Active shooter drills are something that people in most countries outside of the United States only ever have to imagine: a terrifying reminder that, at any moment, your lives might be threatened by someone you see every day, and that you need to be ready for it.
But as that fear grows, the ways we prepare for it are becoming extreme. Some states now require active shooter drills to involve live reenactments of school shootings, while a handful forbid them from warning the teachers and kids about what’s going to happen.
In a country that sees a school shooting nearly every week, it’s only reasonable to be prepared — but sometimes, these drills get so extreme that they’re downright traumatic.
The Shooter Drill That Taught Nicholas Cruz How To Kill
As dangerous and troubling as these drills can be, they still might be worth it if they work — but in at least one case, these drills have actually made things worse.
The problem with school shooter training is that, if a school shooting does happen, odds are, it’s going to be somebody in the training session that does it.
That was certainly the case for Nikolas Cruz, who shot up a Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool in February 2018. He’d participated in his school’s active shooter drills, and he knew that, as soon as gunshots started, people who lock themselves in their classrooms. But he also knew that, when people heard the fire drill, they’d head out and walk outside.
Before he started his massacre, he waited until five minutes before dismissal and pulled the fire alarm. He knew that, if he did that, the fire alarm and the dismissal alarm would all be going off at the same time as the code red, and that a lot of students wouldn’t have any idea what to do.
The State That Left Teachers With $300,000 Worth Of Medical Bills
As crazy all of these stories are, they’re just the ones that get reported. There’s strong evidence that things like this are happening all the time and just not making the news.
An Iowa insurance company stumbled upon some of that evidence when, in 2014, they went through their records and realized that, in the past two years alone, they’d paid out more than $300,000 because of active shooter drills.
Emergency room visits by Iowa school employees injured during active shooter bills, they learned, had cost them $300,000 in less than 24 months. And at least 25 teachers had been injured during these drills — more than one injury a month.
“We have injuries related to running, to tackling, being tackled, running into door jambs, jumping off furniture,” says Jerry Loughry, Corporate Security & Safety Manager at EMC Insurance Companies.
The Army Drill That Brought In A SWAT Team
In Aug. 2018, a soldier at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base injured himself jogging and accidentally set off a chain of events that would end with a SWAT team storming the base.
The injured man called for help and was rushed off to the base’s medical treatment facility, where – unbeknownst to him – the medical team was running a mass casualty drill. He was rolled in alongside a swarm of actors who were just pretending to be injured, and, at least for a while, the doctors just thought he was particularly good at faking it.
When a doctor realized that this patient actually was hurt, he glanced outside the window and saw something terrifying: a swarm of military men running for their lives, with what looked like dead, bleeding bodies laying in the ground by them.
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The Drill That Caused A City-Wide Panic
In Dec. 2018, phones across Altamonte Springs, Florida, started ringing. Text messages and phone calls were flooding in from the students of Lake Brantley High School who were terrified that this could be their last day alive.
“I heard what sounded like gunshots,” one boy whispered to his grandmother over the phone.
Meanwhile, a mother took to Twitter, begging for help: “Anyone know or hear what’s going on with Lake Brantley HS? School is in code red and my kids are texting me that they’re hiding in closets. I’m freaking out.”
The school was just doing a drill — but nobody there knew it. The only warning the teachers got was a text message that said: “Active shooter reported,” followed by an administrator telling the whole school over the P.A. system: “This is not a drill.”
The Nursery That Traumatized A 5-Year-Old
Not every school waits until kids are in high school to start running active shooter drills. At least one preschool in Tucson, Arizona starts training kids when they’re three-years-old.
That story made the news when one child at the nursery started showing signs of PTSD. The Pottinger family says that their five-year-old son, who attends the nursery, started re-enacting active shooter drills at home. He would play by crouching behind the furniture and rehearsing what he’d do if a shooter broke in.
But it wasn’t just fun and games. When the boy heard fireworks go off for the first time, he started crying and screaming: “Active shooter!”
He became so terrified about the idea that somebody might come into his school and murder him that he would refuse to go anywhere alone — even to the bathroom. He’d tell his parents that, if they left him alone for even a second: “The lockdown is going to get me.”