It happened again: On February 4, two teens were shot at a Maryland High School. And since the December 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, there have been at least 104 school shootings — an average of one per week.

To help students and teachers prepare for the possibility of a shooting or other emergency, lockdown drills are regularly practiced in schools throughout the country. During a drill, children are instructed to huddle in classroom corners, doors and windows are locked, and everyone has to stay as quiet as possible. The question many parents have: Do these drills actually improve a student’s safety?

Absolutely, says Paul Timm, a physical security professional at RETA Security, an Illinois-based independent security consulting firm that specializes in school security. “Lockdown drills are like any other kind of practice,” he says. “They provide an opportunity to walk through emergency response procedures. While specific procedures may not work perfectly in every situation, they prepare students and staff to respond in an orderly and safe manner.”

“The purpose of a lockdown is to get students and staff away from harm’s way,” says Kenneth S. Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in school security assessments and emergency preparedness training.  “They become more proficient at doing so through practice, just like a fire drill.”

Without these drills, Timm says that in the event of an emergency, students and teachers may act unpredictably and tend toward chaos. “For more than 50 years, mandated fire drills have demonstrated the effectiveness of emergency response procedures,” he says. “No students have died in school fires.”

What parents can do to help

So what should parents teach their children about lockdown drills, as well as overall school safety? Follow the lead of the experts, Timm suggests.

“Parents should affirm the instruction students are receiving at school,” he says. “School administrators and community response agencies, such as local law enforcement officials, have developed and/or are developing effective response procedures. Parents should encourage children to follow the direction they will receive from administrators, staff and emergency responders and take drills seriously.”

“Parents who teach children to respond differently potentially endanger their children and the greater school population,” Timm adds.

And, if you have a very young child, share information about school safety with care.

“In general, the youngest children aren’t being exposed to upsetting information,” Timm says. “School administrators and emergency responders are very careful to communicate age-appropriate emergency preparedness instruction. So, for example, very young children are simply told to follow the instruction of teachers/administrators and that drills are a way to practice safety.”

Since educators serve ‘in loco parentis’ in place of parents — when children are at school— it’s essential for educators to take reasonable steps to reduce risks and to prepare for emergencies, says Trump. “Lockdowns are just one part of a comprehensive school safety security and preparedness strategy,” he says. 

Lambeth Hochwald is a New York City-based journalist who covers such topics as family, health and parenting. She is a current contributor to Dr. Oz: The Good Life, Everyday With Rachael Ray and Yahoo Parenting.