Lockdown Drill

Deb Fenwick


ADMINISTRATOR’S MANUAL: FORM 7842-C: Pursuant to 105 ILCS 128/20, school administrators are responsible for assessing threats likely to impact their schools and practicing drills to ensure safety no later than 90 days after the first academic day of the school year.

Yes No N/A Pre-Drill Logistics
●      Have you ensured that every teacher, including substitutes, has appropriate classroom keys? Do all doors have working locks? Account for vulnerabilities in the campus’ atriums and open spaces, designed decades ago by an architect unable to anticipate the need for this drill. Do your best without doors on student washrooms or the cafeteria.

Note: Have extra classroom keys available for Ms. Woods who forgot hers after a rough morning dropping off her own child at daycare. And substitutes. Don’t forget keys for substitutes.

Yes No N/A During the Drill
●      Have you used a predetermined code to announce the drill over the intercom? Example: “Mr. Redman is in the building.” Ignore that this intercom is the same one used to make announcements about the volleyball team’s win (Go Jayhawks!) or perfect attendance raffle winners (Congratulations, Taylor!). This is only a drill.
●      Have you established the main office as a command post? Use terms like this to properly conduct a military operation in your school.
Yes No N/A General Procedures
●      Are you using this checklist to walk through the building taking note of safety exceptions and get inside the mind of an assassin while looking for weak spots? Perform the active shooter role-play in service of student safety. While this checklist never entered your mind when you went into education and the thought of a gunman in the building has your stomach sick and hands shaking, do your best to imagine what a sad, seething former student like Justin H. might be thinking if he wanders the halls with an assault rifle.
●      Corridors: Have you checked hallways for students and staff? The school usually humming with energy should be a ghost town:  classroom lights off; 1,600 people hiding in back corners, closets, and under desks after scrambling from chemistry experiments or art projects upon hearing the “Redman” code. They swallowed their own fears, and many ignored histories of trauma to huddle in the silent dark.

Note: Turn doorknobs to ensure rooms are locked. Occasionally, knock to see if someone will emerge from hiding and make the deadly mistake of responding to you. Make note of exceptions. Move on.

●      Washrooms: Have you circulated through all washrooms to ensure they’re unoccupied? When you hear laughter in the girls’ washroom on the second floor, enter to find three unprotected seniors. Amari was lead in the school play and recently received a Stanford acceptance. Lily and Kira are best friends. Smile, calmly remind them of drill procedures, and direct them to the school counselor’s office until the drill is over. Move on.
●      Stairwells: Have you checked stairwells and blind corners? Proceed toward the auditorium to find four boys on a staircase leading to a catwalk. Jaylon, Asher, Ben, and Sam are stage crew working on lighting for a band concert, caged and unprotected by the black chain link fencing. Smile through nausea. Direct them to the counselor’s office with an unshaking voice. Move on.
●      Classrooms: Have you approached every classroom door and looked through each window to ensure no one can be seen? In the special education classroom, a substitute teacher is having difficulty maneuvering limited mobility students into hiding places. From her wheelchair, Jocelyn’s round face lights up when she sees you through the window. She smiles and waves like she always does when you come to visit. Despite your spinning stomach, smile and wave at back as Mrs. Finch rushes over to release the wheelchair brake and move Jocelyn out of view. Continue down the corridor and hold the wall to remain upright if necessary. Stagger forward. This is a drill.
Yes No N/A Post-Drill Follow-Up
●      Have you made your way back to the main office command post, checklist in hand? Appear confident to Ms. Williams, the school secretary, conveying everything’s under control. Bring your shaking hand up to the public address switch and announce, “All Clear.” Ring a dismissal bell to let everyone know it’s not a trap. It’s really all clear. It’s safe to emerge from hiding and finish solving an equation or continue discussing a Shakespeare sonnet. Tell them it’s really all clear and safe. It’s safe now.
●      Are you prepared to use this checklist to complete a debrief and follow-up plan? Are you prepared to identify every weak spot you’ve seen? Including your own? Would you be prepared to identify the bodies of students and staff? This is only a drill.
Yes No N/A Final Notes – Debrief
●      Go to the staff washroom. Lock the door behind you. Lean back into the cool brick wall and close your eyes. Feel the sob you’re not supposed to release at work as it threatens to escape. Swallow that sob even if you can’t stop the tears. Breathe deeply when you hear a knock on the door. Run the sink and splash cold water on your face. Check the mirror, unlock the door, and let Ms. Woods enter. Ask about her daughter and listen for her answer. Pause to offer empathy and reassurance as you turn to leave the washroom. Walk back to your office and do your best to silence the voice that will live in your head long after the drill is over: What if we can’t stop it what if we make a mistake what if it can’t be stopped? What if every checklist, checked box can’t stop, means nothing, can’t stop a mistake, weak spot, blind corner, propped door, can’t be stopped? What if we can’t? Move on. 



Deb Fenwick is a Chicago-born writer who currently lives in Oak Park, Illinois. After spending nearly thirty years working as an arts educator, school program specialist, youth advocate, and public school administrator, she now writes stories that have been patiently waiting to be told. You can find her work in Hippocampus Magazine and Cleaver and connect with her on Twitter @debfenwrites.