Expert Advice on Evaluating Lockdown Systems: 7 Critical Questions to Ask

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.

To learn more about how installing the SafeDefend System answers these questions with ‘yes,’ and how it’s already at work protecting students and school communities throughout the U.S., contact us today.

The Biggest Problem with Current School Safety Solutions

When we look back at the three deadliest school shootings of 2018, one similarity they all share is obvious: none of the school safety solutions that the districts had in place at the time did what they were supposed to do. These shootings occurred in Marshall County, Kentucky, where there were two deaths (and an additional 14 injuries); in Santa Fe, Texas, where ten people died (with 12 more injured); and in Parkland, Florida, where there were 17 deaths (with an additional 17 people injured).

All three schools had security protocols at the time of the shootings. All had surveillance cameras on campus. All had access control systems, and each had a school resource officer or other trained security staff member on their grounds. And yet all were scenes of tremendous bloodshed.

One thing is clear: all three school security solutions failed to protect the students who’d entrusted their lives to them.

And yet, in the wake of these tragedies, all three school districts have promised to strengthen their defenses by doing more of the same things that didn’t work before.

Santa Fe High School has hired additional resource officers, outfitted the school’s front vestibule with bulletproof glass, and installed metal detectors and automatic electronic door locks at entrances. Had these extra precautions been in place at the time of the shooting, the perpetrator, a current student, would still have been allowed to enter the school.

Marshall County High School has banned backpacks in its classrooms, installed metal detectors, and hired four additional school resource officers to patrol its halls.

And, after the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has increased the amount of fencing on its campuses, the number of video cameras in its security system, and the number of armed guards on school grounds. Even though an armed officer present at the time of the shooting failed to confront the perpetrator.

It’s Time to Change How We Think About School Safety Solutions

The biggest problem with current school safety solutions is simple. They don’t work.

What’s needed instead is a shift in mindset.

When we think about securing our school buildings, we often model our solutions on protocols developed by the federal government. When adhered to strictly and diligently, these protocols can be incredibly effective.

But school buildings don’t operate the way government offices do. The same systems designed to keep an intruder out of a courthouse won’t work to exclude an angry student from a classroom. And more than 86% of school shooters are students at the school where the violence takes place.

Access Control Systems Aren’t Keeping the Threat Out

Fundamentally, access control systems cannot solve this problem because the threat is already inside. This isn’t how we’d like to think about the environment where our children spend the majority of their days. We’d rather imagine that we can keep the dangers out.

By nature and by design, school communities are their strongest and most vibrant when buildings can be accessed at all hours of the day and night. From early morning swim practice to evening choir rehearsal, and from weekend football games to robotics tournaments, students benefit both academically and socially from participating in extracurricular activities.

Maintaining strict access control policies for all doors at all hours is neither cost-effective nor practical. And adopting a “lockdown” mentality sets kids on the wrong emotional path.

A New Model for Notification & Response

To create real change, we need to adopt a decentralized model for notification and response—one that operates at the classroom level rather than for entire buildings and campuses.

It’s vital that we empower teachers to take action, creating systems that will speed the process of locking down individual classrooms. No active shooter has ever breached a locked interior door, so giving teachers the tools they need to secure their classrooms more quickly and dynamically can save lives.

It’s also essential that we improve teachers’ ability to notify law enforcement officials and first responders quickly and accurately. Just as today’s fire alarm systems automatically inform firefighters about the exact location of the alert, we need systems that will instantly inform responding officers of the shooter’s whereabouts.

In all three of the shootings mentioned above, miscommunication or incorrect dispatch information slowed response times, costing law enforcement officers vital minutes that, in a crisis situation, can make the difference between life and death.

To learn more about how the SafeDefend System’s instant law enforcement alerting feature meets this need, and how it works to protect students and school communities throughout the U.S., contact us today.