9 Tips for More Effective School Lockdowns

There is no “one size fits all” lockdown protocol that will work properly in every school because procedures must reflect differences in school design and local law enforcement response capabilities. Lockdown protocols that look great on paper or during basic drills initiated by an administrator can have significant gaps when tested by actual events.

We have seen instances of delays in the implementation of school lockdowns ranging from a minute to several minutes in actual incidents, and we have often seen fail rates of 60 percent to 81 percent during simulations that require individual staff members to make and communicate the lockdown decision.

Below are some lessons learned (click on the links for additional explanations) from our assessments:

  1. Don’t focus all of your efforts on active shooter situations.
  2. Schools that only have one type of lockdown procedure are more likely to have plan failure during a crisis.
  3. Codes can kill.
  4. All staff should be issued keys, participate in staff development and some form of lockdown drill.
  5. Doors should be locked during instructional times and when the door is not actively in use.
  6. If they are not trained with staff-initiated drills, individual staff members and teachers are less likely to respond effectively during a crisis.
  7. Basing the lockdown decision on the location of the threat instead of the nature of the threat can be dangerous.
  8. Reverse evacuation protocols and drills are critical.
  9. Room clear protocols can also be important.

Although this is not a complete list of considerations, we have found these to be among the most common opportunities for improvement encountered with school lockdown. For a deeper understanding of how the human body reacts during stressful events, I recommend educators and those dealing with safety or emergency preparedness read Amanda Ripley’s book “The Unthinkable”, which has a treasure trove of applications for schools.

See all 9 tips for more effective school lockdowns here.


Chris Dorn is an analyst for Safe Havens International. He can be reached at [email protected]. This article originally ran in 2013.

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