School Lockdowns – The Submarine Door Analogy

A while back, I came up with an analogy that a number of folks have told me has been helpful to them. I thought it might be useful to share it here.  It can be easy for people who have not had the experience of being threatened or attacked with a weapon to have unrealistic expectations.  For example, for more than a decade, we have been posing scenarios for school employees and asking them to either verbally walk us through what they would do to address the scenarios or to physically demonstrate for us in real time what they would do. 

We have found that it is quite common for school staff to be unable to secure their work area rapidly when we do this with a scenario that would require a lockdown.  For example, just in the past few months, I have encountered many school office staff and classroom teachers who were not able to properly implement a lockdown in less than 30 seconds when posed with scenario where it is clearly appropriate for them do implement a lockdown.  In a number of instances, I have timed school staff who took more than 90 seconds to secure their work area.  These same school employees have typically participated in several or more lockdown drills in the current school year but are unable to perform the basic steps to accomplish a lockdown fast enough to protect themselves and others if an armed person were in close proximity.

When I keynote or work with clients, I have had good success with the submarine door analogy to help explain how dangerous these delayed reactions can be.  I simply ask what would happen if the crew of a submarine did not close the door to the sub until they had submerged to a depth of 100 feet.  The obvious answer is that the submarine would sink.  In the same manner, school staff who are not prepared to make, communicate, and implement the decision to lockdown in the first critical seconds of an act of violence will be more prone to implement protective actions too late to protect people.  While the analogy resonates best with most people for lockdown situations, it is equally applicable for medical emergencies, fires, tornadoes and other potentially life-threatening situations.

This simple analogy has helped many people better understand how fast staff must be able to react in a life-threatening situation.  I have had excellent feedback on this analogy.  As soon as we get a chance, we will be developing a free online video using the submarine analogy in concert with our new book Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters.  I will post a blog to announce this free resource once we have it on the web site.  In the meantime, this analogy may be helpful in your efforts to improve school safety.

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.