Why Schools Need 2 Types of Lockdowns

Campuses must use both emergency and preventive lockdowns.

There are many different schools of thought on lockdown concepts. One popular train of thought is that emergency preparedness plans should be kept short and simple to make them easier to use under actual crisis conditions. This approach generally makes sense because most school staff receive very little in the way of training and only a periodic opportunity to practice implementing lockdowns using drills. 

However, when we look at the types of situations where lockdowns are actually needed and implemented, we see there is a significant problem with having only one type of lockdown. This problem is that if the only lockdown option available to school officials is an emergency lockdown protocol designed for situations like active shooter, administrators frequently fail to implement it for the many other situations that require one and are far more likely to occur. This is dangerous because these lower level situations can quickly turn deadly if a lockdown is not ordered.

One of my client districts was reluctant to move to the two-lockdown approach until we looked at the types of situations where they were actually implementing lockdowns. Out of more than 300 actual lockdowns that had been implemented in the previous school year, none of them involved a person with a gun on campus. Instead, most involved an out of control person in the school, an intruder or a situation in the community near the school. 

Because this district is one of the largest school systems in the nation, they encounter situations almost every day that require a lockdown, but they realized that extreme protective measures are not appropriate for most of those situations. Stopping classes for 30 to 40 minutes because the police are chasing a burglar a few blocks from the school or because of a disorderly parent did not make a lot of sense to them. 

Moving to this more flexible approach gives administrators the flexibility to implement a more limited lockdown while the process of education continues when there is not an imminent threat. This approach also helps campuses avoid the delays we so often see in implementing a lockdown for the situations that do not involve someone firing a gun.

As we discussed in an earlier blog, it can be dangerous to have multiple types of lockdown when the protocols are based on the location of the threat rather than the type of threat. This approach is prone to failure and could be extremely difficult to defend successfully if litigation occurs.

In the same manner, when school officials who have only one option for lockdown are posed with a variety of different scenarios, they typically fail to opt for a lockdown for situations that do not involve an aggressor with a firearm in the building. Having an option for a preventive lockdown as well as an option for an emergency lockdown give school staff options that are much easier to select when they are posed with a variety of different problems such as:

  • A man with a gun in the parking lot
  • A woman firing a gun in a main hallway
  • A woman brandishing a knife in the cafeteria
  • An intoxicated man in the lobby of the school who is brandishing a large metal crowbar
  • An out of control parent in a main hallway
  • An intruder in the school

We often associate school lockdowns with school shootings and with active shooter situations in particular. The reality is that most lockdowns are implemented for other situations, and a failure to implement lockdowns for these types of events can also result in death and serious injury to students and staff.  Having an emergency lockdown option for situations where there is an imminent risk to students and staff as well as a preventive lockdown option for the vast majority of situations where this high level of risk is not initially apparent will improve the reliability of lockdown implementation for schools. 

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Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.


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About the Author


Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at mike@weakfish.org. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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