Death by lockdown? Questioning “Proof” that Lockdown is a Failed Concept

Though the specific remedies recommended may vary, a number of people have suggested that school lockdowns are a failed concept that should be replaced.  The solutions offered typically center around options focused heavily on teaching people to attack an active shooter as a last resort.  There has been considerable controversy about these options with no real consensus among school safety experts, law enforcement officials, or educators regarding these approaches. 

We feel that while it is important to discuss, consider, and most importantly, to properly test these approaches, it is even more important that we carefully evaluate the idea that lockdown is a failed concept.  Much of the discussion surrounding this assertion has relied heavily on emotional language with statements that are questionable at best.  For example, we have seen repeated references to fatality rates for occupants of individual rooms which do not accurately reflect overall survival rates for the facilities where shootings have occurred.

We have also seen repeated references to lockdown failure that do not match the facts of shootings that are cited as examples of “proof” that lockdown does not work.  For example, we have seen repeated examples citing deaths in classrooms that did not have locks on the door, where staff had not been issued keys, where no lockdown training has been provided, or where no lockdown drills had been conducted.  Using such questionable rationale as “proof” that lockdown is a failed concept should raise red flags.  If you have a solid basis for an assertion, you should not have to stretch to make a convincing argument.

I have repeatedly seen references to the Red Lake Reservation school shooting as “proof” that lockdown is a failed concept.  Having worked that case as an expert witness, I can firmly state that this is not a factually accurate assessment.  Neither I nor the other school security expert who evaluated that case reached that conclusion.  In addition, there was never an allegation of this in any of the many civil actions filed in this case.  Another case that has been used as an example involves the hostage situation in Bailey, Colorado.  One popular active shooter program includes statements that indicate the hostages remained passive and compliant and indicates that the students should have attacked the hostage-taker.  In this case, one student was shot and killed when a police tactical team made a dynamic entry in an effort to neutralize the aggressor because it was apparent that he was going to shoot hostages.  Suggesting that the teacher and students should have attacked the hostage-taker in this example is in contrast to the approach recommended by leading experts in hostage situations.

Some who make these arguments also incorrectly and repeatedly put forth the notion that all traditional lockdown approaches teach people to passively await execution should an active shooter breach a locked classroom door.  Many school districts have been teaching staff to deviate from their emergency plans for more than two decades.  We have long referred to this concept as “Permission to Live.”  Contrary to common assertions, there are ways to prepare staff to adapt to extremely rare and unusual situations like an active shooter breaching a locked classroom door without focusing the majority of instructional time on specific techniques used to subdue an aggressor.  It is important to note that thus far, not one of the students or school employees who have successfully subdued an active shooter has been a graduate of any of the training programs which teach people to attack an active shooter.   We also feel it is critical to remind people that while some active shooters have been stopped by students and staff who attacked an active shooter, a number of school employees have been shot and killed unsuccessfully attempting to disarm people with guns in schools.

While we agree that new and improved concepts can and should be developed, we feel it is critical that theoretical high-stakes changes this controversial, should be carefully tested and validated before thousands of people are trained in their use.  If the concepts are valid, they will withstand independent evaluation.   If assertions used to sell such concepts are accurate, verifiable statements should be used to convince people who are reluctant to embrace and implement them.

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.