How and Why We Conduct Safety Drills in Our Schools

At the start of the school year and regularly throughout the year, every school is required to conduct safety drills. You may have heard about these drills from your child or your child’s school. We want to share information about what’s involved in these drills, what’s not involved, and why we do them.

About the Drills

In accordance with Virginia State Code, every school is required to conduct a fire drill every month and four violent intruder (formerly ‘lockdown’) drills per school year. In addition, two of each type of drill must be completed within the first 20 instructional days of the school year. Schools also complete two school bus evacuation drills per year and an earthquake drill in October and a tornado drill in March. The goal of these drills is to ensure that all staff and students know how to respond to an emergency event, severe weather situation or other incidents in their schools.

As we have been sharing over the past year, ACPS has adopted new emergency procedures for violent intruder situations based on training provided by the ALICE Training Institute, the number one active shooter civilian response training for all organizations. It provides options-based strategic methods against an active shooter event. ACPS is leading the way as one of the only school districts in Virginia to offer this training. Our emergency response procedures reflect national best practices regarding options for action in the event of a violent incident.

Research into violent encounters has shown that when those at the scene of an incident are empowered to take actions appropriate to the situation, fewer lives are lost. These new procedures empower staff and students to take actions appropriate to each individual situation and act as they think best.

What Happens During a Drill

  • The drills that are conducted and the potential responses that are demonstrated are appropriate to the age of the students and the situation. Information shared with students at the secondary level will be different than the information and options available to students at the elementary level. During an actual violent intruder event, students at the elementary level will be directed by teachers. In our middle and high schools, where students move through our larger buildings more independently and may not always be in the presence of a teacher, students will be empowered to make decisions that keep them safe based on their circumstances.
  • The drills focus on techniques that staff and students can use as part of an overall response. Options include evacuating (fleeing the scene), barricading (barring entry by an intruder) and distracting (disrupting the intruder’s focus by throwing books, water bottles and anything at hand).
  • The drills are meant to empower students and staff to take appropriate action based on their specific situation and circumstances. In the past, an entire building followed the same instruction. Experience has shown that different responses, such as evacuating a building, might be more effective in certain situations.

What Does Not Happen During a Drill

  • Students are not asked or required to role play as a violent intruder.
  • The drills do not involve language, actions or demonstrations that are inappropriate for the age of the students involved.
  • Student drills do not involve any weapons at all – real or fake.
  • The drills to not emulate the intense training in which our staff participated.

The techniques and options students practice during these drills can help keep them safe far beyond our school building. They can potentially be used in any emergency or violent intruder situation.

Keeping Our Children Safe is a Community Effort

To date, the majority of ACPS staff members have been trained in our violent intruder response. This means there are staff members at every campus/school including Central Office who have completed violent intruder training. We will continue training staff over the next few months with a goal of having all staff fully trained by the start of winter break.

ACPS is aware that it takes a community effort to keep our schools safe. We will continue to work closely with our partners in the police department, including our school resource officers (SROs), and the fire department, to ensure that we have coordinated emergency plans in place in the event of an incident in Alexandria. We also work on a daily basis to meet the social and emotional needs of our students and staff with the goal of identifying potential issues before they turn into a tragedy, and take any potential threat to our schools very seriously.

We ask that you review information about how we communicate in an emergency and the frequently asked questions about our emergency procedures and weather alerts and emergency notifications.

And remember, in the event of an emergency, please do not call or text your child. The first priority for staff is to address the threat and ensure that all students are safe. Phone calls can distract from this priority and may potentially alert an intruder to the location of a student. The ACPS Office of Communications will communicate with families as soon as possible. Staff, students and parents can sign up for ACPS alerts via the City of Alexandria eNews, as indicated at

Thank you for helping to keep our schools and students as safe as possible.

ACPS, Safety and Security