Reviewing Lockdown Bascis

K-12 schools have been using lockdown protocols for the past 30 to 40 years. Several dozen multiple-victim school shootings, along with a number of less tragic yet dangerous situations, demonstrate that every school must have this lifesaving capability. A public high school in the Asheville, NC region had just conducted a lockdown drill in the early 1970s when the need arose to implement an actual emergency lockdown. In this instance, a mentally ill individual began shooting beverage cans that he had placed on the trunk of a car, and had to be shot and killed by local police in the school parking lot. Though clearly a bad situation, lockdown procedures protected students and staff from the dangerous intruder.

While bloody rampages at schools in Wisconsin and New Jersey have emphasized the necessity of, and need for, effective lockdown procedures, an incident in Pennsylvania involving an elementary school student with multiple guns has proved just how effective such lockdown procedures can be.

To help avoid some of the common mistakes made in developing viable lockdown protocol, here are some salient points for consideration.

    • Avoid the use of code words and phrases to direct people to implement any critical functional protocol such as a lockdown. Codes cause confusion that can result in the wrong action being taken with disastrous and even catastrophic results.

    • Develop two types of lockdown: a preventive lockdown for the vast majority of school lockdown situations (where the teaching and work processes continue), and an emergency lockdown with more aggressive measures for the extremely rare instances where imminent danger is evident.

    • Be sure mthat lockdowns can be self-directed as well as directed. This is incredibly important for situations in which the staff detects danger before campus safety officials have had an opportunity to give direction. For example, staff must know when and how to lock down if they hear gunfire in or near their building. Staff should be instructed to alert the front office once they have implemented an independent lockdown.

    • Support staff must be empowered and prepared to implement any lifesaving functional protocol, such as reverse evacuation, shelter in place, or lockdowns. The time it takes for a receptionist to call a department head or principal on a portable radio, brief them, and obtain direction, may be too long for the protective action to be implemented.

    • Lockdown drills should only be used with careful thought. Drills should be used in balance. As fires and hazardous materials incidents are more common than shootings, we recommend that fire drills, reverse evacuations, and shelter in place drills be conducted at least, if not more often than, lockdown drills. If you are in an earthquake or tornado zone, appropriate drills should be used for these hazards as well. As it is difficult to perform lockdown drills, careful thought should be given to the frequency and timing of any and all drills. Virtual tabletop scenarios and training DVDs are very effective ways to prepare staff and students without the disruption and physical danger of lockdown drills.

    • Workspaces, customer service areas, and learning environments should have lockdown capability. Not having locks on work areas and classroom doors is like not having fire extinguishers in the building.

    • It is important to plan for lockdowns involving large numbers of visitors, such as special events like basketball games, PTO meetings, and the like. Typically, lockdown situations for large numbers of visitors involve efforts to compartmentalize larger areas.

    • Effective emergency communications can be difficult, yet achievable, for any type of campus. Internal and external public address and a variety of other methods can be used and are needed not just for lockdowns but for severe weather, chemical incidents, and a variety of other hazardous situations.

Keeping in mind the fact that firearms attacks are extremely rare events for our nation’s schools, we must be sure our safety efforts are in balance. Contrary to popular myth, the school homicide rate has dropped significantly. At the same time, it is quite clear that the capability to rapidly provide secure spaces for staff, employees, and visitors is, unfortunately, still a moral obligation and a part of doing business in the field of education. Be sure your efforts to provide viable lockdown capabilities are in balance with other crucial life-saving functional protocol. Young lives may someday depend on your efforts.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at