Why Blocked Access Fire Drills are so Helpful in Improving School Emergency Preparedness

I will never forget the first time I observed a blocked access drill.  We were working with a school corporation in Indiana and the principal of an elementary school we were assessing asked if we would observe a fire drill to see if we could provide any suggestions for improvement.  When the fire alarm sounded, students began to file out of a classroom close to where we were positioned.  The principal had taped off the area where our group was standing and blocked the main entry way to the school.  The first student to emerge from the classroom immediately stated in a loud clear voice “our access is blocked, we need to seek an alternate route” whereupon he turned and led his class to another exit door. 

I was and remain to this day most impressed with how the students moved quickly, in an orderly fashion without being spread out or too closely clumped together.  I was even more impressed to learn that the school conducted blocked access drills routinely to teach students and staff to think on their feet.  The research on how the human brain functions under stress indicates that the thoughtful approach to fire drills adopted by the school’s principal many years ago has better prepared her students and employees to face almost any type of crisis not only at her school but in any setting.  By teaching students and staff to quickly adapt and change direction for a blocked access during a fire, she has provided a valuable lesson for any emergency they may encounter – there are times when we must deviate from our normal emergency procedures to save human life.

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.