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Advocate For Your School to Reconsider Active Shooter Drills



It’s difficult to find a student in America who hasn’t experienced at least one active shooter drill throughout their schooling, although drills look different from state to state, and even from school to school within a given district or community. Even though active shooter drills are a common practice in American schooling, almost no research affirms the value of drills involving students either for preventing school shootings or for protecting the school community when they do occur.

Utilize this toolkit to educate your group and prepare to advocate to your school board to reconsider active shooter drills in a way that both trains staff in a trauma-informed method and reduces harm among students, parents, and teachers.


Since the 1999 Columbine shooting, active shooter drills have proliferated in America’s schools, with school-based shooting drills currently required in at least 40 states and happening in 95% of schools. But there is no US standard for conducting school shooter drills. These drills typically require students and school staff to go into lockdown and to practice specific emergency procedures, which often include staying quiet, locking the door, and turning off lights, but can also feature tactics such as fighting back, distracting the shooter, and evacuation. In too many instances, drills are not modified to take into account children’s ages, parents are not informed in advance that such drills are going to occur, students don’t know it’s a drill until it has concluded and sometimes schools even use “masked gunman” actors and simulated gunfire during drills.


Everytown strongly supports training for school staff on how to respond to active shooter situations. But there is almost no research affirming the value of school shooter drills involving students, either to prevent school shootings or protect the school community when shootings do occur. Not only is the proof of their effectiveness limited, but evidence is mounting on their harm to entire school communities:

  • A study by Georgia Tech and Everytown found that school shooter drills are associated with significant and lasting increases in depression, stress and anxiety, and fear of death among students, parents and teachers.
    • Analyzing social media conversations in the 90 days before and after a drill in 114 American schools, the study found that these drills significantly impact the mental health of students, educators, and parents alike. Each age group faces unique challenges.
      • Stress and anxiety are highest among high school communities in the 90 days following drills (a 52 percent increase in the post-drill period).
      • Middle school students, parents, and teachers experience the greatest increase in depression (55 percent), though stress and anxiety levels increase following drills as well (48 percent). 
      • Elementary school communities experience significant increases in stress and anxiety (28 percent) and depression (30 percent).
    • Coupled with the physical and mental health impacts, active shooter drills in schools also appear to spark a period of reflection on guns in schools and planning for the future:
      • In the 90 days following drills, research suggests that online conversations feature significantly more words that show attempts to make sense of why something occurred, references to the past and what will happen in the future, and reflections on the experience itself and what feelings it evoked.
      • Despite, or perhaps in response to, the harmful impacts described above, the study found that active shooter drills in schools may fuel collective action and community advocacy. This trend is evidenced through analysis of social media posts in these communities that show a focus on others’ wellbeing and actions taken together as a community.  
  • Research over five decades found that in three out of four active school shooter incidents, the shooter(s) were current or former students. Thus, preparedness procedures involving students are potentially being shared with the individuals most likely to perpetrate a school shooting. 

These research findings contribute to the evidence that active shooter drills in schools can deeply harm the students and the communities that support them. It echoes and adds statistical support to the lived experiences of so many Americans who are outraged by inconsistent, unregulated, and oftentimes traumatizing drills. In the absence of any conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of drills involving students at ensuring safety during actual active shooter incidents.

Students Demand Action volunteers should urge school decisionmakers to assess whether the potential but unproven benefits of these drills outweigh their known collateral consequences.


Use the tactics and tips in Students Demand Action’s Urge Your School Board to Act on School Safety Toolkit to advocate for the following things in your school:

Training for Staff

Everytown, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association support trauma-informed training for school staff on how to respond to active shooter situations. Our organizations believe that instructions for teachers and staff on lockout procedures, emergency medical training and other topics are essential, however we do not recommend drills for students.

Reconsider Active Shooter Drills

Students can advocate for a reconsideration of how active shooter drills are conducted with an emphasis on preparedness exercises that involve teachers and school staff and investing in proactive school safety measures such as crisis response programs, a trusting and supportive school environment so students have an adult they can ask for help or report concerning behaviors, and physical security upgrades. At least 40 states require some sort of active shooter drill. In these cases, students can advocate that

  • Drills should not include simulations that mimic an actual incident; 
  • Parents should have advance notice of drills; 
  • Drills should be announced to students and educators prior to the start;
  • Schools should create age and developmentally appropriate drill content with the involvement of school personnel, including school-based mental health professionals; 
  • Schools should couple drills with trauma-informed approaches to address students’ wellbeing both during the drills, and over a sustained period thereafter; and
  • Schools should track data about the efficacy and effects of drills. 

Proactive School Safety Measures

There is a strong body of research on the value of proactive school safety measures, such as crisis response programs, access to mental health professionals and social support, and non-punitive disciplinary processes, coupled with common-sense gun laws and practices like secure storage to ensure that guns are not easily accessible in order to reduce a school’s risk of experiencing gun violence and mass shootings. Everytown’s How to Stop Shootings and Gun Violence in Schools report provides actionable steps that school systems and community members can take to implement these best practices. In light of this study’s findings, Everytown strongly encourages school systems to prioritize these proven school safety strategies above active shooter drills.

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