School Lockdowns – Preventing Application Failure with Simple Practices

Properly implemented school lockdowns have been successfully used to protect students and staff for more than 100 years.  From a teacher preventing an armed aggressor from entering a Danbury, Connecticut in 1900 to more recent events, school lockdowns have successfully protected people from danger for many years.   Our clients often relate successful application of school lockdowns such as a case where an apparently dangerously mentally ill man opened fire in a high school parking lot in Henderson North Carolina in the mid-1970’s.  This instance occurred just two weeks after the school conducted a lockdown drill.  The man was killed in a gunfight with responding law enforcement officers but was unable to gain access to the school.

While properly implemented school lockdowns have been preventing tragedy for more than a century, many school staff are still not being properly trained and practiced.  In addition, school lockdown protocols are often poorly developed.  For more information on lockdown concepts that can be unreliable, we have developed a free web seminar.  This blog will focus on a few simple steps that can dramatically improve the reliability of school lockdowns: 

  • Regular staff and substitutes must be issued a key to be able to implement a lockdown.

  • Teaching with the classroom door locked is a practice we have been recommending to our clients for more than a decade.  This concept dates back at least to the early 1990’s and not only enhances security but can reduce lost time on task because teachers become less prone to give out hall passes.

  • Requiring staff to keep their room keys on their person can dramatically reduce the time it takes for staff to implement a lockdown.  While it can be helpful to have classroom doors that can be locked from the inside, long delays from staff trying to find their keys can dramatically reduce the benefits of such improvements.

  • Staff should be practiced in making the decision to lockdown their own work area and advising the office to secure the rest of the school independently.  Drills requiring individual staff to make these types of decision can dramatically improve decision-making and reduce fear. 

  • Training and drills should emphasize the need for appropriate types of lockdowns (preventive or “soft” lockdowns) when signs of danger are detected.  Focusing only on scenarios where shots have been fired or where someone is brandishing a gun can easily result in missed opportunities to implement a lockdown before an aggressor produces a weapon.  Our experience has been that the vast majority of situations where lockdown is appropriate at a school do not start out with shots being fired or someone brandishing a gun. 

We have now run more than 5,000 one-on-one controlled crisis simulations and have found these to be highly important aspects for more reliable school lockdowns.  Though not intended to be an all-inclusive list, addressing these key points can significantly improve reliability of school lockdowns.


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.