As you know, safety is our top priority when conducting active shooter preparedness drills for the early childhood community. We have never simulated gunfire or performed unannounced drills, but many other organizations have, which has led to a recent series of negative headlines in the news.
Two large teacher unions have teamed up to condemn active shooter drills that cause trauma to teachers and students; these types of drills involve masked intruders, gunfire, realistic violence, and may even be unannounced. These organizations are correct in their condemnation and we stand with them to clearly say - this should not be happening. Instead, these important educational sessions should leave individuals trained, not traumatized.
Our training sessions are conducted in a calm, safe, and comfortable environment, where participants focus on critical thinking skills and feel empowered to engage in discussions. The training sessions focus on creating a culture of safety - one in which we can make our early childhood programs more secure. This is important, as many ‘active shooter’ programs only focus on what to do when the intruder has entered the building. If your plan begins with the intruder entering the building, then you are already behind the curve - and missed one of the most important pieces - prevention.
Our initial training sessions focus on adults, as it is vital to ensure all of the adults are on the same page before we ever think about including children. We spend time discussing and exploring ways to convey these important messages to children - in an age-appropriate way. We believe that childhood is one of the most magical times in life and we must protect children without needlessly exposing them to trauma, violence, or shattering their youthful perspectives of the world. Simply put, children should be allowed to be children.
This opinion is not something new for us. We have long held these beliefs. Part of the reason we created our active shooter preparedness program was that we were concerned by the tactics and techniques of other ‘teaching’ organizations. Our instructors have real-world first responder experience and have taught at various first-responder training sessions and academies. They have witnessed the overzealous instructors who find it necessary to simulate violent scenarios all to prove a point. I think you and I can agree - no one needs to be shot by an airsoft gun or by a round of simulated ammunition to understand the seriousness of the subject matter.
We have conducted training across the country - 20 states and counting - and have heard many horror stories that simply can’t be ignored or excused. Two that stick out:
A father in Kansas that told us about his 3rd-grade son being traumatized as he was locked into a closet for 45 minutes and told to keep quiet - without any other explanation.
A mother in Minnesota who shared the story of how her daughter’s teacher took an active shooter training class on Monday and then on Tuesday decided to conduct her own ‘drill’. In permanent marker the teacher wrote the names, birthdays and parents’ phone numbers on the arms of her students - that way if they were shot, police could identify the bodies.
We feel that some training programs push unrealistic and traumatic scenarios. Our training exists to provide a safe alternative to those aggressive policies. During our training, we have received positive feedback from participants about the calm manner in which our courses are conducted. Participants stated:
When asked what her biggest takeaway message from our training was, one participant from our session in Lynchburg, VA (December 2018) stated, “No unannounced drills! Everyone [working in your childcare center] needs to know the plan.”
While another participant from our training in Camden, NJ (February 2019), said that, “Watching videos of real-life active shooter situations was very helpful [instead of having training with airsoft guns intended to scare].”
Back in November, I authored an opinion piece condemning unannounced drills in the Journal News. There, I said, “unannounced drills lead to increased stress, anxiety and can cause confusion that may endanger the lives of teachers, students, parents, and visitors.” Furthermore, in this piece, I noted that “as a lawyer, I must say that this [unannounced drills] unnecessarily open up organizations to liability. The Wall Street Journal published an article in 2014 examining this issue — and the trend has certainly continued forward into 2019 with a few recent examples of unannounced drills gone wrong.”
Although many of our loyal colleagues, child care professionals, and child care resource and referral agencies know that we would never participate in unannounced drills or simulated gunfire, I want to make it clear to the general public, so there is never any confusion about our training and our commitment to safety for all.
It is an honor and a privilege to assist so many individuals and organizations that care for children - and help them get prepared for any emergency or disaster that may threaten them. Along with this work comes an awesome responsibility - and one we do not take lightly. Our commitment from day one has been - and always will be - to provide training specifically designed for early childhood professionals that will empower, not frighten.
Andrew R. Roszak
Executive Director, Institute for Childhood Preparedness
If you would like further information about our training programs, don't hesitate to contact us today.