Our on-site school officer feels like the mock drills are worthless because there isn't a real sense of urgency when the drill is performed. So for the administrators during the summer, he had the whole SWAT team come in and demonstrate a real threat! They had smoke floating throughout the hallways and kids (actors) screaming and freaking out. The administrators were really impressed and scared during the whole of it. I wished that I had been there to see it; it sounded really REAL! The administrators also wished they could do that with the kids, but then the students would freak out so much, we'd really have a problem on our hands!
Many people are not really ready to think about disasters. A disaster drill requires people to face the scary reality and prepare for it. Having a disaster plan and kit could be the different between life and death for a family. A drill reminds people what could happen.
Disaster drills are critical to provide experience and a sense of competence if a real disaster were to strike. They also provide a way to see where the system has faults which can be corrected or equipment ordered which eliminate the problem. As there is often turnover in personnel, drills are necessary for new people to be trained or for cross-training where more than one person is trained to do a critically important job. Speed is also necessary in a disaster, and speed only comes with repetition in training. I do believe that training can truly help and provide the experience of close to a real disaster; however, it is true that the real thing is so much more intense because you realize that these are real people dying and not just practice. That intensity can be immobilizing for a bit, but training should take over and allow the rescue personnel to do their jobs.
Disaster response drills are very important for three reasons.
First, it allows people to physically go over what will happen when a disaster hits. In this way, there will be less of a surprise. And more importantly, they will know what to do.
Second, drills also allow for there to be new ideas and make more effective plans if they are needed.
Third, drills make sure that emergency equipment actually works and is ready.
There are surely benefits to doing such drills and tests. They allow responders to try to work together in scenarios that are as close to the real thing as possible. The drills allow the responders to find and iron out the problems that can occur as multiple agencies try to coordinate responses to big events.
The problem I see is that there is a huge gap between "close to the real thing" and the actual real thing. It is surely very difficult to provide any training drill that will truly give responders a taste of how things would actually be in an emergency.