The possibility of an active shooter in campus obliges school districts to contentiously implement and practice school lockdowns, in an effort to prepare students, teachers, and other employees on how to best react and protect themselves, and others, in case an actual deadly event takes place in the building. Despite the fact that there is not an across-the-board lockdown protocol, there are a few principles that must be considered when conducting lockdown drills at school. Understanding these dos and don'ts is necessary to proactively protect the lives of the academic community in dangerous scenarios.
A regular lockdown protocol entails the need of all individuals to look for protection in a classroom or safe space, after an announcement of an active shooter in campus is made. Doors should be locked, lights should be turned off, and students and adults should remain calm and quiet, far from doors and windows, until an “all clear” message is divulged. The following are additional tips that can help this specific drill be a successful tool to ensure the safety of all in the institution.
Help the school develop a “muscle memory” with repeated training
Muscle memory, a form of procedural memory that consolidates a task through repetition, can save lives. Certainly, recreating a scenario and having the entire campus follow best practices, systematically, around it, is invaluable. Practicing active shooter drills is a meaningful way to provide students and staff with the knowledge they require to face situations that provoke extreme stress, fear, and anxiety. Hence, it is important to conduct the drills consistently to learn the key survival behaviors needed in such circumstances.
Do not use the word “drill” for any of the school drills
It is common for teachers and students to confuse the different drill codes available for school, which can result lethal if there is an actual school shooting. It is recommended to use simple language (e.g., lockdown) instead of code words to have campus react immediately and avoid any possible delay due to misunderstanding. The announcement in drills should be direct, exact, and repeated several times. In addition, avoid using the word “drill” as it can mislead people on how to respond.
Utilize the right mass notification system
It is fundamental to have the ability to effectively announce a lockdown to all persons in the building, even those disabled or with limited English proficiency. Sharing clear alerts in a fast and reliable way can keep students and employees out of harm’s way. A modern mass notification system can guarantee communication is delivered to everybody, assist administrators manage the event in real time, and help the school adhere with rigor to established lockdown procedures.
Although it is common for schools to follow the procedures of lockdown and hide, there is a relatively new program called ALICE that promotes a rather different answer to an active shooter event in school. The acronym of ALICE involves Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. The Counter step has been polemic among parents and educators as it recommends a more active position, if necessary, from children and adults when faced with a violent intruder. According to this program, it is recommended to create noise, movement, distance and distraction with the intent of reducing the shooter’s ability to shoot accurately.
The importance of differentiating a lockdown protocol to the unique needs of a school should be acknowledged. There is not a one-size-fits-all procedure when it comes to protecting the lives of students and teachers in a malicious event. However, adhering to best practices, reflecting on errors made during drills, revising lockdown plans, and utilizing an advanced mass notification system can improve everybody’s chances of survival.