When I was in high school, I remember seeing the front page of the newspaper with a headline shouting about a tragedy in Littleton, Colorado. It has been revisited many times in the intervening years – but at the time, violence of this type and scale was unprecedented.
The term we use to describe such an event, "active shooter," entered the vernacular after the Columbine massacre and has been a mainstay of learning (and other) institutions ever since. At the time, it seemed like nobody knew what to do, but today – for better or worse – planning for these events is part of working in education.
An active shooter isn’t the only type of emergency that might lead to a lockdown. Terrorism, hostage situations, riots, political and other internal or external threats may lead to a lockdown response. A school has to figure out the types of emergencies that are reasonably probable, which may be impacted by social, economic, demographic or political issues, issues of internal or external populations, bullying, gangs, drugs… the list goes on. A committee should work to assess which threats pose the highest risk and apportion the resources to those categories.
Building a Lockdown Plan
Building a lockdown plan may look familiar to those who have participated in emergency planning before. A successful response relies on an organization accurately anticipating the hazards to which they are exposed, every person involved understanding their responsibilities, and effective practice drills. In that respect, it isn’t much different from planning for a tornado – it’s the details that vary.
These are some of the basic procedure steps that may be in a typical lockdown plan. Each would need to be tailored to a specific site, meaning terms like “open areas” should be substituted with specifics. Don’t leave it to panicked students and faculties to figure this out under stress.
- The principal makes an announcement over the PA system initiating a lockdown.
- Check for students in the immediate are
a and bring everyone into classrooms.
- Lock doors and windows right away as much as possible. Doors without locks can be barricaded with furniture or other heavy items. A belt wrapped around the door closer arm can prevent an outward-opening door from being opened.
- Keep doors and windows closed and locked until otherwise directed by a designated official or by police.
- Turn off all lights that are safely accessible, and draw blinds or curtains if there are any, or block the window if there is an easy way to do so. (Some systems differentiate internal and external threats, which may inform whether the outside windows get blocked or not. For internal threats, police may need to see in from outside.)
- Have everyone sit on the floor away from windows and doors.
- Silence any electronics (cell phones, tablets, laptops, televisions).
- Clear any common areas, atriums, hallways, foyers, or other areas that cannot be secured.
- Account for all students and staff in the room, taking down names on a piece of paper.
- No one is permitted to leave the room until an “all clear” is given by a designated authority (usually the principal). If the individual giving all “all clear” is unknown, ask for identification.
- Instruct everyone in the room that if law enforcement enters the room with guns drawn, to put hands in the air and remain still.
Running Drills Is Critical
As with any emergency, the big enemies are lack of preparation and panic. Schools have to drill these procedures, and drill them again, to make sure everyone understands their responsibility until a lockdown becomes second nature. Knowing what to do can go a long way to alleviating panic. Remember that students with special needs, or those who may be prone to extreme anxiety in stressful situations may need extra help.
It’s a sad fact that lockdown procedures are needed in schools, maybe, but it’s pointless to bemoan the state of things. Instead, schools can focus on being prepared and hope that their rigorous preparation gets put to no use beyond drills.