School drills are the way we ensure that staff and students know and understand the processes required in the event of an unanticipated emergency. I remember the day that the fire bell went off at recess and many of the students entered the school to line up at their classroom doors. Since that day, I have always done at least one fire drill at recess or lunch to ensure children know where to line up. The biggest take away for teachers, parents and students is that drills are opportunities to pause and consider how we could keep ourselves safe in an emergency. The most reassuring information I can pass on is that I have been doing fire drills at school since I was five years and I have never had a big school fire. Those of my students who consider me ancient, are VERY reassured. All schools have regular schedules for mandatory safety drills.
Fire drills in VSB schools happen a minimum of five times at each school. All parent and students in the school have grown accustomed to this practice. The necessity is rarely questioned and parents are comfortable with having the conversation about the necessity of this drill with their child.
Earthquake drills have been scheduled once a year at most schools during The Great British Columbia Shake Out drill in October. Another Evacuation drill, happens in May in the Vancouver School District . A school evacuation could involve a situation which could include but is not limited to fires, earthquakes and hazardous spills, or as required following a Lockdown or Drop-Cover-Hold (ie. during an earthquake or an explosion)*. The reunification of families in the event of an evacuation is given extra care and attention. This drill usually involves lots of “what if” conversations and problem solving. It is supported by information on websites, radio, and social media, the Police, the Fire Department, the Ambulance service, the school district, and from the provincial government. It is still an uncomfortable conversation, but lots of people are participating in it together.
The drill that often doesn’t evoke a lot of parent conversation is the Lockdown drill. Lockdown is used to protect school occupants from a dangerous person within the school, for example a person armed with a knife, firearm or other weapon and who is threatening or in the process of harming people*. At my PAC meeting, the recent lockdown drill precipitated a lot of conversation by the parents, PAC executive and the DPAC rep at the meeting. I was surprised because lockdown drills have been mandatory for many years, but have never been discussed by my parent group to this degree or with so many opinions about how it should unfold. Initially I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.
The obvious finally occurred to me. Many parents don’t want to consider the possibility of needing a lockdown, let alone having the conversation with their own children about why we practice this drill. As the person in charge of ensuring school community safety, I understand the feeling. However I am also of the mind that if we know what to do in any given situation, we are in the best position to staff safe.
That being said, here are a few suggestions to talk to your child about a lockdown drill:
- Be calm and matter of fact. Nothing bad has happened or is expected to happen.
- We practice drills at school to keep children safe if anything unexpected
- In any situation, a plan helps us to stay safe. It makes sure we know what to do.
- If you have questions or concerns about the drill, talk to the teacher, your parents, or another adult.
- Television shows, movies, and video games are intended to sell things not reflect reality at most schools.
If your child is particularly anxious about any of the drills at school, it is always a good idea to talk to the teacher. This will help the teacher prepare for her conversations with his/her/their students and any alternate arrangement that may need to be made in the event of a child’s special need or extreme anxiety.
*Sentence from the Vancouver Board of Education: Staff Emergency Procedures flipbook available in every classroom.