Effects of Lockdown Drills on Students’ Fear, Perceived Risk, and Use of Avoidance Behaviors: A Quasi-Experimental Study

AuthorJaclyn Schildkraut,Amanda B. Nickerson
Published date01 October 2022
Date01 October 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(8) 787 –813
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221089867
Effects of Lockdown Drills
on Students’ Fear, Perceived
Risk, and Use of Avoidance
Behaviors: A Quasi-
Experimental Study
Jaclyn Schildkraut1 and Amanda B. Nickerson2
Although widely used in schools across the United States, little is known about the
impact of lockdown drills, particularly related to psychological outcomes such as
fear, perceived risk, and avoidance. This study utilized survey data collected over
3 timepoints—baseline, after the first lockdown drill, and following training and a
second lockdown drill—from more than 10,000 students in a large urban school
district. The results indicate that students were less fearful and perceived lower
risk after participating in lockdown drills and emergency response training, although
reported avoidance behaviors increased. Perceived school safety predicted less fear,
risk, and avoidance, while perceived emergency preparedness predicted less fear
and avoidance but higher risk. Implications for broader considerations for school
administrators and policymakers related to emergency preparedness preparation,
including drills and training, are offered with particular focus given to best practices
for trauma mitigation.
lockdown drills, Standard Response Protocol, emergency preparedness, school
safety, fear of crime
1The State University of New York at Oswego, USA
2University at Buffalo, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jaclyn Schildkraut, The State University of New York at Oswego, 458 Mahar Hall, Oswego, NY 13126,
Email: jaclyn.schildkraut@oswego.edu
1089867CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221089867Criminal Justice Policy ReviewSchildkraut and Nickerson
788 Criminal Justice Policy Review 33(8)
Lockdown drills, a practice currently used in 95% of public schools nationwide (Musu
et al., 2019), have been commonplace since the April 20, 1999, shooting at Columbine
High School. Although lockdowns can be used for a variety of emergencies that occur
within a building, they most often are discussed synonymously with active attackers,
including school shooters. During such incidents, building occupants who are able to
are directed to get behind locked doors, turn off the lights in the room to add a layer of
concealment, move out of sight of potential perpetrators (e.g., away from doors and
windows), and remain silent so as to not draw attention to themselves until law
enforcement can secure the scene (see, generally, Keyes & Deffner, 2015).1 The first
step of the lockdown—locking the door—is argued to be the most crucial as door
locks have been found to be the most successful lifesaver within buildings during
active shooter situations (Martaindale et al., 2017; Sandy Hook Advisory Commission,
2015). In just three school shootings—Red Lake High School in Red Lake, MN
(2005), Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, CO (2006), and Marjory Stoneman
Douglas High School in Parkland, FL (2018)—has anyone been killed behind a locked
door (Schildkraut & Muschert, 2019). Moreover, in each of these instances, the associ-
ated fatalities were not attributable to the locks’ failure but instead situational (e.g., the
shooter barricading within the classroom) and environmental factors (e.g., gaining
entry or shooting through glass panels in or near the door).
The purpose of drills more broadly is to build muscle memory (Shusterman, 2011)
so that in a real-life situation, like an active attacker, people will respond the way they
have been trained to, even when cognitive functioning is impaired by stress or fear (Di
Nota & Huhta, 2019). Other forms of emergency preparedness drills also are com-
monplace in schools. Fire drills, for example, have been standard practice since the
late 1950s after a fire killed 2 teachers and 93 students in a school in Chicago (Cowan
& Kuenster, 1996); today, 92% of schools practice similar evacuation procedures
(Musu et al., 2019). In addition, schools also prepare for natural disasters, including
earthquakes (Johnson et al., 2014; Simpson, 2002), tsunamis (Johnson et al., 2014),
and tornadoes (Hoekstra et al., 2014).
Despite the widespread use of emergency preparedness drills in schools, it is those
that specifically practice for lockdowns or active shooters (terms that, while different,
often are used synonymously in the discourse) that have drawn the most attention and,
by extension, criticism. News headlines featuring teachers being shot with pellets
(Herron, 2019; Zraick, 2019) and students being exposed to the sounds of simulated
gunfire (Richter, 2019) and/or fake blood-covered crisis actors (Aronowitz, 2014;
Pierpoint, 2019), with some even getting hurt during the course of such exercises
(Schell, 2019), have led to calls to end to these practices (e.g., Christakis, 2019;
Gerstmann, 2019). Everytown for Gun Safety (2020), along with the American
Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, published a white paper
calling drills “traumatizing” and recommending that students not participate. Similarly,
former presidential candidate Andrew Yang (n.d.) made abolishing active shooter
drills in schools one of his 2020 campaign platforms (see also Fearnow, 2019).
Absent the calls to end such practices, however, is any credible, empirical evidence
to support the claims that lockdown or active shooter drills are traumatizing students.

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