Keeping our schools safe is every school employee, student, and family’s No. 1 priority, but we know and recognize emergency drills and other active threat exercises can be traumatic. Here’s what you need to know.
New Rules for Emergency Drills
Passed by the 87th Legislature in 2021, Senate Bill 168 mandated that school districts must adopt and complete certain procedures before conducting an active threat exercise
, as well as mandated rules for best practices for emergency school drills and exercises.
Many education advocates and organizations — including Texas AFT — provided comments and suggestions both for SB 168 and TEA’s final rules, primarily aimed at reducing the traumatic effect of on-campus drills on students and employees.
Best Practices for Emergency Drills
TEA’s new rules clarify that school safety drills (e.g., fire evacuation drills, lockdown drills) do not include persons acting as active aggressors or other simulated threats. These are now categorized as “active threat exercises,” which have their own guidelines and requirements.
Even these drills, however, should be planned and conducted in a trauma-informed manner to maximize learning and to minimize potential trauma for students and staff:
- Drills and exercises should be designed and conducted in accordance with guidance and best practice resources provided by the Texas School Safety Center.
- Drill and exercise design should include purpose, goals, and objectives that are stated in plans for each type of drill. Input in planning should be sought from multiple stakeholder perspectives for each type of drill and exercise, including:
- the district School Safety and Security Committee;
- first responders;
- mental and behavioral health professionals;
- students and families; and
- staff, including non-traditional teachers, coaches, trade instructors, custodians, and food service workers.
- School districts should provide advance notification of drills and exercises.
- Drill and exercise design should be age- and developmentally appropriate
Frequency of Emergency Drills
TEA’s rules specify the frequency at which various types of emergency drills should occur:
- Secure drill: 1 per school year
- Lockdown drill: 2 per school year (1 per semester)
- Evacuation drill: 1 per school year
- Shelter-in-place for hazardous materials drill: 1 per school year
- Shelter for severe weather drill: 1 per school year
- Fire evacuation drill: School districts should consult with their local fire marshal and comply with the fire marshal’s requirements and recommendations. If a district does not have a local fire marshal, it should conduct 4 drills per school year (2 per semester).
New Rules for Active Threat Exercises
An active threat exercise is defined by TEA as any exercise that includes “a simulated active aggressor or an active shooter simulation.”
Texas AFT and other education groups advocated to TEA that students should not be required to participate in active threat exercises. The agency disagreed with this request, but its new rules do make clear that school districts are not required to conduct active threat exercises.
If a school district chooses to conduct an active threat exercise, per TEA rules, it should be designed and completed in a way that accounts for not only the physical safety of all participants, but also their psychological safety.
Requirements for Active Threat Exercises
School districts are required to provide and post notice of upcoming active threat exercises at least two weeks prior to the exercise. That notice should include the date and whether the exercise will include a live simulation that mimics or appears to be an actual shooting incident.
Schools are also required to make an audible announcement over the campus public address system immediately prior to the start of the exercise, noting that it is only an exercise and not a real emergency.
Finally, school districts are required to incorporate input from multiple stakeholder perspectives in the design of the exercise and ensure the content tends to the physical and psychological safety of all participants.
These active threat exercises should:
- be planned in a trauma-informed manner to minimize potential trauma for students, staff, and other participants
- have a predetermined method for participants to withdraw from the exercise before or during the exercise, developed and communicated before the exercise
- provide access to mental health support before, during, and after the exercise
- support the cognitive and emotional well-being of each individual and consider the impact that prior trauma, grief, and crisis experiences have had on a participant’s development prior to the exercise
- Texas Administrative Code Section 103.1209
- Texas Administrative Code Section 103.1211
- Senate Bill 168
If you have questions or concerns about how these rules are being followed in your school district, please contact your local union. If you’re a member of the Associate Membership Program, please contact the AMP service department.