Developing Effective Lockdown Procedures
How to create a lockdown procedure with an operationally centric approach
- By Michael Niola
- August 01, 2018
Campus lockdown procedures, much like other emergency
response and disaster preparedness measures, are
critical to the safe and secure operation of a school
campus. Holistically, this includes the safety of students,
faculty, staff, contractors, and even visitors that
may be on the premises. The purpose of a campus lockdown is to provide
an orderly way to minimize accessibility to areas of a campus,
buildings, or rooms, to reduce the risk of danger to those on the site.
Lockdowns of a campus are not entirely new, as they have been a
part of responses to natural disasters such as a tornado, earthquake, or
other sever weather. However, the way we look at and design these
procedures is evolving. With an increase in active shooter events on
campuses, lockdown procedures must be created or updated to include
this new and complicated threat.
Though these types of events are still rare statistically speaking, we
should be prepared to provide added safety and security to individuals
on the campus should such an event happen to occur. Having read
through countless safeguarding policies for schools, campuses, and
districts, a striking observation is that most of the lockdown procedures
are alarmingly similar and vague. They state that when a lockdown
is initiated, some sort of signal will serve as the lockdown flag
indicating that you are to stay inside, lock your doors, and remain
silent until further notice. These procedures sound adequate in theory
but lack detail, consideration for the different operations that take
place on a campus, and are too passive as a reaction to a critical event.
The main complexity of designing a proper lockdown procedure is
the fact that there are different types of visitors accessing different functional
spaces on a campus at any given moment. For example, you have
students attending class, students in administrative offices, staff working
in the administrative spaces, visitors touring the campus, contractors
working in different areas, athletes using different facilities, etc.
Also, campuses, such as medical facilities, universities or colleges,
tend to be open and inviting, allowing for multiple points of entry
without verification of authorized access at every location. Properly
securing an open campus is a different topic completely in itself, but
for the purposes of this article we are considering your common school
campus that allows entry at multiple points. Specific to a school campus,
a lockdown procedure should account for the reverse evacuation
of individuals that may be outdoors, returning them into a building in
an orderly fashion to continue with the lockdown procedure.
The main steps to creating an operationally centric lockdown procedure
- Assessing the overall campus design.
- Identifying the resources for event identification.
- Identifying electronic systems that can assist.
- Creating a communication plan.
- Bringing all aspects together in a site-specific plan.
Once all the steps are completed and a lockdown procedure with an
adequate communications plan is created, policies for education
efforts should also be created. Your procedures need to be taught,
rehearsed, and thoroughly learned by the site.
Lockdown procedures cannot be cookie-cutter due to the immense
variation in the design of campuses. Therefore, creating this sort of
procedure should start with a wide look over the architectural layout
of your particular campus. Items to consider include: points of entry to
the campus, paths of travel, schedule of activities and ability to detect
an incident at any location on campus.
You must understand the full operations, and engage representatives,
of all facets of your facilities such as administrative staff, facilities
and maintenance, faculty, athletics, and student life. This is critical
because roles and responsibilities will need to be assigned in a
lockdown procedure. Once this is understood, the second phase of
planning a lockdown procedure can take place; identifying what are
the current security related resources that can be used for incident
For a lockdown procedure to be initiated, the event needs to be identified
and those on campus need to be notified. Think of how that could
happen and who is best positioned to identify issues throughout different
areas of the campus. Are there security officers? Are faculty members
able to communicate with security officers or the main office from
In many cases, only an authorized person in an administrative office
can trigger a lockdown procedure, but this presents a bottleneck or
single point of failure. The incident may not start at the location of this
individual and communication to them may take time in a scenario
where every second is valuable. A more efficient approach includes
several individuals or locations at which an event could be identified.
This may include administrative staff in offices, security personnel
throughout campus, and faculty throughout the school. Though everyone
may not have direct access to initiate the procedure itself, they
should have a means of communicating what they are observing to
someone that could rapidly initiate a lockdown procedure if needed.
As you may have noticed, technology has not yet been a consideration
during this exercise. Now that you understand the full scope of
the different operations on your campus and what that means in terms
of people accessing different areas of the site, as well as having identified
the resources that can assist in identifying an event, it is time to
look at what systems are currently in place that could be tied into the
The following are some systems that could increase the efficiency of
a lockdown procedure: video surveillance, electronic access control
systems, alarm systems and mass communication systems such as paging,
text platforms, or emails.
These systems could be tied to an event to automate communication,
trigger locking of strategic doors, assist first responders with
tracking and navigation, and help individuals obtain information as
quickly as possible. As an example, emergency phones could be added
in remote parking lots, lockdown/emergency buttons added in strategic
locations, cameras added for adequate situational awareness during
a response, etc.
The main goal is to provide systems that allow the earliest detection
as possible and the fastest communication as possible. That includes
communication to those on your campus, those that may be on their
way to your campus, and to first responders. This provides individuals
with as much time to react as possible, ultimately saving lives.
CREATING YOUR PROCEDURE
Now it’s time to tie all this together to create your lockdown procedure.
The general steps should include:
- Event Identification. The lockdown is triggered by the individuals
identified utilizing the systems you have chosen for this step.
- Communication. Communication is sent to everyone on campus
and those that could be on their way to your campus, informing
them of the event so they shelter in place or refrain from accessing
the campus. Communication is also sent to first responders for
response to the event.
- Sheltering. Clear steps, depending on your location, to take to lock
yourself in a building or room.
- Target Hardening. Active steps that can be taken to make yourself
the hardest target possible, such as barricading doors, closing
blinds, and identifying objects around the room that could assist in
fending off an intruder.
- Room Clearing. The steps taken as individuals wait in their locations
for authorities to regain control of the situation and safely
clear and evacuate you.
These procedures are only useful if those on your campus are properly
trained. Education is critical in ensuring that an individual could
still perform the tasks as prescribed under duress. Typically, drills are
conducted on a yearly basis, but increasingly it is recommended that
lockdown drill, specific for active shooters on a campus, are conducted
once a semester.
Inevitably there will be individuals new to your campus or visiting
for the first time so the procedure needs to identify measures for these
circumstances as well. For example, requiring that lead role individuals
in classrooms quickly assess if individuals directly outside their room
could come in for shelter within their space, or providing tour guides
with the steps they need to take in different campus locations if they
have a group of visitors with them.
TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND
There are some collective tips that have risen through years of coordinating
these types of procedures, which could be applied when you are
undergoing this process. Here are ones to keep in mind:
Prerecorded Messages. Audible messages should be prerecorded to
avoid relying on an individual under stress to communicate in a clear
manner. This also allows them to save time and carry on with their sheltering
procedure as opposed to seeking a paging station to communicate.
Proper Hardware. Door hardware shall be properly designed for
the ability to be locked from the inside of the room, not requiring
someone to go outside in order to lock it with a key.
Limit Sight. Windows could be glazed or tinted to provide little
visuals of the inside. If this is not possible, blinds or other shade systems
should be introduced and closing them should be part of the
Notify Everyone. Do not forget to include communication with
those that may be on their way to your campus to ensure they do not
come in. This could be via automated messages to students, faculty,
employees, and even parents. This may also be in the form of visual
indicators at the campus or buildings such as lights that alert on comers.
Automate Important Steps. Automate the process of initiating
calls to first responders. This will save you time and ensure that the
scenario where people refrain from calling because they assume someone
else already has, is avoided.
Use Various Methods to Notify. Have multiple methods of communication.
An audible/paging system could communicate the event
while emergency strobes of a designated color are also triggered and
text-based communication is sent out. This could serve to mitigate a
scenario where a fire alarm system is purposely triggered by a perpetrator
to override a paging system to cut off the communication of the
lockdown initiation. The goal is to eliminate a single point of failure
and reach as many people as possible with your communication.
Keep it Simple. Avoid creating too many different types of lockdown
procedures. Typically, these are assigned to different colors such
as “code red,” or “code blue.” Throughout my experience I have
observed individuals on a campus becoming confused when too many
different lockdown procedures have been introduced. This could delay
your reaction to an event or cause an individual to trigger to wrong
type of event.
Identify Key Roles and Responsibilities. These will be specific to
your campus depending on what resources are available. For example,
identifying who is in charge of each classroom, administrative space,
facilities locations, etc. Who will be responsible for identifying the
event, communicating, and who responds to the different sections of
Discuss the Procedure. Conduct table-top sessions with your key
participants to think through all aspects of the event. Some procedures
sound great in theory but are not adequate when you start to think of
the details such as what if you’re outdoors with a class, in a bathroom,
during a lunch break etc.
Train Realistically. Ensure that drills take place at appropriate time
intervals such as once a semester and that they are as realistic as possible.
Avoid telling those on campus of exact dates and times. What
typically happens when that information is given, individuals start to
prep for the drill 5 to 10 minutes ahead of time and begin closing windows
and drawing blinds in anticipation of the drill. This decreases the
Stock up. Provide the resources needed inside lockdown areas,
should individuals need to stay inside for extended periods of times.
This may include water, first aid kits, and even supplies to stop the
bleeding. Many deaths have occurred because first responders could
not access victims in time during the process of having buildings and
rooms safely cleared.
Lockdown procedures are hard to create as you might want to believe
that a serious incident, such as an active assailant or bomb threat, will
never happen on your campus. You must be prepared for any and all
threats. Focus on educating your staff about procedures, train realistically
and communicate with leaders, students and
faculty so that if, and when, the time comes, your
campus is able to lockdown as quickly as possible,
minimizing a potentially deadly incident.
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.