Preparation or Provocation? Student Perceptions of Active Shooter Drills

Published date01 February 2021
Date01 February 2021
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17l7eiq6kb16d4/input 900316CJPXXX10.1177/0887403419900316Criminal Justice Policy ReviewHuskey and Connell
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(1) 3 –26
Preparation or Provocation?
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
Student Perceptions of Active
DOI: 10.1177/0887403419900316
Shooter Drills
Michael G. Huskey1 and Nadine M. Connell1
Several highly publicized incidents of school violence in the past two decades have
highlighted the importance of school safety and crisis preparation for students,
parents, and school administrators. Although prior research has focused on the
effectiveness of various security and crisis preparation measures, few studies have
analyzed student perceptions of these policies. This study utilizes survey data collected
from students at a public university in the southwestern United States to evaluate
whether active shooter drills experienced in high school were related to negative
student outcomes. Results show that experiencing an active shooter drill in high
school was associated with significant increases in student fear, inflated perceptions
of risk, and a decrease in perceptions of school safety. Implications for future research
and policy initiatives regarding active shooter drills are discussed, specifically the need
for increased transparency, standardization of drills, and addressing effective methods
of implementing active shooter drills in schools.
school shooting, lockdown drills, perceptions, school safety, fear
Fear of crime and perceptions of school safety remain salient issues for criminologists,
parents, and school administrators (Hughes et al., 2015). Fueled by several highly
publicized school shootings in the United States over the past two decades, these inci-
dents have increased scrutiny and prompted questions of student safety, campus pre-
paredness, and proper security protocols (Kaminski et al., 2010; Kupchik & Bracy,
1The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, USA
Corresponding Author:
Michael G. Huskey, Criminology and Criminal Justice Program, School of Economic, Political and Policy
Sciences, The University of Texas at Dallas, 800 West Campbell Road, GR 2.201, Richardson, TX 75080,

Criminal Justice Policy Review 32(1)
2009). Despite extensive media coverage, school shooting incidents such as the events
at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida are statistically rare. Some
studies have estimated that the risk of death from a school shooting is less than one in
one million annually (Regoli & Hewitt, 2000); for context, the risk of dying in a
motor vehicle accident is one in 114 (National Safety Council, 2018). Recent data
from the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) School-Associated Violent Death
Surveillance System continue to support the idea that schools are safe places, noting
that the victimization rate for single-victim school-associated youth homicide was
0.03 per 100,000 students from July 1994 to June 2016 and 0.008 per 100,000 stu-
dents for multiple-victim school-associated homicide between July 1994 and June
2017 (Holland et al., 2019).
However, in an effort to reduce the fear of crime and increase perceptions of school
safety among students and parents, many schools across the United States have imple-
mented emergency procedures in preparation for a potential school shooting event
(i.e., an active shooter on school grounds; Council of State Governments Justice
Center, 2014). Generally speaking, however, the efficacy of such approaches is
unknown and the wide variety of options available make navigating the landscape dif-
ficult for schools, law enforcement, and researchers. In addition, prior literature has
suggested that some of the measures that schools have implemented can have negative
effects on students, such as increasing levels of fear (Schreck & Miller, 2003). This
study evaluates whether another common security initiative, active shooter drills, has
an effect on levels of student fear, perceived risk, or perceptions of school safety.
In a joint publication between the National Association of School Psychologists
and National Association of School Resource Officers (2014), Best Practice
Considerations for Schools in Creating Active Shooter and Other Armed Assailant
, three basic models of active shooter drills are described: lockdown drills (i.e.,
active shooter drills, armed assailant drills, etc.), active shooter simulations, and
options-based approaches that incorporate aspects from a “run, hide, fight” model.
Lockdown drills focus on relocating students as far away from harm as possible
(Trump, 2000). This procedure traditionally involves “locking the door, moving stu-
dents out of sight, and requiring students to remain quiet within the room” (National
Association of School Psychologists & National Association of School Resource
Officers, 2014). Active shooter simulations incorporate the use of technology (e.g.,
announcements made via an intercommunications system or other electronic commu-
nication), props (e.g., simulated gunfire via airsoft guns or other simulated weapons,
fake blood, etc.), and actors (e.g., local police officers, student or staff volunteers) to
simulate an active shooter event. Active shooter simulations are intended to facilitate
positive decision making among students and staff in extreme pressure situations
(National Association of School Psychologists & National Association of School
Resource Officers, 2014; Poland, 2016). Finally, options-based drills based on the
Run, Hide, Fight model attempt to improve traditional lockdown drills by encouraging
staff to make informed decisions based on the evolving nature of an active shooter
event. These types of responses have been adopted by schools, government agencies,
and major corporations.

Huskey and Connell
The Run, Hide, Fight model is federally endorsed by the Department of Homeland
Security and instructs individuals to “run if you can,” “hide if you must,” and “fight if
you have to” (Briggs & Kennedy, 2016). The Run, Hide, Fight model was originally
developed as a response to workplace violence but has since been adapted to address
active shooter situations in schools (National Association of School Psychologists &
National Association of School Resource Officers, 2014). One example of an options-
based program is the Alert Lockdown Inform Counter and Evacuate (ALICE) training
program. Developed by a former law enforcement officer Greg Crane in 2014, ALICE
is currently utilized by schools, churches, businesses, and government agencies
(ALICE Training Institute, 2014). Another variation of the run, hide, fight model has
been developed by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training
(ALERRT) Center at Texas State University (2018). Extending their renowned law
enforcement training, ALERRT created a civilian response to active shooter events
(CRASE) titled “Avoid, Deny, Defend.” With the assistance of $72 million (USD) in
state and federal funding, the program has been taught to more than 200,000 civilians
(ALERRT Center at Texas State University, 2018).
According to the Indicators for School Crime and Safety report from 2018, active
shooter drills (particularly lockdown drills) have become institutionalized in many
schools across the country, with 95% of schools in the 2015–2016 school year report-
ing that they had drilled students on lockdown procedures (Musu et al., 2019). Despite
their prevalence, little is known about the effectiveness of these drills in terms of keep-
ing students safe (Peterson et al., 2015; Regan, 2013). Several factors, including the
heterogeneity of drill procedures implemented, ethical considerations of experiments,
and lack of universal criteria, make evaluating active shooter drills difficult. For exam-
ple, Poland (2016) notes that the most important goal of an effective active shooter/
crisis drill is to teach students to listen and follow the instructions of the nearest adult
but suggests that active shooter simulations (similar to those described above) do a
poor job of achieving this goal. In contrast, the report issued by the National Association
of School Psychologists and National Association of School Resource Officers (2014)
argues that the most important goal of an active shooter drill is to save lives by empow-
ering and preparing students and staff to respond quickly and responsibly in the event
of an active shooter. Of course, this is an untestable premise, as there is no way to
know whether an active school shooter drill does such a thing; simulation studies can-
not always anticipate all real-world threats and there is no moral or ethical way to test
these procedures in the real world. Indeed, the experiences of going through these
drills could have long-term negative consequences on the psychological well-being of
students, who then enter school in a state of fear instead of safety (see Schreck &
Miller, 2003, for an example of how security procedures can increase student fear).
Hence, although the authors note that active shooter simulations can provide an oppor-
tunity for students, school officials, and law enforcement to rehearse skills and proto-
cols involved in an active shooter response, they do not acknowledge unintended
consequences of such experiences. Despite the proliferation of such...

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