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National Issue

Active Shooter Drills and Simulations

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, communities across the country made a commitment to prevent the same tragedy in their own schools. Active shooter drills have become a popular solution to try to prepare and protect students.

But a dangerous variation of these drills called “active shooter simulations” actually hurts students rather than helping them. 

What Is the Difference between Active Shooter Drills and Active Shooter Simulations?

Active shooter simulations are distinctly different from active shooter drills. They are especially harmful when they attempt to mimic a real-life shooting. They may use fake blood, pellet guns, the sound of gunfire, and law enforcement sweeping the halls with guns drawn. They are dangerous and traumatizing. Students should never have to participate. We can better prepare students for emergencies with safe, effective drills.

Sandy Hook Action Fund supports legislation separating active shooter drills from simulations and banning student participation in active shooter simulations.

Active shooter drills can teach students what to do in an emergency without putting them in harm’s way. They can include practicing safe evacuation, sheltering in place, and responding to instruction from Trusted Adults. When schools use trauma-informed active shooter drills, students don’t face potential harm.

Active shooter simulations, on the other hand, mimic an actual shooting. They can include exposing students to the sound of gunfire and people play-acting injuries. Because they mimic real shootings, they also mimic the fear and trauma that real shootings cause. And when school officials do not inform students of simulations in advance, they face additional stress and anxiety.

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In order to create a safe and supportive school environment, students must be protected from harmful and traumatizing practices. Separating drills from simulations and banning student participation in simulations protects youth mental health and well-being. This is a critical component of school safety. 

Learn more about the distinction and read our Guiding Principles: Active Shooter Drills

Research confirms that simulations that mimic active shooters are likely to be traumatic to participants.1 Intense practices like simulations can increase youth anxiety and fear, and foster a belief that the world is a threatening and dangerous place.

When it comes to schools, federal law does not provide a specific definition for an active shooter drill. As a result, every state can define these drills for itself. Unfortunately, some states that have already adopted active shooter drills do not do a good job of defining them. In these states, active shooter drills can end up looking very different across schools or district lines. For example, some schools might conduct a lockdown drill while others might conduct simulations.

Many states don’t define what an active shooter drill is and isn’t. As a result, some schools practice simulations but mislabel them as “drills.” When states do not make clear distinctions between the two, they are often mixed up. This prevents simulations from being regulated properly.

Clearly defining active shooter drills is an important first step. States that do this also have a chance to ensure their drills are trauma-informed. The next step is banning student participation in active shooter simulations. Simulations mimic real shootings, and are traumatizing by nature.

State laws can ensure active shooter drills and active shooter simulations are never mixed up. Your state legislature can pass a law clearly separating the two. For example, it can clearly define active shooter drills. This will ensure drills aren’t confused with simulations. Additionally, they can dictate that simulations may only be conducted when students aren’t on campus.

Sign The Petition

Call on Lawmakers to protect student wellbeing and stop student participation in active shooter simulations.

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