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School Emergency Drills

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Michael Dorn provides a quick introduction to fire drills, earthquake drills, emergency drills, and lockdowns -- essential components of a solid school safety plan.

Michael Dorn
School Safety Analyst
Safe Havens International

What is a fire drill?

A fire drill is a very important practice and a test of our fire evacuation and response procedures. It's very important that they be robustly done. For example, we strongly advise schools to do what we call "blocked access fire drills." To tell in advance staff, they'll do this and to prepare staff and students to think if they ever were to go to an exit and it might be blocked. We need to be sure that we're drilling our staff on properly supervising the children. The fire brigade very frequently work with schools to help them improve supervision during a fire drill so that under stress, they will improve supervision during a real fire so a child doesn't get away from them and become endangered. It's a chance to practice our plans. Fires occur almost every day in American, K through 12 schools. We haven't had a fire death since 1958 that I'm aware of in an American school because of drastic modifications after 95 children were killed in a Catholic school in Chicago by a fourth grader using fire as his weapon. That even taught us that fire drills are critical for saving lives.

What is an earthquake drill?

An earthquake drill is appropriate in any school located in any part of the country that has the potential for an earthquake. Many regions are not prone to earthquakes, and many of the schools in those regions don't have earthquake procedures and drills, which is a very dangerous situation. A school in an area not prone to earthquakes could actually suffer more casualties because they have no preparation. Any school that could be affected must have earthquake drills and procedures, and those must be self-initiated as well as directed activities. In other words, often if an earthquake occurs, there'll be no time for the front office to warn all the teachers, so they need to know the signs of an earthquake and be automatically able to apply those directives to the students and they are, of course, to follow those directives. This is very important because there's generally, for many parts of the country, a low probability but potentially, a high consequence event.

What is a emergency drill?

An emergency drill is a focused activity that allow staff and students and administrators to practice specific functions. It is not a fully stimulated activity like a creation of hostage situation as a simulation. It is a fire drill, a shelter and place drill, a lock down drill. We are practicing a very specific function and getting a chance to test our plans will allow our people to practice as life saving skills for what we call functional protocols. Functions that need to be carried out during a variety of types of emergency situations and an drill is a very important part of overall preparedness strategy.

What is a lock-down?

A lock-down in most parts of the country is a protocol procedure to secure the building and the occupants of that building from some type of danger. That may be a gunman, that could be a bear, as we seen on a campus before. We emphasize the schools have to have two types of lock-down; they should have an emergency lock-down for very extraordinary rare event; like someone in a building shooting people. The second type of lock-down is a non-emergency preventive lock-down, which is what schools predominantly lack to implement. More than 95 percent of the time they need a lock-down; that's the police chasing a fugitive in the neighborhood, and there is no indication of a gun, and there is not a person with a weapon on campus; that type of thing. We secure the building more than normal, but we continue the process of teaching. It is very important to have both types of lock-downs. We see administrators not implementing a lock-down because the only option they have is making children lay on the floor and completely disrupt the academic environment. So we want to be sure we have both types of lock-down.


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