KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) –  Schools in East Tennessee and across the state were targeted by false active shooter calls, prompting investigations by state and federal authorities.

Shannon Dow is a licensed clinical social worker with the McNabb Center who works with school systems on how to handle active shooter drills, school threats, and other topics that can impact students’ mental health.

“We serve many children who have varying diagnoses, particularly we see children who experience anxiety,” Dow said.

“One in four children has experienced a traumatic event that has impacted their life,” she said. “So we do need to keep that in mind as we facilitate these active shooter drills.”

It’s not just students that are impacted by these preventative drills and real-life events.

Knox County Education Association president Paula Hancock says it affects staff too.

“These are traumatic experiences and we always want to make sure that we address and support the total student and the educator. We want to make sure that we support them mentally emotionally and physically.”

Dow’s team teaches school staff ways to help students cope during these types of drills.

“Prior to an active shooter drill, make sure to use developmentally appropriate language to describe the drill and the actions students should take during the drill,” Dow explained. “Always announce an active shooter drill.” 

“After the drill, identify staff members to check in with all of the students, and do a debriefing, specifically for those children who have a known trauma,” Dow said.

There are also several steps parents can take to check on their kids.

“We want to meet them where they are and if they are in feelings, sit with them in feeling in that,” she said. “Let’s talk about feelings rather than go into fixing it.”

Hancock added that students’ safety is the number one priority and their mental health has to be considered in the process,

“We have always been in a fight to keep our schools safe from gun violence and we remain committed to ending gun violence in our nation’s public schools and in communities. We want to make sure we stay in that fight through legislative action, crisis prevention, and supporting the mental health education and well-being of every student and educator.”

Tennessee ranked 41st in a list of states identifying mental illness in children and access to care in a recent study by Mental Health America.