In an era where school safety concerns are more urgent than ever, having strong emergency procedures in place is a core part of preparedness. Administrators and school safety managers know that managing safety requires a comprehensive plan that addresses a variety of emergency situations, including extreme weather emergencies, medical risks, bomb threats, and preventing active assailants. For K-12 schools, lockdowns are an essential part of a school safety plan and can be an effective strategy for managing security when implemented correctly.
There are many factors to consider when running a lockdown procedure, whether it is a drill or not. It’s important that drills optimize safety, without having a negative psychological impact on kids. The proper planning can help prepare the community, without inflicting unnecessary fear on young kids or teachers. In order to understand what is appropriate and necessary as far as safety drills, administrators should familiarize themselves with the different types of lockdown situations. There is a difference between a hard lockdown, which impacts internal operations, and a soft lockdown, which involves the town, county, or city as a whole.
There is a difference between a weather emergency drill, the procedure for a medical emergency, or an active shooter emergency. It’s important for schools to have more than one emergency protocol for various situations and environments; if the community is only prepared for an active shooter situation, it can prevent school administrators from responding to other emergency situations deemed more low risk. This can potentially escalate a situation that could have been managed by simply locking a door or proper communication.
What Is a “Soft Lockdown” Procedure?
There are key differences between hard lockdown and soft lockdown procedures. A hard lockdown indicates an immediate threat on campus – it requires the school to go into an internal emergency procedure. This means that students, teachers and staff cannot move around within the school, and are required to remain within a locked classroom. In some districts, students or teachers are advised to move away from the doors or windows and seek shelter. If a school is in a region impacted by extreme weather, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or tornadoes, the campus may have a separate protocol for responding to these situations.
A soft lockdown is used when a possible threat is identified in the surrounding area. This would involve any safety risk that is happening outside of the school – for example, a bank robbery, burglary, or a parent attempting to retrieve a child from school who has been instructed not to. If there is any suspicious activity that could bring potential danger on school grounds, administrators may opt to institute a soft lockdown.
When a crime or another dangerous incident happens in town, school leaders will often communicate with police to determine whether or not the school should be put on soft lockdown. If a suspect is on the run or an arrest is occurring inside, district officials may decide to institute the lockdown until local law enforcement determines that it’s safe again. The interfacing between 9-1-1, local safety managers and administrators is necessary for this protocol to work effectively.
During a soft lockdown at school, teachers and students can move around within the school and classes typically continue as planned. Depending on the situation, class periods should change as per usual. However, nobody is allowed to leave the building, even if it is to travel between facilities on campus. This can also potentially halt classroom activities – for example, physical education classes wouldn’t be allowed to bring students outdoors.
Restrictions would also be placed on visitors during a soft lockdown at school. Parents or other guests will be required to buzz into the school, and administrators may reserve the right to turn visitors away. Depending on the situation, it may prevent anyone from coming or going from the school, which would be communicated beforehand to members of the town, county, or city to prevent confusion. In some instances, the school might heighten security at a time when doors are typically open, such as during morning drop off or afternoon pick up.
Leveraging Technology For School Lockdowns
During a lockdown, it’s key for administrators, teachers, and staff to communicate. A panic button app can also be a valuable tool for assisting with a soft or hard lockdown. During these procedures, there are a lot of considerations for safety managers to make, such as making sure teachers know how to properly lock the classroom or notifying staff, such as the school nurse, of a medical emergency at the school. If there is an immediate threat, the panic button user can activate the mobile app to send a notification to the designated teachers and staff of the nature of the emergency and have them initiate soft lockdown procedures. In addition to contacting law enforcement, it will help administrators or teachers continue to communicate with each other as the situation develops. In some cases, if the emergency is outside, but near the school building, 9-1-1 can activate the school’s panic button to alert staff of the nearby emergency and initiate evacuation procedures.
The internal communication capability makes the tool an effective way to keep the community informed of which type of lockdown is in effect, which will also prevent unnecessary panic. During an emergency, it allows teachers to notify the administration and local law enforcement about the nature of the emergency. The app provides first responders with location data as well, which will speed up response times. There are many technological means of communications available, which by integrating these tools into your emergency response plan, they can be an essential part of school safety plans.