Let’s Make Our Schools Safe Again

armed-guards-at-schoolOn April 20, 1999 the Columbine Shooting took place, during which 12 students and 1 teacher were killed and scores of others were injured when terrorist entered the campus using assault type weapons, and began shooting at the victims indiscriminately.  Since that date and time, we have seen other world events of terrorist activity that have struck major cities and targets such as schools, malls, buses, and places of work.  These terrorist activities were successful, resulting in major casualties. When one thinks of such events, he automatically thinks of outside persons who are responsible for the attacks.  But as we have learned from the Columbine shooting and other incidents across the nation, some of the attacks took place by students themselves, disgruntled employees, parents of students, and vendors who are associated with the school – many who were mentally ill.  Some of these incidents were the lone acts of singular terrorists, acting upon hatred and the hope of destruction of a particular group of people based on religion, sex, race, etc.


In an effort to reduce the incidence of violence on and about our schools, both Federal and State government entities have provided numerous programs which include grant money to support the infrastructure of schools that are viable targets for attack.  It was also determined by the various law enforcement entities and security professionals that even though hardening the locations with cameras, gates, and other devices helped secure the schools, the most important security measure and cost effective method was to employ security personnel, specifically on the outside of a school to show a security presence.  It was security presence that stopped attacks, caused potential assailants to move on to other targets that did not have a security officer.  Those assailants entered other locations, causing havoc and mayhem.


To be more organized with how to respond to an active threat or to prevent the threat in the first place, and with examples such as Columbine and other school shootings such as Sandy Hook Elementary School, security professionals began to research the most effective security methods for school environments.  The first consensus was that not all incidents are the same, not all responses are going to be applicable and as the environment changes, the response must change as well.  However, it was determined that a unified concept of placing an institution such as a school on a “Lockdown” and/or “Shelter in Place” must be implemented.  When implemented, this must be done with a direct and understandable course of action by those in positions of leadership with faculty and students. The “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” concepts must be designed to reflect the needs of the particular school, take into consideration what the school has in place already, and how emergency responders from the outside entities would be able to respond in the event that a situation arises.  Working with the various law enforcement and emergency responders is critical so that everyone knows how and when a response team will arrive to provide aid to the school.



Things to Remember about Potential Attacks


  1. Focusing on one particular event or type of situation when implementing a “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” order can equate to failure. The “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” implementation must cover a wide variety of events such as outside threats, internal threats, natural disaster, and other events that can lead to confusion or fear.


  1. Keep in mind that there can be different levels of a “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” order which can apply to the various locations of the respective school – to include upstairs areas, playground areas, libraries, locker rooms, bathrooms or other areas in and about the school.


  1. When the “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” order is given, keep the order simple and understandable to everyone. Keep the protocol simple but direct.  When an incident does occur, many people respond differently and therefore, stress levels are raised and reactions follow.  If a simple order is given then hopefully regardless of the event and the stress at the time, the order can be given.


  1. As mentioned above, leadership plays a major role in the success of a “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” order. The leader who is chosen must not only be able to respond to the order and inform others of it, but also be equipped to perform certain acts such as locking doors, communicating via phones/radios, and accessing emergency equipment without delay.  The leader must have access to all of the above mentioned, including master keys and access codes and know how to use them at any given time.


  1. Training of the protocols of “Lockdown” and “Shelter in Place” should be given to not only the leadership chosen to run the event, but to all teachers, staff members and selected student body leadership. With the proper training, everyone of the team can then make a quick decision, implement the respective order of a “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place”, not have to wait for direction from a senior staff member and if done, reduce the likelihood of serious injury or death due to the quick response of that person.


  1. Understanding the nature of a threat should take precedence when considering a “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” order. When evaluating the threat, keep in mind that a threat can escalate within a short moment and it is better to err on safety than take a chance that the threat will just walk out or that the assailant will be talked down and become non-threatening. Also keep in mind that there are many weapons that can cause great bodily harm or death and they go beyond typical weapon such as knives or guns.


  1. Once the threat or major incident is over, it is imperative that “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” orders are lifted in a logical and methodical manner. Only the most senior leader should release the order and once done, release the students sector by sector in order to prevent mass confusion or even panic among the persons involved. Also, keep in mind that local law enforcement personnel may want to interview particular students who make good witnesses and/or provide emergency aid or mental health treatment



Specific Protocols and Definitions


“Shelter in Place” is used for incidences such as a natural disaster, a fire, major accident, and health hazards close to the school where “Lockdown” or building evacuation is not recommended.


“Lockdown” is used for internal threats, external threats, police activity in and about the school, advisement by local law enforcement based on their specific intelligence, and potential health hazards that can spread from one part of the school to another.  Keep in mind that “Lockdown” procedures can be for specific locations on the campus or the entire campus, depending on the actual threat.


In the event a “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” order is given, the following specific activities should be performed by the leadership of the school:


  1. An order must be made throughout the school.


  1. Lock all ingress and egress to the school including but not limited to windows, doors, and other access points such as gates leading into the campus.


  1. If door locks are not available, place heavy or bulky items in front of the doors to help prevent access by the intruder.


  1. Once the “Lockdown” order is given, do not open or stop the order unless authorized by law enforcement, a school administrator tasked with that duty, or other emergency responding personnel. Keep in mind, terrorists can use various uniforms to disguise themselves as first responders, so if in doubt, ask for photo identification, call 911 to verify the presence of responders and listen for a radio transmission to them via the responders communication device.


  1. If in a “Lockdown” room, move all persons away from the doorway area, try to keep a position of concealment out of sight of a person who may look in, and turn off the lights and any other devices that can give your location away.


  1. While in the “Lockdown” area keep everyone quiet, low to the ground or floor, and away from any window so as to prevent being hurt by shattering glass or other foreign objects thrown through the windows. To prevent debris coming in the windows, close window blinds if they are available.


  1. Allow a few moments for students or others to gain access to a safe “Lockdown” room in the event they are in a bathroom or out of the classroom for a specific school function. However, keep in mind, “Lockdown” must be very quick and efficient and, more than likely, that missing student will be incorporated into another classroom depending on the proximity of the area he or she is in.


  1. Keep in mind who is in the “Lockdown” room with you; write down the names of the persons and once the order is lifted, review the list to ensure everyone is accounted for.


  1. If a person in the room has special needs such as medical or other qualifiers, make sure you are able to attend to those needs in a manner that will be quiet, yet efficient. It is always helpful to have an emergency kit with special needs equipment in it so that they can be attended to if a “Lockdown” order is given.


  1. Never release the “Lockdown” order until you are authorized to by law enforcement or a school administrator.



Concluding Concepts to Remember


It is imperative that proper security protocols are implemented and understood by all persons who work or learn at the school.  Most importantly, have “Lockdown” or “Shelter in Place” drills should be performed at least once every 3 months of the school year.  By practicing the procedures  students, faculty and others who work at the school will be that much more familiar with the protocols, be able to assist those who are not so well-versed on how to respond to the order, and reinforce the message of how we all must take steps personally and communally to ensure the safety of all.


1382063521Author Yehuda Packer is an expert in security and law enforcement.  He is a retired Detective supervisor for a major metropolitan law enforcement agency.  With over 25 years of experience in the law enforcement field and security industry, Yehuda has been called on to provide expert advice for numerous security and law enforcement projects.  Yehuda is the CEO of Expert Security Services, Inc., a full service security company located in the greater Los Angeles area.  Yehuda received a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice with an emphasis in Homeland Security and Counter Terrorism and is a professor for the University of Phoenix, College of Criminal Justice.  To find out more, go to www.expsecurity.com  or send a note to expsecurity1@gmail.com.