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The Reality Of School Shooting Drills


More and more schools are using drills to prepare students and staff for the possibility of an active shooter. Today, we go inside one classroom's code red drill. It's in the same Florida district as the Parkland shooting took place. Rowan Moore Gerety has the story.

ROWAN MOORE GERETY, BYLINE: Seventh-graders in Patrick Manley's robotics class build Lego-like vehicles that use light sensors to work their way around a labyrinth of black tape laid out on the floor.


GERETY: Robotics has been a middle school requirement at Avant Garde Academy since the school opened three years ago.

PATRICK MANLEY: Ladies and gentlemen...

GERETY: One day each semester, though, Manley puts away the robots for a code red drill meant to simulate how the class should respond in the event of a shooting on campus.

MANLEY: So we all know the things that have to happen. What's the first thing that has to happen?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: We have to cover the doors with the cabinets.

GERETY: The school in Hollywood is just a half-hour from Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 students and staff a month ago. In the last few weeks, this exercise has taken on special urgency. With the band practicing next door, everyone in the classroom takes a deep breath.

MANLEY: Code red. Code red. Go.

GERETY: The students jump into action, piling furniture against the door.

MANLEY: Everybody behind the desks now.

GERETY: In under 40 seconds, the whole class is lying flat on the floor behind two lab desks flipped on their sides. Today, Manley is filming the drill. He's hoping it will go viral and build support for stricter gun laws and tighter school security.

MANLEY: Because I don't think people are aware of what we are asking the students to do during a code red drill.

GERETY: Manley made sure to remind students that shootings like the one in Parkland are extremely rare. But it's still a sobering exercise. These kids have learned to lie flat to make themselves a smaller target and to point their heads away from the door.

MANLEY: Much more survivable if your feet are hit.

GERETY: They ask whether the windows near the first-grade classroom downstairs are bulletproof. One student says the code red drills at his old school weren't nearly as tactical as Mr. Manley's. Seventh-grader Annabelle Suzuki says it's reassuring to feel like she'll know what to do if she ever faces a real-life active shooter.

ANNABELLE SUZUKI: But I feel like it's upsetting that we have to be able to go through this, that we need to know this in case it might happen to us.

SHANE SUZUKI: I think it's been good in a way for everyone to come to terms with what happened.

GERETY: Shane Suzuki is Annabelle's father. He says it's been enlightening to watch his daughter and her classmates ask big questions about gun laws and politics and why mass shootings take place at all.

S. SUZUKI: They know that this isn't normal and this isn't right and that they should just have to go to school and worry about passing an algebra test, not have to worry about a lockdown shooter exercise or something like that.

GERETY: Almost three-quarters of schools around the country already conduct active shooter drills of some kind. Michael Dorn says his school safety organization, Safe Havens International, saw a spike in demand after Parkland. But he says there's a danger of overreacting to mass shootings, rolling out new trainings that aren't proven to work or ignoring everyday risks like cars and school buses that don't get as much attention.

MICHAEL DORN: Not to undermine these horrific acts, but having your child hit in the parking lot of an elementary school is a very terrible event. It just may not make the national news.

GERETY: And Dorn says those quiet tragedies remain far more common than active shooters. For NPR News, I'm Rowan Moore Gerety in Hollywood, Fla.