Risk Reporter for Educational Facilities

Spring 2013 Vol. 1, Issue 1

Pre-K Through 12

More effective school lockdowns

Lockdowns are a critical element of schools’ safety plans, but exactly how and when to implement one can be a matter of debate. The following can help improve threat response.

Don’t focus only on active shooters

“If you’ve only discussed this type of incident, people think it’s extreme to start lockdown in other situations and often act too late,” said Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International Inc., a nonprofit school safety center.

Incidents that should prompt a fast response include a person who’s threatening, out of control, has any kind of weapon or refuses to leave the building or respond to a request for identification.

Base decisions on the type of threat

“A school might think the threat is outside and only lock outer doors when the threat has actually moved inside before lockdown was fully implemented,” Dorn said. “Lock all perimeter and interior doors. In a ‘hard’ lockdown, children and staff move out of sight of windows and doors, and all movement and noise ceases; in a ‘preventive’ one, teaching and work continue.”

Inspect your facility ahead of time

“We’ve had many situations where schools realize too late there aren’t locks on a door, or the substitute teacher doesn’t have access to a room key,” Dorn warned.

Brainstorm other ways to prevent an intruder from entering. “There might be simple steps you can take to make it harder to access your room,” said Marianne Alvarez, director of training and development for Response Options, a critical incident response training company. “A locked door won’t necessarily be enough.”


Stress can cause people to act in illogical ways or freeze. Frequent exposure to a drill routine increases the likelihood that staff and students will be able to take action in a crisis. Run practice drills regularly and at different times of the day, so students know what to do on the playground and in the cafeteria, library or gym. Have drills with blocked access and other obstructions to force critical decision-making.

Hold staff-initiated drills

A threat could come from anywhere, so it’s vital for staff to have experience assessing risk and deciding to implement a lockdown or evacuation. Instead of initiating all drills from the main office, have some start with staff in different areas of the school.

Don’t use codes

“Don’t say ‘Code Red.’ Say ‘Shooter with a gun in the west hallway,’” Alvarez said. “This gives everyone the information needed to make decisions about the next steps.”

Lock all classroom doors

Some experts recommend schools consider this whenever class is in session. Remember that all rooms where adults work with students should have windows to help prevent accusations of abuse.

Practice a wide range of drills

Staff and students should have regular practice with lockdowns, evacuations, reverse evacuations (coming back into the building in an orderly fashion) and room clears (often used for a localized event like a medical emergency).

Do counterattacks work?

There is growing interest in learning how to counter an attack with distraction techniques. Some experts view this with dismay; others feel it can be an appropriate option. “Once a locked door or barricade has been breached, having people huddled together makes it easy for a shooter to kill many in a short time,” Alvarez said. “Our research shows it’s better to create chaos and distractions and evacuate as soon as possible.”

Dorn has done extensive research on the subject and believes that caution is critical.


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Editor: Emilie Pierschalla epierschalla@churchmutual.com

Risk Control Advisor: Edward A. Steele, CSP, ARM esteele@churchmutual.com

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