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Active Shooter Drills Can Harm Participants' Mental Health

Ryan Loew
Yarra Howze (left), principal at Pittsburgh Allegheny 6-8, and Beth Delawder (right), assistant principal at Pittsburgh Arlington PreK-8, listen to a group discussion during ALICE training on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.

On today’s program: Pennsylvania's attorney general marks one year since the release of a grand jury report exposing widespread clergy abuse; how sidewalks form an overlooked part of Pittsburgh’s transportation network; a school security expert examines the effectiveness of current protections, and a panel weighs in on the harmful effects of active shooter drills in schools.

The aftermath of clergy abuse investigations 
(00:00 — 7:31)

Today marks one year since the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that document allegations of sexual abuse posed against more than 300 Catholic priests. For The Confluence, WESA's Chris Potter spoke to state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who says the document reveals a “cover-up” that "stretched all the way to the Vatican.” The report has since sparked similar investigations across the country, including in Illinois and New Jersey.

Shapiro's office is promoting a more lenient criminal statute of limitations for child victims; changes to confidentiality agreements and reporting guidelines; the opportunity for survivors to confront their abusers in court; monetary damages; and greater oversight for the church, which he says "cannot be trusted to police itself."

“I wish I could’ve charged all of those living predator priests, but the laws of our commonwealth are weak,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m telling you—do not bet against the will of the people, especially the will of a Pennsylvanian.”

Legislation to change the limit for child victims has advanced in the House, but made no progress in the Senate.

Sidewalks are a necessity, not a nicety 
(7:34 — 16:35)

As Pittsburgh officials examine the future of city streets and increase non-car transit options, attention has turned to a less glamorous option—sidewalks. Once a revolutionary innovation in city design, they were deprioritized as cars became more popular, and in more recent years, some sidewalks have fallen by the wayside. WESA transportation reporter Margaret J. Krauss looks at how sidewalks could change how Pittsburghers get around.

School safety isn't drastically improved by modern security measures
(17:52 — 24:16)

Since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, school districts have had to more seriously consider campus security, and in the wake of recent mass gun violence attacks like Parkland, the conversation has turned again to how districts can protect themselves. Ken Trump, school safety expert and president of National School Safety and Security Services, talked with The Confluence’s Megan Harris about his concerns that investments in hardware and equipment amount more to “security theater” than useful safety policy.

What active shooter drills do to participants' mental health
(24:17 — 39:04)

School lockdowns, in which students and teachers barricade doors and hide in classrooms to simulate what would happen if an outside intruder attacked, were implemented nationwide after Columbine. But in recent years, some schools have begun conducting active shooter drills using the ALICE method (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) that feature more realistic simulations, often including non-lethal weapons like Airsoft guns. reporter Brittany Hailer finds the potential stress and anxiety they cause student and adult participants can far outweigh any effort at preparedness; Hamline University criminal justice professor and researcher Jillian Peterson goes further. She works with the U.S. Department of Justice on its mass shooter database and published one of the nation's only studies on the subject, sampling about 70 mass shootings

"And 91% of the time, when a school shooting happens, the perpetrator is a student in the school, so ... that student has been running through these lockdown drills and are trained in the exact procedure," Peterson says. "In which there's some cases where those drills can be used to increase casualties."

Farooq Al-Said, director of operations of 1Hood Media and K-8 gym teacher with Propel Schools, says most facilities seem too focused on throwing money at the problem—that no one is considering student mental health.

"School itself is an oppressive environment in most cases," says Al-Said, "and when you toss around to kids, 'Oh you could die today. Let's train about how you could die and not die today.' That opens up a whole different can of worms."

90.5 WESA's Tom Hurley, Julia Zenkevich, Julia Maruca and Hannah Gaskill contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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