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It’s a Teacher Thing: Dealing With An Emergency Situation – Drill or Not

It’s an Emergency! But not.

As teachers, we are going to be relied upon to handle different types of emergency situations. In this day and age, that doesn’t just mean fire drills and tornado drills. Instead, students now are expected to know what to do if there is an active shooter inside or outside the building, if there is a bomb threat, as well as the regular fire and tornado drills.

Your first priority should be to know what is expected of you during these drills. Every teacher has a specific evacuation plan for fire drills and certain protocols to follow when those drills happen. Where are you supposed to take your students? Do you need to have a fire drill folder with all of your class rosters? At my school, I am required to have class rosters and an emergency flip chart that I can display as red or green to indicate if I have all of my students. I have a certain place to take my students to and, if I am on planning during the drill, I have duties to assume in order to help the other grade levels. Be sure and know these requirements up front. The same goes for tornado drills – where are you supposed to take your students? What are your students supposed to do during the drill?

 Lockdown drills tend to be a bit more involved and the procedures will differ depending on if the intruder is inside or outside of the building. Know what you are supposed to do and be ready if the moment comes. Some schools have escalated their drills to having the police shoot blanks in the school. At my school, our School Resource Officer and local sheriffs will come around, banging on doors, and demanding to be let in. Our principal has knocked on the door and asked for the teacher to open it (since you aren’t supposed to open the door for anyone). Last time we had a drill, a fellow teacher and I got stuck in the copy room. Even though we put chairs in front of the doors, we didn’t realize they didn’t lock from the outside. Our SRO came in and “shot” both of us. Moral of that story – it’s very important to know where you are supposed to go in any situation you may find yourself in. Bomb threat drills will have specific procedures as well, which may include sheltering in place, assembling on the football field, or something different for your school. Know what is expected of you.

I would also recommend alerting your students if you know there is going to be a drill. With my sixth graders, it is always easier to handle the drill if they know what to do. They’re more likely to stay calm and, in the event that it is not a drill, they are more likely to follow the procedures if they have practiced.

While it is imperative that you know what to do in the situation and that you’ve fully explained it to your students, it is also important that you remain calm. Students these days know more than we give them credit for. They know what’s happened in other schools and they can be caught off-guard by random drills or, god forbid, real lockdowns or tornadoes. If you stay calm, your unflappable demeanor will give your students courage. It can be tough, especially if you’ve got a group of students who struggle with following directions or staying quiet (seriously, why do drills always occur when I have the most talkative and squirrely groups) but it will pay off in the long run. With older students, you can even have real conversations with them on why it is important that we follow directions, remain quiet, and take it seriously. Staying calm can save lives!             Lastly, always remember to reflect on what could have been done differently. Are there suggestions and improvements that you need to bring to the attention of your administration? Do you need to have a difficult conversation with your students about the reasoning behind the need to stay silent in a lockdown drill? It is always a good idea to think about what happened and be open to making changes so that things will improve in the future.

What kind of procedures do you follow in an emergency situation? Do you have any advice for handling emergency drills? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you in the comments!