Inside/Outside Lockdown Approach Prone to Failure

Location-based lockdowns are unreliable and potentially dangerous.
Published: May 15, 2012

Though I work hard to inform without offending when I write, this blog may be one of the most controversial of all the articles columns and blogs I have contributed to Campus Safety over the past 14 years.  I also feel that this is one of the most important.

Many schools and universities have adopted an approach to lockdowns that is based on the location of the threat rather than the nature of the threat.  Using various terms, the approach basically involves one set of action steps for threats that are outside of the facility and a different set of action steps for threats that are inside the facility.

This is an unreliable and a potentially dangerous approach to school lockdowns because the concept does not work well with how school employees make decisions under life and death situations. It also doesn’t consider the research showing how the human brain works under extreme stress. Most importantly, it takes into account the location but not the nature of the threat. 

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I base this assertion on having been brought in after the fact for seven active shooter situations in schools in the United States and Canada as well as for many other types of weapons assaults at schools. I also base my conclusion on having been involved with more than 1,700 crisis simulations using one-on-one interviews with school employees using dynamic video as well as scripted school crisis scenarios and scoring instruments. This forensic view of how lockdowns both work and fail when school employees are placed under stress has made it clear to me that this approach is unreliable at best. 

Lockdown drills may seem to work well when the decision to implement an inside or outside form of lockdown is made in advance of the drill. That being said, extensive testing shows that things often do not go so well when a variety of school employees are required to respond to an assortment of crises requiring a lockdown by verbalizing what they would do in the first 30 seconds of each situation. 

In one assessment of a large urban school district that uses the inside and outside approach to lockdowns, the fail rate was extremely high. Even though the district has an excellent emergency preparedness training program for all staff with refresher training each year, school employees missed lockdown as an action step for more than 70% of the scenarios posed. This means that employees under extreme stress would be more likely than not to miss the opportunity to protect people by implementing a lockdown in time. 

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