School Lockdowns – Using Research-based Approaches Instead of Focusing Intently on Active Shooter Incidents

Our analysts utilize a variety of research-based techniques to evaluate school crisis plans, staff development approaches, and drill processes.  For example, while drills for school lockdowns are conducted in the traditional top-down manner and go off without a hitch, we have worked a number of school shootings where there were long delays between shots being fired and a school lockdown being announced.  Even more commonly, school there have been lengthy delays between the time a potentially dangerous person is spotted on campus and when school lockdowns have been announced on the public address system. 

Unfortunately, many school lockdown approaches are so heavily based on active shooter incidents, they are prone to failure when far more common situations arise.  In addition, research on how people make decisions under life and death stress indicates that practicing for a wider array of emergency situations better prepares the brain than focusing intently on only one scenario such as active shooter.  After working seven K12 school active shooter incidents and far more school shootings, stabbings, and other weapons incidents, my experience has been that the more school officials focus intently on active shooter incidents, the less prepared they will be for them and for the types of weapons incidents that happen most of the time.  Every active shooter incident I have worked has been dramatically different from the other six I have evaluated.  A pronounced tendency for people to focus on the last horrific incident so much that they become less prepared for a wider array of active shooter incidents.

I think it is fair to say that every client who has observed our one-on-one crisis simulations has made changes in how they prepare for school lockdowns.  This is because the reactions they observe are far different from what they anticipate.  This is especially true for school organizations that have focused intently on active shooter situations.   As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman so well states it, the human mind is the most powerful survival mechanism known to mankind.  But, as the extensive research of Grossman, Dr. Gary Klein and a number of other experts shows us, we can accidently program people to except certain outcomes to the point they become far less effective under actual field conditions when they could face an almost limitless array of specific situations. 

There is considerable research to show that exposing people to a wider array of scenarios in training and drills can improve their chances of survival in an actual event.   Learning from this extensive base of knowledge can improve survivability while also reducing fear among school employees and the students under their care.

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.