The Impact of Active Shooter Drills in Schools

Everytown Research and Policy

Time to Rethink Reactive School Safety Strategies


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Executive Summary

Active shooter drills are implemented in over 95 percent of American K–12 schools today.1While school shootings are relatively rare—accounting for less than 1 percent of the nearly 38,000 annual US gun deaths2—they instill a deep sense of fear in communities, propelling school systems to “do something” fast.3In a series of recent reports,4 Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown), in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), highlighted the importance of proactive school safety planning to intervene before school violence occurs, and outlined a set of concrete recommendations to respond to active shooter incidents. This research concluded that there is almost no research affirming the value of active shooter drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur.5

While there is limited proof of the effectiveness of these drills, anecdotal evidence, including many online conversations, increasingly suggests that active shooter drills may be harmful to mental health. In order to examine these concerns using scientific methods, Everytown partnered with Georgia Institute of Technology’s Social Dynamics and Wellbeing Lab (Georgia Tech) to study the immediate and long-term impacts of active shooter drills on the health and wellbeing of students, teachers, and parents. Researchers applied rigorous big data and psycholinguistic analytic approaches to millions of community conversations occurring over Twitter and Reddit. Social media conversations were analyzed for a total of 114 K–12 schools with a focus on activity in the 90 days before and 90 days after school drills occurred.

The results were sobering: Active shooter drills in schools are associated with increases in depression (39%), stress and anxiety (42%), and physiological health problems (23%) overall, including children from as young as five years old up to high schoolers, their parents, and teachers. Concerns over death increased by 22 percent, with words like blood, pain, clinics, and pills becoming a consistent feature of social media posts in school communities in the 90 days after a school drill. These findings unveil even more reason to pause before rushing toward active shooter drills as a potential solution to school violence, as evidence suggests that they are causing lasting emotional and physical harm to students, teachers, and the larger community.

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About S. R. Zelenz 119 Articles
S.R. Zelenz has worked in education for 20 years. Working with students from all walks of life, cultures, races, and social diversity, Zelenz’s research in Educational Leadership led to finding a better way to approach learning for students with trauma histories. Many were juvenile offenders, gang members, diagnosed with varying behavioral disorders, or had family histories of violence, murder, or narcissistic parenting. This research could not be effectively accomplished without further understanding: how epigenetic trauma inheritance may be impacting these students; how brain development from trauma may be impacting their behavioral and emotional development; as well as deep understanding of psychology and its varying classifications for behavioral and personality disorders. The goal is to find solutions for changing the conversation and making a real difference for these students. She has also worked with nonprofits of varying focus areas for the last 25 years. Her undergraduate degree in Arts Administration and Music prepared her for managing nonprofits of any size as well as procuring funding so that they can achieve their goals. Pairing her nonprofit background with her education background, she has been able to make a difference for over 200 nonprofits worldwide, written curriculum for schools across the globe, and assisted many arts organizations through performance and management.