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This Is Not a Drill

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"This is the Captain speaking. We're just about to enter the patrol area. From now until the time we return there will be no drills. All alarms are real."
Announcement made on US nuclear submarine during 1961

This is the real thing. Cautionary statement during a time of military emergency to inform personnel (and the audience) that any alarms or sirens are signals of imminent threat, and that they should be prepared to respond accordingly. Since actual drills and other training exercises are clearly announced as such (keep reading to learn why), this is Truth in Television.

On modern warships, drills are conducted frequently to prepare the crew for some emergency situation or another. Typically an announcement is given throughout the ship before starting the drill (something like: "the ship is entering a training environment..." or "This is a drill, this is a drill!") so that no one actually takes any actions which would be appropriate in an emergency but harmful otherwise. For example: Triggering the engine room's Halon flood if there is not an actual engine fire. This would: 1) mightily piss off everyone who works there, 2) risk their deaths by suffocation if they can't get their emergency oxygen gear on in time, and 3) cost a whole heckuvalot to replace the Halon and emergency oxygen gear. Thus, if a real emergency occurs while a drill is being carried out, the announcement "Actual casualty!" or "This is not a drill!" will be given to alert everyone.

In the US Air Force, training messages are preceded by the announcement, spoken or written: EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE. Other announcements are assumed to be real world.

At least in the Submarine force of the US Navy, drills are augmented with personnel, usually senior or experienced enlisted, who act as the Drill Team, who wear a distinctive item that signifies them as a member of the Drill Team (such as a red ballcap). The purpose of the Drill Team is to allow participants to take their actions with as much verisimilitude as possible, intervening only to keep the participant from taking an action (such as the above mentioned Halon example) that would cause harm to the ship or crew but otherwise letting them do everything else as if it were real. Reactor SCRAM drills actually involve SCRAM'ing the reactor for real. It's an interesting synthesis of the trope, because even though there is often no advance warning of a 'casualty,' the obvious presence of the Drill Team makes it clear that a Drill is being conducted for those in the affected space.

The Royal Navy simply add a prefix — drills are preceded by "For Exercise" three times. There's also the Safeguard Rule — when this is in force, no mention is made of drills/exercises, and everything is announced as if it was real. Any genuine incidents are preceded by the word "Safeguard". It's a distinctive word, and everyone knows what it means, so there is no need to remind people that "This is not a drill". Nothing makes people freeze like hearing "Safeguard, safeguard, safeguard!" over the main broadcast.

Has nothing at all to do with This Is a Drill or This Is Not A Pipe. Compare And You Thought It Was a Game, in which a situation originally mistaken for entertainment turns out to be the real thing. Also compare Red Alert, which often uses this for extra measure.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Full Metal Panic! has an interesting example — when Gauron has taken control of the AI of the high-tech submarine, the Tuatha de Danaan, he starts a fire-drill to isolate the entire crew in the cargo deck. During this drill, the speakers do in fact blare, "This is a drill"...
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex does this properly, when a chopper pilot dies during a training exercise, the dispatcher announces "This is not a drill" before giving the order to withdraw.

    Film — Live-Action 

In General:

  • Any movie involving nuclear missile submarines will have at least a reference to missile launch drills.
    • In Crimson Tide, a fire breaks out in the kitchen. While the XO is helping to put the fire out, the Captain orders a launch drill, although the actual wording of the announcement given by both the Captain and the XO is "This is an exercise." The exercise is cut short, though, when a sailor dies from the fire. And later in the movie, a real launch order comes in.
    • In The Hunt for Red October, Captain Ramius mentions conducting missile drills in his speech to the crew.
    • K-19: The Widowmaker begins with a missile drill aboard the titular submarine. The audience isn't told it's a drill until the system shorts out. Later, the new captain conducts repeated drills, always prefaced with an announcement that it is a drill. When the reactor accident happens and the announcement comes that it isn't a drill, a still-only-half-awake sailor complains, "Doesn't he ever get tired of drills?"


  • The Avengers: This phrase blares over speakers as the Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. faculty is being evacuated due to the Tesseract "misbehaving".
  • In The Day After, an Air Force officer, notified of an incoming Soviet nuclear strike, asks if it's just a drill. He waits for a reply, then:
    "Roger, copy. This is not an exercise!"
  • Parodied in the movie Dogma:
    Hospital P. A.: I repeat, this is not a drill. This is the apocalypse. Please exit the hospital in an orderly fashion. Thank you.
  • In Dr. Strangelove, Gen. Ripper tells Captain Mandrake to relay "Wing Attack Plan R" to the squadron airborne over Russia—it calls for the planes to attack Russian targets. Mandrake thinks it's a drill. Ripper says otherwise.
  • Announced constantly in The Fifth Element, pretty much whenever the police show up.
  • Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. The cadets are shown undergoing drills since their introductory scene, so when the Covenant attack and they're ordered to get to the Tether to evacuate, guards shout at them to hustle because this isn't a drill.
  • In In Harm's Way, the cruiser sailors are sent to battle stations on Dec. 7, 1941 through an announcement, "This is not a drill, this is not a drill, all hands man your battle stations."
  • In Jurassic World, Claire says this while issuing a containment alert when it looks like the new Indominus rex has escaped from her cage. Then it turns out that she's still in the cage...and so are three workers...
  • Pearl Harbor: When the Japanese planes came in to attack Pearl Harbor, many American military personnel, including one of the main characters, thought the Navy was doing practices or a drill. Even Danny thought "Why the hell is the Navy doing practice this early on a Sunday?" Eventually people started realizing the situation, especially after the P.A. system started screaming it was the real thing.
    USS West Virginia PA system: This is no shit! They just sunk the Arizona! General quarters! All hands man your battle stations! This is no damn drill!
  • Happens several times in The President's Last Bang, in which agents of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency assassinate President Park Chung-hee. After giving his men shoot-to-kill orders, Chief Agent Ju explains that "This is a real situation."
  • Subverted in Resident Evil (2002), where a woman tells a panicky co-worker "it's a security drill" right before the Halon is fired up and everyone dies.
  • Late in True Lies, when a nuclear bomb is about to go off in the Florida keys, Harry is heard barking orders over a radio to get Miami emergency services and so forth into place. "This is not a drill, you understand that?"
  • Averted in Wargames: the silo crews in the opening are specifically not told it's a drill to test their reactions in a real WWIII situation.
    "Turn your key, sir!"
  • The Atomic Cafe:
    Attention! Attention! This is an official civil defense warning. This is not a test. The United states is under nuclear attack. Take cover immediately in your area fallout shelter.

  • All Hands starts with a Red Alert message which includes a 'this is not a drill'. Twice.
  • Spoofed in a Harry Potter parody:
    The announcer: "This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. Last time was a drill, but now it is not! So what if last time I said it was not a drill? I needed to simulate a combat situation! But this time it is honestly not a drill. It's real! Move your asses!!!
  • Honor Harrington:
    • Near the climax of the first book, the eponymous heroine sends a "Case Zulu" message back to Command. The narrative takes a moment to inform the reader that Case Zulu means " Enemy Invasion Imminent" and it is never used in practices or war games to avoid Crying Wolf.
    • The explanation is reiterated in At All Costs when Haven attacks Manticore directly.
  • Into the Looking Glass: In Vorpal Blade, there are several "intruder alert" announcements for the Marines aboard the titular spacecraft, but when the Demons attack the trope phrase is added, though for some the "not a drill" announcement doesn't sink in immediately.
  • In Red Storm Rising, the crew of USS Pharris are told that as they are now in a shooting war, there will be no more drills.
  • Paul Carter's second book was named This Is Not a Drill partly for irony, because he's an oil driller, but mainly because he hears it for real in his first anecdote, where the crew are evacuating an oil rig in imminent danger of capsizing.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, Daur tells the other prisoners that it's a drill; Rawne says, "It's not a drill." Later, when the Ghosts are put on active pending status, Dalin Criid questions whether it's a drill.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted to the point of Crying Wolf and played straight in 100 Things to Do Before High School episode "Find Your Super Power Thing!". The principal is trying to beat the record for fastest fire drill and won't accept not beating the record. Therefore, she held multiple fire drills each day for a couple of days, infuriating the teachers and annoying the students. She also misused the fire extinguishers much to the consternation of the guidance counselor, Mr Roberts. When finally no one reacted to one fire drill, she tried to get the sprinkler system to go off in the science room, but accidentally started a fire with no way to put it out. Now it was up to Crispo to tell everyone it was not a drill.
  • Used in the first episode of Andromeda, right after the crew went through a battle stations drill.
    Thompson: Please tell me this is another drill!
    [the console emits sparks]
    Alien co-gunner: This is no drill!
    Thompson: I was afraid of that!
  • The Pilot Movie for Battlestar Galactica showed Viper pilots scrambling for an emergency with "This is no drill!" blaring on the PA system. Understandable in that the ship was about to be decommissioned and no one had seen or heard from the Cylons in forty years. Throughout the series, the crew continues to be regularly told "This is no drill" whenever the ship is on actual alert.
  • In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, it's revealed that Sheldon forces Leonard to participate in emergency drills so that they will be ready should the apocalypse ever strike Pasadena. They have personalised hard hats and reflective vests to wear.
  • In the first episode, Captain Man announced this to the members of Danger Force. It was, however, a subversion as he was testing to see how quickly they could get ready. They failed spectacularly.
  • In the 1957 CBS civil defense one-shot program, The Day Called 'X', which depicts the evacuation of Portland, Oregon in advance of a Soviet nuclear attack, the message "AN ATTACK IS NOT TAKING PLACE" appeared on the screen any time anyone on screen was mentioning anything that audiences might misconstrue as an actual, legitimate warning. Looks like CBS had taken the smack on the wrist they got in '38 to heart.
  • In an episode of Diagnosis: Murder, the hospital staff stage a fake emergency to demonstrate their preparedness in the event of an emergency, only for 1) one of their patients to turn up murdered and 2) a tunnel collapse resulting in the ER being flooded with real casualties. For bonus points, several cast members of both the series M*A*S*H and the movie M*A*S*H played supporting roles in the episode.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Hand of Fear" used the more Britishly laconic "This is not an exercise!"
    • "Warriors of the Deep" only had the computer of an underwater military base tell the crew whether or not it was a drill after they'd gone through the motions which would have launched the World War III Weapon of Mass Destruction missiles if it was not. Nobody was very surprised that the sync-operator (the guy that did the launching) was under stress.
    • "Orphan 55": The initial security breach at Tranquillity Spa is covered up by claiming that it's a safety drill and requesting all guests head to designated muster areas. When the Doctor summons any survivors of the attack to the security room, she says the trope name word-for-word.
  • The M*A*S*H episode "Big Mac" gives us this announcement while the unit is rehearsing for a visit from General MacArthur:
    (with great urgency) Attention, all personnel! General MacArthur has just passed checkpoint Able! He'll be here in seconds! This is not—repeat—this is not a rehearsal! This is a real emergency!
  • Played for laughs in Mock the Week in a Scenes We'd Like To See round; "Unlikely things to hear over a Tannoy(public address system in America)":
    "This is not a drill, repeat, this is not a drill! Would someone go to power tools and get me a drill?"
  • This warning comes up on NCIS when HQ suffers a bio-attack with Yersinia pestis bacteria—aka pneumonic plague.
  • Power Rangers:
    • Lampshaded in (of all things) a Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue episode: When the good guys are celebrating what they believe to be the defeat of the big bad, and the alarm goes off. One of the Rangers says "Tell me that's a drill." The mentor informs the team that they don't perform drills.
    • Shows up in Power Rangers S.P.D. during Delta Command Megazord's first appearance. Kat warns all personnel to get to designated safety zones, as the entire base is about to transform into a robot.
  • Parodied on Red Dwarf: "This is not a drill! This is a drill: [sound of pneumatic drill whirring]".
    • Another episode, in which the emergency damaged the ship computer's memory banks, had the computer announcing:
      Holly: Rude alert! Rude alert! An electrical fire has knocked out my voice-recognition unicycle! Many Wurlitzers are missing from my database! Abandon shop! This is not a daffodil! Repeat: This is not a daffodil!
      Rimmer: (sarcastically) Well, thankfully Holly's unaffected.
      • But since Holly, the ship's AI, is established to be suffering from computer senility, what Holly would say in a real emergency would likely be much the same.
    • Yet another episode (Red Dwarf loved this joke):
      Rimmer: (After trying to wake Lister and Cat) Look, Starbug is a blazing inferno, the engine room is waist deep in rocket fuel and we're being attacked off the starboard bow by an unidentified craft!
      Cat: Really?
      Rimmer: No, of course not really. It's a drill. We're pretending that Starbug is on fire and under attack.
      Lister: (Still in bed) And I'm pretending to scramble.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
    • Announced by Spock in one episode, while sirens whoop and the camera rapidly zooms in and pulls back repeatedly on a flashing red light.
    "Red alert. Red alert. This is no drill. Repeat. This is no drill."
    • In "The Corbomite Maneuver", Captain Kirk isn't happy with the sluggish response to his orders when they have to fire on a hostile alien spacecraft, and so orders some battle drills before going to his quarters. In a middle of a drill a much, much larger spacecraft turns up, so Sulu orders battle stations, giving this trope.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • In "Peak Performance", a combat drill and performance review is interrupted by an actual Ferengi attack.
    • It was also used repeatedly by Data in "11001001" when issuing an order to abandon ship.
  • Played with in The West Wing; after an assassination attempt, President Bartlet has been wounded and is being rushed to a nearby civilian hospital. A nurse answers the red alert phone and asks if it's a drill. Although Bartlet's Secret Service bodyguard replies in the negative, it doesn't really register, and the nurse spends a few minutes griping that it's not really a very good time for a drill. Then she sees the unmarked black cars screaming into the emergency bay with sirens blaring and Secret Service agents spilling out, and it registers.

  • Fleetwood Mac's "Peacekeeper":
    This is not a test, it's not a drill
    Take no prisoners, break their will
  • "Emergency" from the Trancemission from Raveland compilation: "This is not a test. This is an actual emergency."(Creepy Monotone voice)
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Christmas at Ground Zero":
    It's Christmas at ground zero
    The button has been pressed
    The radio just let us know
    That this is not a test

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • Featured in any Ace Combat game featuring a mission where your base starts being bombed by enemy forces.
    • Air Combat 22 has the AWACS warning you in the mission selection menu that an enemy attack is not a drill. Then, during the Fighter-Launching Sequence, you're helpfully reminded by part of the crew that "this is the real thing!"
    • Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, during an enemy attack:
      Sailor: Two— no, three ships are burning now!
      Traffic control: This is not a drill.
      Sailor: Oh, thanks for the heads-up, you idiot!
      • A possible Dark Reprise in a later mission; the reinforcements were told by the 8492nd that it was just a drill, and the AWACS had to (almost frantically) state that no, it wasn't a drill, there really was an air battle over the stadium and they needed the reinforcements. Justified in that the reinforcements, arriving from a distance away, couldn't see the combat area and couldn't tell for themselves whether or not it was a drill.
  • In Guild Wars Factions the Dragon Festival has a reenactment of the Nightfall invasion during the first ingame Dragon Festival and the reenactment requires actors dressed as Naga to stage a panicked mass exodus of Naga into Kaitan Village like the real Naga did during the Nightfall invasion to escape said invasion. As one of the guards in charge of the reenactment reveals when you reach her at Kaitan Village: the real Naga had decided to raid Kaitan Village presumably killing the actors playing them before attacking everyone else while the actors playing the part of the demons that drove said Naga out during the previous Dragon Festival take their places in the Naga's den unaware of the Naga attack (nor are the Naga aware that actors had moved into their den during said Naga raid either).
  • Halo:
    • Spoken by Cortana over the intercom at the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved as the Marines aboard the Pillar of Autumn are mobilizing to defend against Covenant boarding parties.
    • And heard again over the intercom in the opening mission of Halo 2, as the Covenant tries to board Cairo Station.
  • Found in the logs for a crashed freighter on Neith in Mass Effect 2:
    Evacuation Order: Attention all hands! We are on a collision course and losing systems fast! Report to the escape pods immediately! This is not a drill!
  • Near the end of Pajama Sam 2: Thunder and Lightning aren't so Frightening after all the critical machines are fixed. Thunder makes this announcement over the PA while alarms are going off.
    Thunder: Attention, all personnel! The President is arriving. This is not a drill.
  • Phoning Home: While they plummet to the surface of the planet, the ship's A.I. tells ION "This is not a simulation.".
  • Used in the beginning of the Sonic Adventure 2 Dark Side Story when Dr. Eggman attacks the military base where Shadow is kept. As Eggman tears his way through the forces of GUN, the announcements become more and more frantic.
  • Every space battle fought with the clones or rebels in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has this trope being yelled out by a voice while you are in the hangar.
    Rebel Alliance Commander: The hangar is under fire! This is not a drill!
  • In Under Defeat, at the beginning of Stage 1-2 and 2-2, a loudspeaker can be heard alerting Union forces of your arrival:
    "Enemy attack! Battle stations, battle stations! All hands to battle stations! This is not a drill! I say again: This is not a drill!"
  • The opening cutscene for X-COM: Apocalypse:
    "Launch all X-Com fighters! Stand by all combat teams! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!"

  • Parodied along with Red Alert in Darths & Droids #797. R2-D2 sets off an alarm in his attempt to hack into the Peace Moon, then sets off another alarm when he tries to shut off the first one. Meanwhile another alarm is set off by the noise from the first two alarms. Then the P.A. system gets in on it.
    Peace Moon P.A. System: Attention all personnel! This is an alarm trigger alert. This is not a drill! Not only is this not a drill, it's not a drill that we're pretending is not a drill!
  • In El Goonish Shive, this is one of the things Grace hears during Damien's attack on the facility where she was created.
    P.A. System: —Evacuate! This is not a drill! Everyone get out of—*urk*

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of American Dad! had Stan late to a CIA nuclear war exercise. Director Bullock had told everybody that once the exercise begins, everybody is to act like the crisis is 100% real. Stan rushes in and asks if it's real, and Bullock says, "One Hundred Percent!" Causing Stan to panic and rush his family to the woods.
  • Spoofed in The Angry Beavers Halloween special, where a general scrambling the troops goes "This is not a drill! Repeat, this is not a drill! If it was a drill, I'd be telling you it was, but it's not!"
  • In Detentionaire, the warning for the second meltdown at the Green Apple Splat factory goes off just as the tour guide is explaining how the warning works, so it takes some time for everyone to realize it's actually happening.
    Sal: First there was a loud siren. [Siren goes off.] Like that. Then red lights came on. [Red lights come on.] Like that. Then we ran. Like this. [Runs off, then doubles back.] No, seriously, you better run.
  • The Simpsons parodied it way back when they were a short on The Tracey Ullman Show. One short has Homer waking the family and herding them into a bomb shelter yelling that "World War Three has begun" and "This is not a drill". When they get to the bomb shelter, he reveals to the viewers that it was a drill, and chastises his family for taking so long — but they aren't listening due to being rightfully shivering in terror.
    • After this happens a couple more times, the family turns the tables on Homer and lock him in the shelter for the night.
      Homer: Run for your lives everybody, this is not a drill!
  • Star Wars Resistance: In "Descent", Captain Doza says this while ordering the residents of the Colossus to their shelters because the platform is sinking into the ocean.
  • In the very first Rocky and Bullwinkle story arc, radio announcer Dorson Bells announces the pending arrival of a spaceship from the moon (actually bearing our heroes). It plays off the War of the Worlds hysteria of some twenty years prior:
    This is not, repeat, not a play. Please feel free to panic!

    Real Life 
  • Qualifies as one of the oldest in the book. It probably dates back to the navies of the 19th Century, when ships became very large and powered by steam. The "black gang" down in the machinery could see and hear nothing of what was going on beyond the hull of the ship.
    • The classic historical example of its use is in the alarm bulletin sent out by telegraph on December 7, 1941: "AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR THIS IS NOT DRILL".
    • American survivors of the battle later said that the wording was far more pungent — which in itself convinced them that the attack was for real.
  • Then there is the joke: This is not a drill. Repeat, this is NOT a drill. This is a chainsaw.
  • The U.S. National Weather Service's enhanced "Tornado Emergency" verbiage is intended to be this for tornado warnings. A tornado emergency means that a powerful tornado that has been confirmed by ground truth (that is, seen by storm spotters) is headed for a populated area.
  • "This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. (Later Energency Alert System)This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency, instructions would follow." The Emergency Action Notification (EAN) is a nationwide activation of the Emergency Alert System which would serve this purpose. It can only be initiated by either the President or the Vice President. It wasn’t actually activated on Sept.11th,2001, though, as it was deemed unnecessary to do so.
  • US Air Force regulations specifically bar anyone in the Presidential line of succession from participating in practices involving the Looking Glass planes (a special plane that will allow the President to conduct nuclear warfare from anywhere in the world) and will instead have a stand-in to play the part of the President for the drill. The reasoning is because they know the plane's movement and use is closely watched as a possible early warning sign that the President is about to begin Nuclear War. The fear is that if the president enters the plane, it will be identified as Not A Drill and spark a Nuclear War by mistake.
  • Subverted during the 2018 Hawaii false missile alert, when this trope was quoted verbatim despite it actually being an exercise.
  • NATO tried extremely hard to play this trope as straight as possible in 1983 during the Able Archer exercises, which were meant to test the robustness of communications and command and control systems in the events leading up to and through the initiation of a nuclear war. Realizing that Soviet signal intelligence would be listening in to all messages, they broadcasted the exercise messages in the clear with EXERCISEEXERCISEEXERCISE as a header. Unfortunately, the Soviet leadership was Wrong Genre Savvy and suspected that the messages were a ruse for a surprise attack. note Fortunately for everyone, the Soviets did come to their senses in the nick of time and realized that the exercise was indeed an exercise.
  • Subverted by this fire alarm voice evacuation message from the fire alarm company SimplexGrinnell:
    This is a drill, this is a drill, this is a drill. All occupants, report to the nearest stairway exit door, and await further orders. Do not enter stairway.
  • On September 10th, 2001, United Airlines' corporate security team ran a quick unannounced exercise in which they announced the hypothetical crash of a plane near the North Pole to test the company's immediate reaction to such news. As the September 11th attacks began, several of United's dispatchers recall thinking the news was another drill of a similar nature.
    • Also on the morning of September 11th, NORAD was conducting a training exercise based on old Cold War scenarios. One of the units participating was the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), which controlled the airspace where the hijackings were taking place. As reports from the civilian aviation authorities started to come in, NEADS initially assumed it was part of the exercise before being informed it was not.