementary school had an annual fire drill. When my parents were in elementary school, they participated in Cold War-era duck-and-cover drills to protect themselves from atomic bomb threats. Today, proposed legislation in states throughout the nation could have K-12 children performing annual lockdown drills. Such drills, however bold they might seem, are necessary requirements to ensure school safety.
Lockdown, or shooting-incident drills, have been integrated into the list of schools’ annual drills to conduct given the public’s growing awareness of increased school shootings, according to The New York Times. In states such as New Jersey and Michigan, K-12 students perform lockdown drills every year.
In other states, there are less strict rules surrounding how schools should conduct lockdown drills. California, for example, requires that elementary and intermediate schools conduct a fire drill at least once a month, whereas secondary schools must conduct no less than two every year, according to the California Education Code. If proposed bills are passed, it would specify both exactly how schools conduct the lockdown drills and the regularity of these drills.
The lobbying for these additional drills is not without merit. Mass shootings have become more deadly in the past decades, according to the Center for Disease and Control. Of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six have taken place since 2007, according to the Washington Post.
Furthermore, school shootings rank among the deadliest mass shootings in the United States. In 2007, the deadliest mass shooting in the United States occurred at Virginia Tech, leaving 33 people dead. The second deadliest occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012, during which 26 people were killed — 20 of whom were children.
On Jan. 21, the country witnessed yet another deadly school shooting at Purdue University, where the shooter killed another student in a classroom, according to The New York Times. Shootings are occurring with more frequency, and now is the time to start preparing for them.
Preparation, as it was in the past, is key to maintaining a high level of school safety. Many students will never experience a fire at their school, but because of the drills they know how to react to one. The same should be true of incidents when an intruder comes into the school with deadly intentions.
Many adversaries to legislation for mandatory lockdown drills argue that students will lose their innocence if exposed to lockdown drills. This concern, however, should not trump the necessity to give students the information that could save their lives in a situation as dangerous as a school shooting. Some parents have argued that kids are losing their innocence having to hide in closets and corners while police officers walk through the school’s halls conducting the drill. Yet, school policy often responds to the ways of the world. If there are several incidents of school shootings, and evidence that these drills could help protect children in cases of intruders, they should be conducted.
Schools should be safe havens for students. But even more so, schools should be facilities for students to gain insight into the world around them. Because of recent school shootings that are seemingly becoming common occurrences, school administrators should feel obligated to conduct applicable safety drills.
As with any drill, there is the concern that students can become desensitized. If performed too often or without seriousness, students often come to believe the drills are unnecessary. A codified state law that mandates lockdown drills, however, would work toward showing how concerned the state is about students’ safety.
From Columbine in 1999 to Purdue last week, the threats against children in schools are manifesting, and society must prepare children for the world they live in.
This country has witnessed school shooting after school shooting. Not only do we need to prepare for the unimaginable, but we must take action and implement mandatory lockdowns. The decision to conduct lockdown drills on a frequent basis should not be left to school districts. States should take charge and make the decision, as they do with several other school requirements.
An atomic bomb thankfully never fell on my parents’ generation, but they still repeatedly ducked and covered under their desks in preparation. In the same way, school administrators and students need to prepare for this generation’s tangible and recognizable threat. Even if students never have to apply this drill in real life, knowing what to do in cases of danger is one of the most important pieces of knowledge a school can provide.
Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column “Making the Grade” runs Wednesdays.