Michigan schools cut corners, break laws on safety drills: A failure to focus on fundamentals

Posted by on March 12, 2013

Many Michigan schools are cutting corner and violating both the spirit and letter of state laws on school crisis drills, according to an investigative report by MLive news reporters.

A multi-month extensive review of thousands of public records found fire, lockdown, and other drills not being done, not done enough times, and done too late in the school year to be of much help at more than 400 schools across the state. The investigation also revealed what we have been saying now for years: That schools avoid conducting drills during lunch periods and other times inconvenient to adults, but critical for preparing to make schools safer.

Mandatory records were not fully completed or were missing. Many principals and superintendents did not know the laws’ requirements or found them inconvenient. In one case, documents appeared falsified, according to the report.

Michigan laws require six fire drills, two lockdown drills and two tornado drills per school year. At least some of the 10 drills must be done during recess, lunch, class change or another time when most students are not in class, the story noted.

The entire series of statewide stories can be found at MLive.com.

This excellent investigation reinforces what I have long said: State laws may require schools to conduct drills, but there are typically few carrots and no sticks (no consequences) that go along with the state mandates. The result is that far too many school administrators focus on checking off boxes that drills were completed rather than conducting drills in a manner most effective for truly improving school emergency preparedness.

The stories also reinforce a point I have repeatedly stressed following the Sandy Hook school shootings: While school safety discussions have focused on extreme, highly-questionable ideas like arming teachers and teaching kids to attack armed intruders, far too many schools continue to fail to focus on implementing the fundamental best practices of of school safety, security, and emergency preparedness.

It is highly likely that the MLive.com investigation could be replicated and have the same findings in most states across the nation.

If schools administrators refuse to follow the spirit and letter of state laws for conducting fire, lockdown,  and tornado drills, what makes supporters of extreme ideas like arming teachers and teaching kids to attack armed intruders believe that those questionable approaches would come close to being safely and effectively implemented?

Ken Trump

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2 thoughts on “Michigan schools cut corners, break laws on safety drills: A failure to focus on fundamentals

  1. Broeck Oder says:

    Thanks for highlighting this, Ken, as it rings true with my own experience of 25 years of involvement in school safety. Parents have to be very pro-active and hold school leaders to account, especially since, as you note, there are no “sticks” in the laws of many states. I have found here in California that failure to hold these drills can be considered a danger to school EMPLOYEES, which means OSHA (state or Federal, as appropriate) can become the “stick,” if someone is willing to report the situation.

  2. John Henderson says:

    It is never good news to hear that so many are not taking these drills seriously. The persons in positions of responsibility at these schools obviously are not cognizant of how badly they will be held accountable if an attacker enters their particular school with disastrous results, only for investigators to learn later that no one took the emergency program seriously enough to practice it properly. The plans are there for a reason and if they do not work, there will be many casualties. It is too easy to undermine your own plan by not doing it properly. The problem is that local responders will expect the students and staff to be doing everything as planned, and it requires practice in all situations: during class, during lunch, during breaks, etc…. In Canada, they have Coroner’s Inquests following serious emergencies where the province looks into how an emergency unfolded, who did what and what preparations or mitigations were in place. This is where officials can be held accountable for poor leadership or poor preparation. Seriousness about preparedness should never be displaced by convenience or the attitude that it will never happen in my building. As Mr. Oder put it, the “sticks” are actually there in the form of lawsuits and criminal charges following the emergency.

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