Intruder Drills: The New Normal That Doesn’t Have to Be


Intruder drills are often as familiar to America’s students as fire and severe weather drills in classrooms and schools. In fact, a form of lockdown and/or intruder drills are practiced by over 90% of public schools and are required by law in at least 40 states. This means by the time a kindergartner finishes high school, they may have experienced as many as 70 intruder drills during their school career. Yet, the root cause of their need: school shootings, of which 2021 was a record year, seem to largely evade any reform. Instead, students and schools seem to be asked to bear the cost through the practice of intruder drills.

The New “Normal”

Like many of you reading, school shootings and the creation of intruder drills have followed me from my school years into adulthood. I was 17 and a high school student myself when Columbine occurred. I remember pouring over the news coverage trying to understand how an event like this could happen. 

Just a few years later, as an education major at Butler University, we were tasked with mastering a new trend in education: intruder drills. It felt so unnatural and our own professors were learning along with us, which meant they had no first-hand knowledge to impart. I remember listening to the father of Rachel Scott speak at Butler for their visiting speaker series. I sat there considering how nothing could make her death make sense. She had done nothing wrong. She was my peer, and yet, here I was in college, and she was dead.

During my years as an educator, I had numerous staff training sessions, school drills, and conversations with students. I cried during one training as we watched real footage of an intruder situation in another school, the reality hitting too close to home. As a teacher, I had to inform school counselors and police when I found concerning messages in a student’s notebook (which did happen). Most of the time, though, I just tried avoiding thinking about it at all. Unlike other administrative tasks, there is nothing natural about helping students understand what to do when their school is under attack by a gunman. It was overwhelming to admit that we could do all the drills, have all the safety plans, and yet, nothing was a guarantee for safety. 

The moment I walked into a colleague’s room and learned about Sandy Hook I remember feeling nothing. I was a mother myself, and I momentarily worried that I had become numb to these tragedies: there were just so many of them. Sadly, my favorite feature about the last classroom I taught in wasn’t its square footage (my largest classroom yet!) It had two separate exits, each one leading to a different hallway. This setup increased the chances, should the situation arise, my students and I could escape. Almost every other classroom in a modern high school has only one exit and no windows. I can’t explain the amount of comfort having two exits brought me. 

Now I am a parent of school-aged children, and I understand more fully the cost of the current climate regarding school shootings and intruder drills at a very personal level. I have witnessed the panic and fear of a young child not fully able to comprehend why they must pretend bad people are coming for them. I have listened as my school-age children compare notes about what their different teachers suggest as strategies to fight an intruder. They continue to be particularly concerned with how to barricade a door with a glass window and the interior classrooms without a window for an exit. 

To be clear, I am not against the use of intruder drills. I believe they are necessary, and our school system does an amazing job with them. Watching video footage of the latest school shooting is a testament to the value they bring. I was comforted to see the students following what they learned in their intruder drills and using their knowledge to evaluate the situation.

But… I can understand their necessity while also being tired and infuriated. It has been more than 20 years since school shootings have felt ever-present in my life.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have not been involved in a school shooting as a student, teacher, or parent. I have not lost a child, family member, or friend. I have not lived in a community permanently changed by a school shooting. Yet, they continue to impact my life as a parent, educator, and community member. I am infuriated that those with the power to help make it harder for these shootings to happen choose to do nothing. Instead, the onus of responsibility continues to fall on our children. Why does no number of lives lost seem enough to create change?

Action Items

It is up to us as mothers to demand change. We can use our voices, time, and relationships to turn the tide. Here are five practical things we can do.

  1. We can support candidates that back common-sense gun reform, such as increased mental health funding and universal background checks. Click here for more information. 
  2. We can reach out to our state and national representatives and encourage them to support commonsense measures with broad public support to get passed into law. Find yours here.
  3. We can educate ourselves on the current laws surrounding gun ownership, safety, and schools in our state. Click here to learn more about IN. 
  4. We can partner with our schools and community to help our students understand and process intruder drills and warning signs. Click here for a resource.
  5. We can have open and honest conversations with our own children. We can help ensure they simultaneously understand the importance of intruder drills and develop coping mechanisms for dealing with them. Click here for a resource.

If enough of us work together, I hope that someday children will learn about intruder drills like current students learn of “Duck & Cover” from the 1950s: as part of a history lesson instead of a contemporary one.