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Ask a REL Response

School Lockdowns and Drills — April 2021


Could you provide research on lockdown or multi-option response drills in schools, including age-appropriate drills; and the effects of drills on school emergency preparedness and pupil emotional wellbeing?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on lockdown or multi-option response drills, including 1) age-appropriate drills; 2) the effectiveness of lockdown or multi-option response drills in schools; and 3) the effects drills have on pupil emotional wellbeing and emergency preparedness. The sources we searched included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Age-appropriate drills

Dickson, M. J., & Vargo, K. K. (2017). Training kindergarten students lockdown drill procedures using behavioral skills training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 50(2), 407–412. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “During situations in which a gunman is present on a school campus, lockdowns are initiated until the threat is removed. However, there are no data demonstrating an effective teaching strategy to increase students’ correct responding during a lockdown. We evaluated the effectiveness of behavioral skills training (BST) to teach three groups of kindergarten students how to respond during lockdown drills. Results showed that participant groups displayed increases in correct steps and decreases in noise levels after BST was implemented; these effects maintained following training.”

Effects of drills on school emergency preparedness

Jonson, C. L. (2017). Preventing school shootings: The effectiveness of safety measures. Victims & Offenders, 12(6), 956–73. Full text available at

From the abstract: “The tragedies at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook Elementary School catapulted concern about school shootings into the national spotlight. Calls for something to be done to protect our students, faculty, and staff became a salient concern for school administrators, with many schools hiring armed security officers, restricting access to campus buildings, installing metal detectors, and training individuals how to respond when a shooter enters school grounds. However, many of these security measures were implemented with little to no consultation of the empirical literature. This failure to enact evidence-based responses has had fiscal and latent consequences that are only now being discovered. This essay seeks to fill that void by examining the empirical evidence surrounding common security measures enacted in response to well-publicized school shootings and calling for the use of an evidence-based approach to school safety.”

Jonson, C. L., Moon, M. M., & Hendry, J. A. (2018). One size does not fit all: Traditional lockdown versus multi-option responses to school shootings. Journal of School Violence, 19(2), 154–166. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Two paradigms inform responses to active shooting situations: a traditional lockdown approach where individuals find cover in a classroom and lock the door, and a multi-option approach where individuals evacuate the area, create barricades, and, in last resort situations, actively resist the gunman. While a majority of schools conduct active shooter drills, typically using a traditional lockdown approach, little is known about their effectiveness. Through simulations, this study sought to determine which of the two paradigms that inform active shooter drills is the most effective. Drills informed by the multi-option response paradigm were found to end more quickly and result in fewer people being shot.”

Schildkraut, J., & Nickerson, A. B. (2020). Ready to respond: Effects of lockdown drills and training on school emergency preparedness. Victims & Offenders. Full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Lockdown drills are a commonly practiced school emergency preparedness strategy, yet there is an alarming lack of empirical data to inform their use. In the current study, participants from a large, urban school district were surveyed at baseline, post-drill, and after receiving training on the newly implemented emergency response protocol and participating in a second drill, and the procedural integrity of the lockdowns was observed. Students and staff reported significantly increased perceptions of emergency preparedness following the training, although faculty reported these increases only for hazards not previously drilled. Classrooms increased by average of 27% in the correct implementation of lockdown procedures following the training (compared to the drill without training). Mastery was achieved for locking doors (89%), lights off (85%), and not responding to door knocks (91%), yet there was room for improvement in staying out of sight (71%). Additionally, continued participation in lockdown drills over the course of the study led to students, faculty, and staff expressing greater feelings of preparedness related to lockdowns, as well as other emergency scenarios (lockout, evacuation, shelter, and hold-in-place). Collectively, the findings of the present study highlight the importance of drills in fostering a culture of preparedness in schools.”

Effects of drills on student emotional wellbeing and emergency preparedness

Huskey, M. G., & Connell, N. M. (2020). Preparation or provocation? Student perceptions of active shooter drills. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 32(2). Full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Several highly publicized incidents of school violence in the past two decades have highlighted the importance of school safety and crisis preparation for students, parents, and school administrators. Although prior research has focused on the effectiveness of various security and crisis preparation measures, few studies have analyzed student perceptions of these policies. This study utilizes survey data collected from students at a public university in the southwestern United States to evaluate whether active shooter drills experienced in high school were related to negative student outcomes. Results show that experiencing an active shooter drill in high school was associated with significant increases in student fear, inflated perceptions of risk, and a decrease in perceptions of school safety. Implications for future research and policy initiatives regarding active shooter drills are discussed, specifically the need for increased transparency, standardization of drills, and addressing effective methods of implementing active shooter drills in schools.”

Nickerson, A. B., & Schildkraut, J. (2021). State anxiety prior to and after participating in lockdown drills among students in a rural high school. School Psychology Review. Full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Widespread concern exists that participating in lockdown and active shooter drills, practices that although discussed synonymously are different, may be similarly traumatizing for students. This study examined state anxiety levels—anxiety-present (i.e., anxiety) and anxiety-absent (i.e., well-being)—among students in one rural high school, as reported on the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory short form one week prior to (N = 610) and immediately following participation in a lockdown drill (N = 736). Students reported low anxiety and moderate well-being at both time points. Independent samples t-tests results revealed that students postdrill reported significantly lower anxiety levels as compared to students’ predrill scores. Well-being, based on anxiety-absent reports, was significantly higher postdrill as compared to one week prior to the practice. The implications of these findings, including the need for policy to provide more explicit guidance about conducting drills in accordance with best practices, are discussed.”

Schildkraut, J., Grogan, K., & Nabors, A. (2020). Should schools be conducting lockdown drills? WestEd. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Although the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and directed attention to other matters, one issue which had raised concern prior to the pandemic — the role of lockdown drills in schools — remains to be addressed as education leaders prepare for the return of students and adults to gathering daily in large groups in schools. By one estimate, 95 percent of U.S. schools perform lockdown drills as part of their emergency response plans each year. Their widespread use has been one response to calls for improved safety and security in schools, as the drills aim to help prevent future attacks or, in the event that one occurs, to minimize the loss of life. Nonetheless, calls to end the use of lockdown drills have been raised, often based on concerns about their effects on the safety and psychological well-being of students and adults who participate. Despite the widespread use of lockdown drills, research on the impact of such practices is sparse. Nonetheless, the question of whether to end the practice of lockdown drills should be decided based on evidence. Accordingly, this research brief summarizes arguments for and against lockdown drills, as well as available research and best practices, to provide better context to address questions about the use of such drills in schools.”

Schildkraut, J., Nickerson, A. B., & Ristoff, T. (2020). Locks, lights, out of sight: Assessing students’ perceptions of emergency preparedness across multiple lockdown drills. Journal of School Violence, 19(1), 93–106. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Despite their proliferation in schools across the U.S., the impact of lockdown drills on students remains largely understudied. Despite their goal of preparing students — along with teachers and school staff — for situations like the 2018 shooting in Parkland, FL, questions have been raised in both the public and academic discourses about whether such practices achieve their desired end or instead produce fear and anxiety. To date, however, there is but one study that assesses the perceptions that students have about these drills. The present study seeks to fill such a gap by exploring how students in a large New York school district feel about their safety and preparedness in the wake of receiving instructional training and undergoing several lockdown drills.”

Zhe, E. J., & Nickerson, A. B. (2007). Effects of an intruder drill on children’s knowledge, anxiety, and perceptions of school safety. School Psychology Review, 36(3), 501–508. Full text available from

From the abstract: “In response to calls to evaluate the effectiveness of school crisis drills, this study examined the effects of children’s crisis drill participation on their knowledge, skills, state anxiety, and perceptions of school safety. Using a between-subjects, post-test only design, 74 students in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades participated in an intervention (training session plus intruder drill) or a placebo control condition and completed measures about knowledge of drill procedures, state anxiety, and perceptions of safety. The intervention group attained a higher post-test scores of knowledge; however, there were no group differences in state anxiety or perceptions of school safety. Observations indicated the intervention group acquired the skill of safe relocation during the drill. Findings suggest that drills implemented according to best practice may have the potential to increase short-term knowledge and skill acquisition without subsequently altering anxiety or perceived safety.”

Additional Organization to Consult

National Association of School Psychologists –

From the website: “The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is a professional association representing more than 25,000 school psychologists, graduate students, and related professionals throughout the United States and an additional 25 countries worldwide. As the world’s largest organization of school psychologists, NASP works to advance effective practices to improve students’ learning, behavior, and mental health. Our vision is that all children and youth thrive in school, at home, and throughout life.”

NASP has three publications relevant to this request:

Cowan, K. C., Vaillancourt, K., Rossen, E., & Pollitt, K. (2013). A framework for safe and successful schools. National Association of School Psychologists. Full text available from

NASP. (2017). Best practice considerations for schools in active shooter and other armed assailant drills: Guidance from the National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Resource Officers. Full text available from

NASP. (2018). Mitigating negative psychological effects of school lockdowns: Brief guidance for schools. Full text available from,will%20minimize%20anxiety%20and%20fear

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students. (2013). Guide for developing high-quality school emergency operations plans. Author. Full text available from

From the introduction: “The guide is organized in four sections: 1. The principles of school emergency management planning. 2. A process for developing, implementing, and continually refining a school EOP with community partners (e.g., first responders and emergency management personnel) at the school building level. 3. A discussion of the form, function, and content of school EOPs. 4. “A Closer Look,” which considers key topics that support school emergency planning, including addressing an active shooter, school climate, psychological first aid, and information-sharing.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[School AND (lockdown OR “response drills”) AND (“age-appropriate”)]; [school AND (lockdown OR “response drills”) AND “best practice”)]; [school AND (lockdown OR “response drills”) AND student AND (“emotional wellbeing” OR “emotional well-being”)] and [school AND (lockdown OR “response drills”) AND “emergency preparedness”]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2006 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.