School shootings continue to make headlines. They continue to inspire outrage, horror, shock, and disbelief. And they continue to take lives, tragically, and far more often than they should. Even though these events remain relatively rare, they have an outsized impact on our hearts, minds, and imaginations, and it is incumbent upon every decision-maker tasked with protecting children’s lives to ensure that their district’s lockdown system is as effective as possible.
To help you take stock of your current lockdown system and emergency action notification plan, we’ve assembled a list of the most important questions you can ask to assess a system’s capabilities. Though very few school districts today have emergency lockdown systems that meet all the best-practice guidelines, choosing a lockdown system about which you can answer ‘yes’ to as many of these questions as possible will ensure you’re making students safer with respect to some of today’s most serious threats.
#1: Does the system provide all the notifications that it should, and provide them simultaneously?
An emergency action notification system should be capable of alerting police or law enforcement, people in the affected building, and the school’s administration and staff.
It should be able to provide these alerts in a single step, rather than having them occur in multiple phases. It’s important that, for instance, school administrators not be required to disseminate alert information within the building, since this step takes extra time and introduces a possible point of failure into the notification process.
#2: Is the system able to issue all these alerts and notifications without demanding too much effort from teachers or administrators, or putting them in danger?
Notification and alerting systems that require access codes will fail in times of crisis. It takes too long to activate them and access codes tend to be forgotten in moments of stress or panic. Intercom or telephone-based systems involve multiple steps that slow down response time and can place teachers or administrators in harm’s way if the phone is in an exposed location.
#3: Does the system inform students of what they should do?
An emergency lockdown system that broadcasts the alert’s location provides students with the information they need to decide whether they should attempt to escape or find a hiding spot. Because every active shooter emergency situation is different, this simple contextual information can make it easier to make lifesaving decisions rapidly.
#4: Does the lockdown system give teachers the tools to protect their students?
We know that heroic teachers have given their lives while trying to protect their classrooms. It’s vital that an emergency lockdown system includes simple tools that can enhance teachers’ ability to defend themselves in life-threatening situations.
#5: How quickly can classroom doors be secured?
If your system doesn’t include quick locking capabilities, the next-best thing is to keep classroom doors locked at all times. Doors should lock from the inside, not the outside, as is typical in many school buildings. Outside door locks force teachers to step into a potentially dangerous situation in the hallway in order to protect their classrooms and require extra time as well. Key-operated locks are the least desirable type to use for securing classrooms.
#6: Is decentralized, remote access to the notification system available? Can law enforcement easily bypass any access controls that are in place?
Not only should the emergency lockdown system notify local police, but school resource officers and local law enforcement should also be granted automatic and ready access to the building and the system’s controls.
#7: Does the system include trauma response capabilities?
Gunshot victims who might otherwise survive their injuries can die from uncontrolled bleeding within five to ten minutes. Tourniquets, dressings, and the use of proper techniques to stop bleeding will save many of these lives. An active shooter emergency response system should include access to bandages, hemostatic dressings, and instructions on emergency wound care.
We understand that active shooter emergency situations are rare events. Despite this, their potential consequences are unimaginably severe, and everything possible should be done to prevent them. The truth is that your lockdown system will likely never be activated, but you need to have the best tools available for every classroom, just in case.