It'll be fun!
Lockdowns are scenarios in which campus is called to stop all movement on and off of campus because of a direct or nearby threat to staff and/or students’ safety. They can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the severity of the threat, and can be an intimidating scenario to think about - but as far as we're concerned, practice makes progress! And, more importantly, practice reduces angst! (If done correctly that is. See this blog post for a different approach - one we wouldn't recommend).
We drill lockdowns for the same reasons we drill for fires and severe weather: to be prepared. In a real lockdown situation, adrenaline begins pumping and the fight-or-flight response is activated, making it harder to respond appropriately and logically.
If we train enough to develop muscle memory for the situation, we will be able to respond automatically and keep ourselves and our children safe without having to think about it. This makes our responses quicker, and in emergency situations, a few seconds can make all the difference.
When a lockdown is mentioned, the first scenario that comes to mind is an active shooter on campus. In reality, this is a pretty rare cause of a lockdown. In 2016, Joffe dealt with more than 500 campus lockdowns over the span of the year. Of these cases, only five involved suspicious individuals on campus, and often, they were runaways from police custody whose pursuit brought them through the campus.
Other causes can include animals loose on or near the grounds that could potentially injure your staff or students, and problems happening off of school campus that might make leaving the grounds dangerous. (Fun fact: for training purposes, these are the scenarios we talk through the most. Both because their likelihood is higher and because discussing lockdown strategies through this lens reduces fear and achieves the same result (practice)).
No matter what the cause is of the lockdown, most if not all of them will follow the same timeline of events. Memorizing this timeline makes it easier to know exactly what the appropriate response is to the situation throughout, meaning you can be more confident in your decisions and your safety.
It’s incredibly important to communicate the start of a lockdown as quickly and clearly as possible. While the trend of using a codeword comes from the logical place of not wanting to alert an instigator to the lockdown, it can cause confusion if not everyone knows the exact codeword(s) and what they mean. To that end, it’s much more effective to simply say, “lockdown!” and proceed from there.
Ideally, a message will be sent over the intercom that is very simply the fact that your campus is going into lockdown and the basic reason. This spreads the message over a large area and makes sure that everyone has the same information.
If, however, the intercom is not readily available during a fast-moving emergency, yelling “LOCKDOWN!” as loudly and clearly as possible might be your only option. This might be frightening and cause you to second guess yourself if you are the only one calling, but it is better to be safe than sorry, so if you feel that you may need to go into lockdown and you are the only one who is able to instigate it, don’t be afraid to yell. You will never be in trouble for being cautious. After the initial yell, if it is safe to do so, proceed to the intercom and make the more formal announcement.
Once the initial announcement has happened, other methods of communication, such as a mass text, should be used to share further details about the cause and exact scenario of the lockdown.
When a lockdown is called, everyone's first priority is finding a secure, safe place for yourself and your students to lock down in. This is usually going to be your classroom, but you’re really just looking for a closed and locked door to wait behind.
You’ll want to usher anyone you can see into the room with you. If you are in the hallway, grab as many people as you can see and usher them into the nearest lockable room, even if that’s a closet. It may not be fire safe, but for short-term protection, it will be more than enough. If you’re in a classroom, do a quick sweep of the hall, grabbing any straggling students, visitors, staff, and anyone you can see before locking the door.
Of the utmost importance is this: once your door is locked, it needs to stay locked. This means that, as hard as it is, if you hear a student or another person calling for you to let them in, you must ignore that call. Opening your door could mean putting everyone in the room in danger.
Position yourself and your students as far from the doors into the room as possible while still being able to see them. While windows might be the first thing you think of, doors are the most likely entrances, and therefore should take priority.
Once your door is locked, you need to close the shades, to become as invisible as possible. This can mean literally closing window shades to block outside views into the room, turning off lights if you can, and covering any smaller windows or glass panels on the door with something. In a pinch, paper is widely available in most classrooms and easy to attach with tape to cover the panel.
The idea is to make yourself and your lockdown group completely invisible to any exterior threats. In this kind of emergency, the instigators are usually running on extremely high adrenaline and will be working with more basic instincts. This means they’ll be attracted to light and large movements. They’re more likely to overlook a dark, still room, even if the coverings would make it obvious to a calm person that someone is in there.
Have everyone in the room silence, but not power down, their cellphones and other devices. As mentioned above, you are trying to avoid loud noises and bright lights, so a ringing phone can cause issues. At the same time, they are the best method of direct communication available to you, so you need to have them on to receive messages.
You can't necessarily confiscate your students’ cellphones, but be honest with them about why they need to be silenced. You should also ask them not to send any immediate messages or post to any social media, as that can impact the security of your lockdown location. Reassure them that the school will contact their parents with more official and detailed information. (Pro-Tip: Use your leadership to minimize this, but accept the reality that it'll probably happen anyway).
Once you are in a secure place and as invisible as possible, check-in with everyone quietly. Offer whatever reassurance you can and remind them that it’s okay to be frightened in a scenario like this, but that they are doing the best they can by remaining quiet and still. Don’t take attendance at this point in the lockdown. Your focus should be on the people with you in that moment.
Having your students sitting (or laying down) on the floor is the best way to start the lockdown until you have more information. Sitting down is a fairly normal, comfortable position to be in, which helps to reduce the stress of the scenario more than standing would.
After a long time, your group may become restless, especially if you are working with smaller children. Usually, the threat will be most prominent in the first fifteen to thirty minutes of a lockdown, so after that, you might engage your group in quiet games. This can include blinking games or, if they’re slightly older, card games, to pass the time. (Admin Tip: Communicate to your teachers in advance that you will notify them when it's safe to begin this process. Teacher Tip: Wait for that communication!).
When the lockdown comes to an end, ideally, there will be three levels of communication that go out. The first will be over text, then over the larger intercom system, then in person or over another system. You should absolutely wait until you are certain that you trust the announcement to evacuate, even if that means waiting for the police to physically get to you. Use your best judgment to make the call for safety. If the police are involved (you'll know this because you hear sirens and/or your communications have told you, they'll typically evacuate the campus one room at a time).
Once you do trust the announcement, evacuate to your pre-established meeting point. Once you are there, then it is time to call attendance and make sure everyone is accounted for. It’s also then time to address secondary emergencies such as panic attacks or injuries.
The Department of Homeland Security advises a different reactionary scenario in the case of specifically an active shooter which is called Run, Hide, Fight. This method relies on everyone in the group running to a safer location, hiding by becoming as invisible as possible and potentially barricading entrances, and, if all else fails, fighting to defend themselves against this intruder.
While practical in theory, in practice, this method is not necessarily a viable option, especially when it comes to younger kids. Above all else, children are unlikely to be organized and rational when told to run, so calling for them to do so might result in fracturing the group and making it less secure. It is best to avoid conflict if at all possible, and to defend only if (or when) necessary for your own safety.