In the wake of the tragic deaths in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and other recent mass shootings, Jaclyn Schildkraut of the criminal justice faculty has provided her expertise to international, national and regional media outlets, bringing reason and research into a topic that is emotional and, unfortunately, ever timely.

Most notably, Schildkraut appeared on CNN to discuss school lockdown drills in a debate hosted by Pamela Brown on Saturday evening. While some have raised concerns on these drills and their potential traumatizing effects, Schildkraut – who has conducted more than 300 of them successfully, pursues research on their effectiveness and success, and has a book coming out on the subject – noted that they can be done responsibly and are intended to provide “muscle memory” for students to know what to do if the unthinkable happens.

The CNN appearance is among the many interviews Schildkraut has conducted focusing on the lockdown drills aspect but, as she said during that appearance, the conversation doesn’t account for the number of students who are kept safe in these school shootings because they are behind a locked door and following the training. The focus on the loss of life is understandable, Schildkraut noted, but doesn’t provide context on these drills’ benefits.

Schildkraut also responded to lockdown drills questions for New York magazine’s Intelligencer section. Since there are no national standards or guidelines for how to conduct these drills – only mandates in some states they take place – Schildkraut and colleagues are working on the best, most effective and least traumatizing ways of making them useful.

‘Mitigate and minimize trauma’

“We incorporate best practices and guidance from the National Association of School Psychologists on how to mitigate and minimize trauma during lockdown drills,” Schildkraut told New York’s Aaron Short. “There are things you can do to help create a calmer environment. You can make sure you always call the practice as a drill. Make sure the teachers model calm behavior. Make time for debriefs so students can ask questions or talk about how they’re feeling.”

Many, including Schildkraut, are concerned about reports on drills that use unrecommended techniques such as fake blood, crisis actors or sounds of gunfire. None of that is required, she said, and would be as irresponsible as lighting a school ablaze to practice fire drills.

Instead, Schildkraut said, drills should both instill the required knowledge and take the emotional context into account. Her research has found that when drills are conducted properly, participants feel less anxiety and a higher sense of well-being. And general reactions have been positive.

“We get thumbs up, students telling us they’re okay,” Schildkraut said. “We work with students from pre-K all the way up to 12th grade, and the general tone I have observed is that they are taking this very seriously. They’re calm, and they ask good questions. I have not in four years been told that parents are upset or anyone had adverse reactions.”

Closer to home, Schildkraut worked with Syracuse's CNYCentral to explain lockdown drills, in a piece that discussed how much time she spends on Twitter debunking unverified claims and misleading narratives. These have included the idea that training students on drills can help a shooter know how potential victims will react, which Schildkraut thinks is a misguided view.

When we think about the average shooting which is five minutes or less, these individuals are not trying to breach locked doors,” Schildkraut said. “We know the door lock is the number one life-saving device. From my perspective, while we don’t wish to be training any individuals who are plotting a mass shooting, even with that information they don’t have time to beat the plan. So I have to balance the well-being and preparedness of 20,000 students to one possible student.”

NewsChannel 9 in Syracuse also interviewed Schildkraut about the seeming normalization of mass shootings, the importance of staying aware of one's surroundings and the need to address problems and causes at the root of these ongoing happenings.

Schildkraut also did an interviw with Fox 35 in Orlando -- where she graduated from the University of Central Florida -- on knowing what warning signs might exist for mass shooters and on planning. 

Bigger picture

Schildkraut, who also is the interim director of the SUNY-affiliated Rockefeller Institute of Government’s Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium, additionally addressed such wider issues as regulation and prevention in a video interview that SUNY published on its Twitter account.

She talked about the wider picture of gun violence, not just mass shootings, plus red flag laws, the need for more research and how more people can be part of the solution. 

“The work we are doing as a group, as individuals, can absolutely save lives because we have ideas and we have evidence to support those ideas,” Schildkraut said. “We just need the opportunity to share them.”

Working with the consortium, Schildkraut also led a discussion titled “Changing the way we talk and respond to mass shootings” on Twitter Spaces on June 3.

For a roundup of Schildkraut’s interviews, visit the In The News section of her website.

Lockdown Drills: Connecting Research and Best Practices for School Administrators, Teachers and Parents,” a book coming out in September co-authored by Schildkraut and Amanda Nickerson of the University at Buffalo, intends to disseminate the right ways to do these drills responsibly and promote school safety.

As Schildkraut noted in the New York magazine piece, it’s an unfortunate responsibility for those like her trying to keep children safe and parents informed.

“I wish we lived in a world where we don’t have to worry about having to respond to these situations,” Schildkraut said. “But we live in that world. Parkland has shown that. Sandy Hook has shown that. Now Uvalde has shown that. It’s important we prepare students to respond to all emergencies they face in that school. It is better to have a plan and not need it than need it and not have it. Until that time comes, we need to ensure we are preparing in a safe and empowering manner.”