Code Red at School: How to Be Prepared (Not Scared) for a Lockdown

Many of us who grew up in the ‘80s know what it’s like to experience some pretty frightening safety procedures. We practiced what to do in the event of a nuclear bomb regularly at school: Look away from the windows, duck, and cover. We all learned to fear a giant mushroom cloud. We knew that a bright flash of light meant bad news. And while we learned safety, we also learned to carry fear and anxiety in our hearts.

While our kids won’t be practicing what to do in the event of an atomic bomb, they will be practicing Code Red lockdown procedures to keep safe in case of an active shooter or other emergency on school grounds. The concept behind these drills is prevention and survival – preparedness, should the unthinkable happen. The hope is to rehearse the worst in order to prevent future casualties. But there is a cost. In practicing for a potential danger, your child could walk away feeling less safe and secure in his or her day to day.

As a parent or guardian, you have a right to know what Code Red procedures your school has in place so that you can not only make sure your child understands how to stay safe but to also help talk them through any fears or anxieties they may be experiencing.

What Is the Protocol?

Teaching kids safety in an active shooter scenario is very sensitive subject. On the one hand, everyone wants to make sure that kids are prepared for the unthinkable. But at what cost? Some safety procedures come with extreme fear tactics and anxiety-laden instructions.

Some schools use a police-focused lockdown drills. These drills create a high-anxiety situation with children huddled under desks or in a corner, with loud and frightening noises going on outside the classroom. The children are trained to undergo a high level of fear, while waiting for the police to rescue them. Children will be taught to lie face down on the ground or practice hiding in bathrooms, standing on the toilet their feet won’t be seen.

Other schools teach the Run, Hide, Fight approach where children are taught to evacuate if possible, hide in silence if appropriate, or take offensive action to disrupt the shooter as a last resort. Some school will teach kids to stack chairs against the door or create other types of barricades. Fighting could include anything from children being asked to keep canned goods at their desks to hurl at a shooter, as was standard in an Alabama middle school, or throwing books, computers, and phones. Some children are taught to use the fire extinguisher to ward off the attacker.

Gentler techniques claim to empower kids with a “I’m not scared... I’m prepared” philosophy. The hope is to teach ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) protocol in a non-fearful way to younger students.

Straight to the Source

It’s a shame we even have to talk to our children about intruder events. We don’t want to scare our children, but schools want to make sure they’re prepared, however unlikely an intruder event may be. If you’re concerned about the Code Red safety procedures at your school, go straight to the source and find out their protocol. Learn the words the school is using to describe dangers and find out what scenarios they’re describing. Explain to your children they need to carefully listen and follow the instructions their teacher provides during drills. Remind them that they may not be able to talk to you right away in the event of an emergency, even if they have a cell phone, but you or other trusted friend or relative will be there to pick them up when the school officials give you the green light to do so.

Once you’ve opened up the discussion, ask your child some questions to gauge their emotional readiness. How do they feel about the safety of their school? Do they have any concerns or know of gaps in security in their building? Do they feel safer – or scared – after lockdown drills? Do they have questions or suggestions regarding safety at school? Do they feel comfortable with reporting suspicious behavior?

Your child could feel shaken up at the idea of “bad guys” entering their school. Depending on your little one’s reactions to the drill, you may find that he or she has a number of questions about their personal safety. While you’re not going to want to be dismissive about the drills, you will need to provide extra comfort to help your child feel safe in the world. Comparisons to other safety procedures is a good idea. You can remind them of your own family’s “stranger danger” rules in crowded public spaces or of airline safety instruction before a flight, explaining that these are simply procedures to keep in mind while reinforcing the fact that your child can feel safe and secure otherwise.

Calming Your Own Fears

If you find that Code Red drills are making you question the safety of your school, do your own recon. Visit your child’s school one day, unannounced. How easy is it for you to get into the school? Do you have to be buzzed in? Are you able to gain access inside by using another unlocked door? Once you entered the building, did you have to sign-in or wear a visitor badge? Did any faculty or other staff greet you? If you have concerns, talk to your school administrators.

Inquiring Parents Want to Know

You may want to email, set up an appointment or consider creating a parent group to address the school administration. The questions below good places to start. Remember, you’re not putting the school administration on trial, but merely seeking the facts and offering your assistance by complying with safety measures like wearing name badges when you visit the school.

  • How can parents get access to the written procedures on security and emergency prep?
  • How often are safety drills/lockdowns, etc. conducted? How are the children are educated about lockdowns and other safety drills?
  • Is the local fire and police department privy to the security and emergency prep?
  • What is the communication between the school, parents and first responders during an active violent intruder event?
  • Is the entire staff, including support personnel, custodians, cafeteria staff, etc. trained on school security and crisis prep?
  • Who provides the training? How often does the staff take part in training?

Peace of Mind

If there is an active violent intruder event, dropping everything and rescuing your child is your gut reaction. Stay put and stay calm. Your school has specific procedures that prevent risking the safety of your child and their classmates and staff. The beginning of every school year should be a refresher course for the school, children, parents, and first responders. It’s easy for widespread panic to occur when false information has been circling in a crisis situation. Make sure you have a grasp on what your roles are in an emergency.

  • Know the communication systems your school has in place to notify parents in a crisis situation.
  • Download the FBI Child ID app or keep a current photo ID of your child in your wallet. You will probably need this to take your child home.
  • Know what the location points and procedures are to pick up your child in the event they are released from lockdown or evacuated to a safe place.
  • Make sure all emergency contact information is updated. This includes other trusted friends and relatives that are allowed to pick up your child in the event you can’t be reached. Include all medications and any other special needs your child has.
  • Do not contact the school or call your child’s cell phone in the event of a lockdown or crisis situation. Telephone systems need to be available for emergency communications.

No doubt, you want to know your kids will be safe at school. Find out what you need to know for peace of mind but don’t give into your fear. Your children look to you to feel safe and secure in the world and being their rock is crucial.

What do you know about your school’s safety policies and lockdown procedure? Share with us!

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