School Safety Drills: A Collection of Best Practices and Procedures

planning safety drills

The “fumblerooski” is one of the first trick plays to be developed in football, pioneered by John Heisman back in the early days of the sport. Upon snapping the ball, the quarterback intentionally drops the ball and pretends to run with it, distracting the defense. In the meantime, another offensive player picks up the ball from the ground and runs up the opposite sideline. It’s a gutsy play. And there’s only one way they can possibly pull it off.


We want our schools to be a safe and peaceful environment for children to learn. Sadly, there are multiple dangers that threaten school security and safety. In these situations, we want our emergency safety plans to be successful. That is why school security drills have become a regular practice across North America.

But are school security drills really necessary? What are the benefits of practicing them? What is involved in the different types of security drills? What effect can these safety exercises have on students?

Why Are Safety Drills So Important?

“Nothing is of greater importance than the conservation of human life.”

Former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge

The purpose of any type of school security drill is to prepare all students and adults with the knowledge they need to quickly make their way to safety in the event of an emergency situation. These drills play an important role in training school staff to know in advance their responsibilities so they can take the lead in an emergency. It’s equally important for students to know the planned procedures so they can work cooperatively with adults.

Familiarizing teachers and students with the emergency plan also helps to reduce anxiety, panic and confusion and help everyone remain calm. Just like the fumblerooski was repeatedly practiced in advance so that every player knew his role and the play could run smoothly, it is crucial for everyone involved to know the plan and their role before an emergency.

What Is A Mock Drill?

“The future of the safety movement is not so much dependent upon the invention of safety devices as on the improvement of methods of educating people to the ideal of caution and safety.”

Walter Dill Scott, President of Northwestern University

A mock drill is basically a practice run of procedures set in place for natural disasters, fires, lockdowns and more. Mock drills serve as a means to evaluate the reaction of adults and students, how effectively they follow the emergency procedures, and the length of time it takes to evacuate and account for everyone.

The results of a mock drill are crucial to identifying areas of weakness in any emergency or evacuation plan. It gives an opportunity to reduce evacuation time, ensure that everyone is using the most effective exit route and teaches students to follow instructions and remain calm.

duck and cover school drill

How Have School Safety Drills Changed Over The Years?

In the 1950s-1960s, when the major threat was a nuclear bomb, schools enforced “duck and cover” drills in preparation for an atomic bomb attack. Children were taught to crawl under their desks or crouch next to walls and cover their necks and heads with their arms.

In recent years, the most common dangers have been mass school shootings and violence with a weapon. To prepare and protect students against armed and violent intruders, schools practice lockdown drills. In these drills, students and adults learn to hide, staying away from doors and windows and keeping quiet.

Types Of Safety Drills

  • Lockdown Drill – To practice procedure in the event of a violent intruder. Teachers gather students out of hallways and into classrooms, doors to classrooms are locked, lights are turned off, everyone stays away from doors and windows, and out of the line of vision.
  • Early Dismissal Drill – To practice emergency dismissal procedures. All students and adults leave the building following the emergency evacuation plan 15 minutes earlier than regular dismissal time, parents are notified in advance.
  • Evacuation Drill – Any type of emergency drill that requires an evacuation from the building. Fire drills are a type of evacuation drill.
  • Fire Drill – To practice evacuating the building in the event of a fire alarm. Teachers organize and evacuate students from the building in a timely manner, attendance is taken at the outside assembly point.
  • Tornado Drill – To practice emergency procedures in the event of a tornado. Teachers gather students to an interior room on the lowest floor without windows, avoiding large areas such as auditoriums, cafeterias or gymnasiums, everyone should get down low to the floor close to a wall and cover their head and neck with their arms.
  • Earthquake Drill – To practice emergency procedures in the event of an earthquake. Everyone should take cover under their desk and hold on to a sturdy piece of furniture, stay away from windows and glass, avoid heavy bookcases that could fall, an evacuation plan may also be followed when safe to do so.

How Many Safety Drills Are Required By Law In Schools?

The number of school security drills required every year varies by state or province. Generally, there should be a minimum of one safety drill held each year. But in some areas more are required. Many school districts require that schools hold fire drills at least once every 3 months.

The BeSafe Safety Portal includes a feature that allows you to log safety drills. This makes it easier to see how effective your evacuation plan is, whether there is room for improvement and to stay compliant with the legal requirements for your state.

Effective School Lockdown Drill Procedures 

  • Staff should gather nearby students into a classroom and lock the door
  • Students should evacuate washrooms and get to an area that can be locked if possible
  • If trapped in a washroom, attempt to somehow secure the bathroom door, enter a stall, lock the door and climb on top of the toilet
  • Stay clear of doors and windows
  • Turn off all lights
  • Close the blinds
  • Stay close to the floor and out of sightlines
  • Cover any interior windows that look out to the hallway if it is safe to do so
  • Take cover if possible, use furniture to hide
  • Stay extremely quiet
  • Teachers should take attendance of their class
  • Cell phones should be turned off or put on vibrate
  • Do not use cell phones unless necessary to communicate for help

Check out the Active Shooter School Incident Guide to find out the 3 things to do during an active shooter school lockdown.

School Fire Drill Checklist

  • When the alarm sounds, students and adults evacuate the building immediately
  • Teachers guide students along the nearest evacuation route to the assembly location
  • Teachers keep students calm to accomplish a safe and fast evacuation
  • Before leaving the classroom, teachers make sure no student is left behind
  • Adults help students to remain calm and walk orderly, not running
  • When at the assembly point, students line up and teachers take attendance
  • If anyone is missing, teachers need to find out why and resolve the issue

A designated member of the school staff is normally given the responsibility of helping support fire safety. Their primary responsibility is to manage the evacuation of everyone in the school during a fire or other emergency evacuation. Other responsibilities would include the following:

  • Obtain and review a copy of the fire safety plan for their building
  • Become familiar with the exits, evacuation routes, and the locations of fire extinguishers and pull stations within the school
  • Identify individuals requiring assistance in the event of an emergency evacuation
  • Inform teachers to evacuate students via the nearest safe exit during a fire or emergency
  • Check that evacuation routes are clear
  • Make sure that everyone is evacuated, search for any unattended students in hallways or washrooms
  • Assist in the evacuation of students with disabilities
  • Ensure that the entrance to the building is accessible, direct people away from the entrance to allow the fire department easy access
  • Cooperate with the local fire department and follow any directions given

What Effect Can Drills Have On Young Children?

school security drills student anxietyMore than 4.1 million students experienced a lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Washington Post.

While experts agree that safety drills are an essential practice to protect students both physically and mentally in the event of a real-life emergency, many believe these drills must be done with care and caution to reduce psychological impact.

When a lockdown takes effect, students and even teachers are not always informed of the reason or the level of the current threat. Some students imagine the absolute worst and are put under extreme stress, when the reason for the lockdown may only be suspicious activity near school grounds rather than an active shooter in the building.

Lockdown drills can also become too realistic and the drill itself can cause nightmares, stomach aches, headaches, insomnia, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety attacks in children.

Speaking to your child before a school lockdown drill about why they are necessary can go a long way in reducing their anxiety. But how can you explain without inciting fear?

How To Prepare Young Children For Emergency Drills

April Sutphen wrote a very helpful article entitled How to Talk to Your Kids About School Lockdown Drills Without Scaring Them. Here are a few of her tips.

  • Speak Calmly – Kids absorb the energy around them. If the adults who are there to protect them seem anxious, then children will feel that anxiety. Speaking in a calm, even tone will help them understand what you are saying without inserting too much emotion.
  • Invite Them To Ask QuestionsInstead of allowing their imaginations to terrify them, make your child feel comfortable to ask any questions they may have.
  • Use ExamplesMost children are visual learners, so using an example or comparison such as a seat belt can help them understand why lockdown drills are necessary. You wear a seat belt to be safe in case there is an accident, even though it may never happen, you want to be safe and protected if it does.
  • Teach Them ObedienceSince students will receive detailed instructions on what to do during an emergency drill from their teachers at school, emphasize to your child that listening carefully and obeying the adults at their school is extremely important. Ask them to try and remember all the steps of the drill so they can explain it to you when they come home.

school security drills to protect our childrenPractice Makes Perfect

While we wish they were not necessary, school security drills play an important role in ensuring that everyone is prepared and protected in the event of an emergency situation. It builds confidence in staff and students that they are prepared for an emergency. Preparing your children for school drills can go a long way in reducing their fear and stay safe in an emergency situation.

Contact BeSafe Technologies today to see how the Drill Log feature in our School Safety Portal can help your school practice safety drills and remain legally compliant.

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