Lockdowns and evacuations can be explained in a manner that does not create fear and panic, said consultant Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services.
"We don't need to teach kids to attack armed intruders by throwing pencils and books at a gunman or to have a SWAT team at the kindergarten doors, but it's not unreasonable for school leaders to make sure that students, teachers and support staff know what to do in an emergency," he said.
Brandee Davidson's 10-year-old said she and her classmates were startled when two police officers burst through the door with guns at the October exercise at Howe Hall, even though they were told about the lockdown drill in advance.
"Whoa, we did not expect that at all," Rylee Davidson said during a phone interview with her mother's consent. "It was kind of scary."
Her 6-year-old sister, Harper, said that she "was a little nervous" when she saw the fake wounds on the boys who were part of the drill, but that both she and her sister got the point: "So we would know what to do if it really happened, if an intruder came to our school."
The Howe Hall exercise ended in a flurry of fake gunfire created by officers yelling "bang-bang-bang" and a "suspect's down" radio dispatch.
"Unfortunately, it's a sign of the times," said principal Christopher Swetckie. Pupils are told it's like hide-and-seek, he said, and a placard system is used to notify law enforcement if there is an injured person in the room.
"I hate that in this day and age that you have to prepare for these types of events," he said.
Brandee Davidson said she didn't talk much with her daughters about their school's drill in October. But two months later, after Newtown, it suddenly left the realm of routine.
"We sat down and said it's important that if they ever have another intruder drill, please make sure they do whatever their teacher says because their teacher will keep them safe," she said.
She said she believes every school should have such run-throughs.
"On the one hand, you don't want to scare the children," said Dr. Ronald Stephens, who advises districts as executive director of the National School Safety Center, "but many things you would do for a fire drill would be consistent with what would be done for a crisis drill."
"I've rarely seen anyone reach for the plan in the middle of a crisis," Stephens said. "They have to know it."
Trump concurred, recommending lockdowns be practiced at least twice a year at different times during the day.
"School crisis plans that sit upon a shelf," he said, "are not worth the paper they are written upon."
Thompson reported from Buffalo, N.Y.
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