A School Lockdown

A School Lockdown

Prioritize what needs to be done first for a positive outcome

SCHOOL SECURITY HAS BECOME AND CONTINUES TO BE A MAJOR FOCUS ACROSS THE UNITED STATES, AS MUNICIPALITIES, SCHOOL DISTRICTS, LAW ENFORCEMENT, STATE LEGISLATURES AND OTHERS WORK TO IMPLEMENT SECURITY PLANS. ONE POSITIVE OUTCOME THAT HAS RESULTED FROM THESE ACTIVITIES IS THE EXPANDED UNDERSTANDING OF AND READINESS FOR A LOCKDOWN SITUATION.

PROPER PROTOCOL

Regardless of whether a lockdown situation occurs because of an intruder, a threat against the school or severe weather, it is important to plan for what happens after the lockdown is initiated. This is true for schools, and also for hospitals, government and retail locations that have similar plans in place.

All schools are different, so there is no “one size fits all” lockdown protocol that is appropriate for every school. Protocols and procedures must reflect differences in school design, size and location, as well as the response capabilities of local law enforcement and emergency personnel. While standardizing lockdown protocols may seem excellent in theory and even during basic drills, significant gaps may emerge when those protocols are tested by an actual emergency.

Because the focus of the lockdown is on locking doors, covering windows and moving occupants to the safest locations in each room, it is often impossible for first responders to know the status and situation of occupants of these locked rooms. This makes it challenging to determine the appropriate response to a situation and decide how to proceed, which may create delays that could potentially place occupants in greater danger.

To minimize unnecessary delays and ensure the most efficient and effective emergency response, there are four key elements schools can include in their lockdown planning.

CONSULT WITH LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS ON CRISIS PLANNING

A 2015 education industry study conducted by Motorola found that while the overwhelming majority (97 percent) of schools have a safety plan in place, only 50 percent of those plans include both school staff and public safety. It is quite possible that a school’s internal emergency protocol for students, staff and visitors could be in direct opposition to that used by first responders to address an emergency situation. The resulting confusion could increase risk that further jeopardizes the safety and security of all involved. Creating emergency response plans must be a collaborative effort between schools and responders.

Once put into place, plans must be practiced through drills with emergency responders and other relevant parties involved, such as hospitals and emergency management agencies.

PROVIDE FIRST RESPONDERS WITH A DIRECT CONNECTION

In order to determine the appropriate course of action and ensure the highest possible level of safety for occupants, first responders require as much information as possible about an emergency. The greater the situational awareness they have, the more effective the response will be.

In an emergency, seconds can make a tremendous difference in the outcome, so it is crucial that responders are able to gather information about occupants’ location and current status as quickly as possible. Making that critical information available and accessible within a secure status system is vitally important, and making the system directly accessible by first responders from off-site, ideally via mobile connection, will significantly contribute to the success of emergency response.

Consider installing hallway sensors and/or cameras to help responders track intruders and/or other responders.

Having information about occupants in hand is one piece of the information puzzle that first responders need. Another critical component is being able to locate and track an intruder within a building prior to arriving on site, and to track responders once they’ve entered the building. The safety of all occupants relies heavily on this, and both hallway sensors and video surveillance cameras can help by providing vital information about the whereabouts of people as they move throughout the building, especially when used together.

Consider installing provisions for private, two-way communication with locked-down areas.

Situational awareness during an emergency is further heightened by communication, and the ability to communicate with individuals within the school, particularly those in locked-down areas, adds critical information to strengthen responders’ situational awareness in an emergency.

However, public address systems are not viable options. When these systems are used to provide building-wide updates to students and staff, they also provide an intruder with information that could jeopardize the safety of everyone inside the school. A private two-way solution allows communication with locked-down areas without alerting intruders or causing confusion among building occupants.

Private communication solutions significantly improve the safety and security of locked-down building occupants and the ability for first responders to maintain order, even as they attend to the most critical situations first.

The unfortunate reality is that school safety and security concerns are only going to increase and it is incumbent upon schools to make sure their students and staff are well-prepared for an emergency situation. Including these four key elements in emergency planning will help first responders do their jobs more effectively in an actual emergency situation and in the immediate aftermath of an incident.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Security Today.

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