Inside a Campus Lockdown

Inside a Campus Lockdown

Just today, I was speaking with a colleague about how there are trends in the security industry. When I first started familiarizing myself with the industry in October, the big trend was airport security. The tides shifted shortly thereafter, and everyone was talking about cybersecurity, then attacks on soft targets and most recently school threats.

To get even more specific, the trend seems to be with school shootings.

Last week, on February 12, there was a double-shooting in Glendale, Arizona at Independence High School. The school was placed on a hard lockdown and police were on the scene in less than two minutes. Authorities were able to deem the situation “not active,” but students remained on lockdown as police swept through the building, ensuring it was safe to evacuate.

As soon as the situation made it to the local news, the double-shooting (later found to be a murder-suicide involving two 15-year-old girls) was broadcasted on live television. Helicopters swarmed around the school’s campus giving the news stations an intimate view of the crime scene. Quickly, the broadcasters turned to social media to try to find any relevant information to report, while reporters where sent to the scene to talk to distressed parents waiting to hear from their children.

I watched the live coverage that day. In the early hours of the day, before there was any information released by the police, the conversation seems to revolve around cell phones. Why weren’t the parents hearing from their children? In this day in time, children are practically born with an iPhone that never disconnects from their hand. A generational novelty that many schools have tried to put the kibosh on as they tend to be distractions in class. But what about in a lockdown situation? Should students be able to text, tweet or Facebook out to let the world know they are okay?

To answer that question, I feel it is imperative to talk first about the lockdown procedure in general.

I’ve read through the Safeguarding Policies for many schools and have found that the majority of them are very similar with some small differences. For the most part, they all read like this:

In the event of a lockdown, the administration will come over the intercom and announce that the school has been placed on lockdown.

From there, teachers are to urge their students to stay where they are, and then move quickly to their doors and glimpse out into the hallway to gather any faculty or students who may be there.

Teachers then close and lock their doors, close any blinds and direct students into a “safe corner” of the room. This corner will be a place in the room where someone would not be able to see the students from the doorway.

At this time, the lights should be turned out and all classroom devices should be turned off. Students should either turn off their cell phones or place them in Airplane Mode.

For the remainder of the lockdown, teachers should urge their students to stay as quiet as possible. They should not open the door for anyone. When the lockdown has been lifted, by announcement over the intercom, police or emergency personnel will unlock and escort the students and teachers from the building.

Some variations of lockdown procedures include where students should go if they find themselves in a gym class or out at recess, some outline a way to show if there is a need for attention within the classroom by using colored cards slipped under the doors and others allow teachers to email off a list of missing students from their classrooms before shutting down all devices. All in all they are very straight forward and simple: hide from the view of a potential active shooter.

Mike Seger, Director of Safety and Student Services at Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, explains that this lockdown procedure is one of the best ways to ensure students’ safety.

“Of 179 active shooter cases, there had only been two documented cases where the attacker shot out the glass next to the door and either walked through the broken window or reached in and unlocked the door,” Seger said. “Based on these numbers, most schools should have a basic plan to utilize classrooms to secure students wherever possible.”

Since the school shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook, it has become the law to ensure schools have physical security barriers and create a Safeguarding Policy that keeps students and faculty out of harm’s way in the event of an emergency. In some states, these Safeguarding Policies are required to be updated at least every three years in order to improve upon the previous plans.

While practicing for a lockdown situation is critical to any response plan, there are no guarantees that it will work out the way it should in a crisis situation. Schools are able to take precautions by installing physical security barriers in order to help in active shooter situations.  

“Providing physical barriers within a building and utilizing panic buttons to activate these barriers and notify police will save time and save lives,” Seger said. “After all, on average it takes the police 3 minutes to receive a call and respond to a threat situation. Training staff to respond appropriately and providing barriers to threatening situations will assist staff and students in Avoiding, Denying and Defending themselves in a crisis matter.”

Administration, faculty and students are required to perform the lockdown drills at least once a semester, while other drills like fire drills or tornado drills are to be executed at least once a month. Seger realizes that these drills can be disruptive in a student’s day.

“Lockdown drills can be somewhat disruptive depending on the student age,” Seger said. “However, school staff and student training is the most important component in safeguarding lives during an active shooter event.”

Seger suggests that students feel as if it is a team project to keep away a perpetrator in order to keep morale high during stressful situations.

“Ask students to identify items that are currently available in the classroom to barricade the door,” Seger said. “What items in the classroom can be used to assist in protecting yourself against threat of harm if you had to defend yourself. Finally, the students’ understanding that a collective effort to subdue a perpetrator is a very good way to defend yourself and others.” 

So let’s get back to my original question. Should students be able to use their cell phones in a lockdown situation?

The overwhelming answer is, NO. Written in most policies just like that, big, bold and hard to miss.

After reading policy, after policy with the use of cell phones banned during a lockdown, I asked myself, “Why are schools trying to close off communication between students and their parents?”

The answer is simple. Students need to be focused on the task at hand. They have practiced these lockdown routines and now is the time to really make sure that every aspect of the Safeguarding Policy is executed perfectly.

Let’s go back to the shooting at Independence High School. The parents were distressed after only receiving a few vague emails from the school district. The only things they knew was the school was on lockdown and if they so wished to pick up their children, they’d need to convene at a nearby Wal-Mart. The rest of the information – a double-shooting involving two female students – came from social media posts and broadcasters live on air.

The shooting happened just before 8 a.m. local time and it wasn’t until just before noon that students were told they could contact their families on the mobile devices. That’s a long time for parent to remain suspended in a “Is my kid alright?” limbo.

The wait is justified, however, when you think that a text message or phone call could make their child’s phone buzz or ring. That ring could help the suspect find students within the school. This could potentially lead to more victims in an otherwise avoidable situation.

“What you do matters,” Seger said. “The thought behind turning off your cell phones is simply to avoid being discovered by the perpetrators. This decision is part of your individual school lockdown procedures depending on your plan with local first response agencies.”

It is also important to note that it is the schools job to put up a united front. They need to be able to get out communication from one source that can give out accurate information to emergency responders. While some parents are peeved that they might have to wait a little longer to get some information, those who are in charge of notifying the parents are waiting to be able to share information that is both true and relevant to the parents.

So, next time you see that a school has been placed on lockdown, know that the students are safer than you think. There are Safeguarding Policies in place, physical security barriers, administration who’ve been trained for the event and police and emergency responders who will be on the scene in less than three minutes.

What are your thoughts on lockdown procedures?

Should more precautions be set in place?

Should students be allowed to use their cell phones?

Tell me your thoughts and stories below.


Posted by Sydny Shepard on Feb 17, 2016

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