Fire drills are one of those necessary evils of school administration. In the jurisdictions that I’ve worked, they have been legally required and it can be a struggle to squeeze the appropriate number in each school year.

It’s not that I’m opposed to having the drills or the opportunity for a little fresh air that goes along with them. They are important. In a school, you have to have a measure of fluency with your emergency preparedness plans. With so many moving parts (read this as students, parents, and faculty), the potential for the unscheduled to occur is more probable than we want to think. It’s the scheduling of the drills that drives me nuts.

I’ve been responsible for coordinating fire drills over the last five years in the two schools that I’ve been an administrator. Here’s a short list of the factors that I’ve had to contend with when wanting to put a fire drill on the schedule.

  • Transitions between periods
  • Lunch time
  • Dismissal
  • Arrival
  • Nap time
  • Tests
  • The day of the week or period of the last drill
  • Admissions testing
  • Donor meetings
  • When in the period the drills scheduled for
  • PE classes
  • Special programs

Plus, of course, the weather. Is it any wonder why scheduling fire drills can drive me crazy?

Yet, somehow, I do get them scheduled. And having once worked in a school where there was a fire, they are important. Looking ahead to getting the rest of this year’s fire drills scheduled, I’m thinking about how to do they smarter.

One thought continually comes to mind after a drill. We constantly evacuate the building using all available exits. But, if we can get through all of the hallways to all of their stairwells, where is the fire? This may be a bit sadistic, but I’m thinking for my next fire drill to have a staff member where a big red and yellow sign that says, “Hi, I’m the fire.” and block off that exit. I wonder what the reaction will be.

Are there more ways to make fire drills more effective training tools? And how do we overcome the reluctance of some staff to accept this necessary interruption to the school day? How do you convey to students the seriousness of the drill? How do you improve performance from drill to drill?