Drill Team – Readying for Disaster in U.S. Gradeschools


My children’s school has a total of five ‘safety drills’ that they practice monthly.  Whereas the fire drill has been a staple of schools in America for decades, other drills to practice safety measures in times of emergency have come and gone with the times.  Some may remember the ‘duck and cover’ drills of the 1950’s and 1960’s instituted in public education in the United States.  While that drill has faded from the scene as the realization that hiding under your desk with your hands over your head was not going to save you from nuclear annihilation, other drills have come into practice that reflect the fears of society today.  In my children’s school they are preparing for a variety of calamities.

First and foremost there is the old fire drill.  This is the oldest drill in existence and reflects the most common reason you would need to evacuate a large amount of people from a building.  Children practice quietly filing out of the school in an orderly fashion on the off chance that a fire is raging through the building.  Unfortunately there is always the penchant amidst kids for one of them to pull the fire alarm without good reason and with the amount of drills and false alarms that take place at schools, I’m not sure anyone would ever believe there was ever a real fire.  Nevertheless, this seems like a reasonable precaution to practice.

Another drill that my kids’ school has is the hurricane drill.  We are 100 miles inland from the Atlantic but category 3 and higher hurricanes are still scary once they get here and I can understand why they would want to prepare for this.  During this drill my kids are taught to go under their desk and take protection from falling debris in a calm quiet way so they can be ready to hear any more further instruction.  I would think that the kids would probably have the day off from school if a category 3,4, or 5 Hurricane was headed our way, but I suppose that’s beside the point.

Another drill they practice at our school is the tornado drill.  This differs from the hurricane drill in that most classes move into the hallway in order to protect themselves from the large windows blowing glass out all over the place.  I’m not sure why a hurricane does not warrant needing protection from plate glass windows, but that’s how it goes. 

The other two drills that have been put into practice this year are ones that I never heard of before but reflect our 21st century fears for our children’s safety.  Luckily for the children’s memory these drills are carried out in the same way so that they carry out the same actions for either a ‘gas drill’ or a ‘lock-down’ drill.  The lock-down drill is definitely a response to the terrible school shootings that have occurred more and more lately, especially the one in Connecticut a couple years ago.  In this drill students are told to go hide in the coat closet and stay very, very still and quiet.  This drill elicits the most emotional response from me as I imagine the kids standing there in the dark silence with all of their fears growing out of control.

Another drill they perform on a monthly basis is the “gas drill” which also requires them to go into the coat closet, although perhaps there is not as much emphasis on being quiet and still.  I am not sure how effective going into a closet is going to have against nerve gas or mustard gas or some such thing, but I suppose it is good to be able to think that there may be something you could do.  Maybe they are also preparing them for a tear gas attack by police if a crazed gunman was holding a school under siege.

I was totally freaking out when I heard about all these drills and what kind of nightmares they were giving my children, but not surprisingly my kids don’t think much of it.  It’s just something they do.  I realized this quickly when I started talking about it with them and I realized I better not infect them with all of my fears and terrors for their lives.  The school has succeeded in some measure by reducing these great potential fears to something my kids can handle by performing this drill.  In my kids’ minds this solves the problem of what to do when calamity strikes.  They won’t be freaking out, they have been schooled to carry out appropriate actions to the situation.  And really, what more can you do than that?  Even if the ‘duck and cover’ scenario seems ludicrous to us now, it was still a way to feel like you could survive such an attack if you just followed directions.  In many ways it is irrelevant whether these safety measures will work or not, the more important things is whether we believe they will work, thus mitigating our fears of these situations.  In any event, my kids are pretty much prepared for anything, and I can’t fault the school for that.   



1 comment
  1. reinventionofmama said:

    There is so much to worry about! Thank goodness our schools are taking precautions and putting plans into place. We’re about to enter the roller coaster ride of elementary school and while it turns my stomach to think of children ever having to think about lock downs (or worse), thank heavens they will be confident in what they need to do.

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