A False Sense of Security


Photo taken from Unsplash by Leon Bredella

A fallout shelter sign labeling the location of one in the building. The six wedges symbolize shielding from radiation, food and water, trained leadership, medical supplies and aid, communications with the outside world, and radiological monitoring to determine safe areas.

Madeleine Lennox

The recent rise in frequency of school shootings across the country has students questioning their safety. In this year alone, there have already been six school shootings. Last year, 51 shootings. The fear sparked in Americans (including students) is constant and reminiscent of another terror from the past — the Cold War and the panic of atomic bombs. 

Both concerns have led to similar solutions: taking cover by hiding from view or radiation. During the Cold War, PSAs recommended the “Duck and Cover” drill, where students hid under their desks. In response to current mass shootings, schools like South High have added security officers and implemented lockdown drills. At New York State’s Government level, the State Education Department has mandated four lockdown drills and eight evacuation drills per school year. 

On October 6th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy also addressed the threat of nuclear bombing by recommending the use of fallout shelters: underground bunkers supplied with food and other necessities. “In the event of an attack, the lives of those families which are not hit in a nuclear blast and fire can still be saved if they can be warned to take shelter and if that shelter is available.” However, school responses to both threats have raised one central question: are these measures truly effective — or do they only serve to ease people’s fears?

In both cases, efforts may be too little or too late. Kennedy acknowledged that fallout shelters would only address the less immediate issue of radiation poisoning. However, the government found it too costly and difficult to implement proper infrastructure (an extremely large stone wall around high-risk areas — areas likely to be targeted) to alleviate the impact of a bomb. Most fallout shelters were not even positioned well. Two-thirds of all fallout shelters were located in high-risk areas, so many people would not even be able to reach one in time. 

Some argue that the purpose of both is not safety, however, but rather to firmly fix the knowledge and confidence that practice will grant. A sample lockdown drill scenario for more context: Crouched behind a large cabinet, twenty-four students compress themselves against the wall. No talking is heard, the door is locked, and the classroom is in almost complete darkness as if abandoned.  A couple of minutes pass as the students and teacher wait. The jangling keys and the door opening alert students to the presence of their Assistant Principal, who briefly thanks the students and assigns them to return to work. A minute later, an overhead speaker announcement officially signals the completion of a lockdown drill.

This lockdown drill, in simple terms is, “Locks, lights, out of sight…Get your door locked…[to] build a time barrier between you and the threat. Get those lights off and get out of sight, meaning you can’t be seen or heard from the hallway,” says Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut, a mass shooting expert.

While perpetrators could also easily shoot through doors and attempt to break in, locks still present an easy security measure. After an investigation following the Sandy Hook massacre, researchers concluded that no violent intruder has ever attempted to open a locked classroom. Based on prior situations, research concluded that an assailant would not want to waste time opening a door when their intention is to hurt as many people as they can. While unfortunate, this data supports the efficacy of lockdown drills.

Practicing lockdown drills offers security through familiarity. It contributes to providing American students with tools through established protocol. These emergency practices can help lessen the fear associated with an intruder or a bomb threat.

Without a solution to mass shootings, schools continue to be vulnerable. Lockdown drills provide the precaution to help alleviate the problem and create time for rescuers to arrive. When school shootings are somehow solved, lockdown drills may become a thing of the past. Today, the South High School fallout shelter has fallen into disuse, too. Located beneath the South Middle pool, its presence has all but been forgotten.