I think that a lockdown procedure needs to be treated like the fire procedure. Some schools have brought fire and lockdown into one critical incident plan. Essentially fire evacuation explains how to get everyone out safely; lockdown keeps everyone in, and intruders out.
The first step in preparing a lockdown policy is to be realistic about the risks for the school and its pupils, and will be linked to the ease of access into the school buildings. Whilst terrorism has prompted schools to consider a lockdown procedure, different schools will identify different risks and the likelihood of a negative event will vary. The risk may come from a intruder, aggrieved parent, or an incident in the immediate vicinity of the school. Although risks can perhaps be more easily seen in city areas, issues also arise in rural areas. In this example, a village college in Cambridgeshire, needed to implement their lockdown procedure because it was believed a distressed man had poured petrol over himself outside the school gates: Major emergency incident near Cambridgeshire Village College
The fire alarm is well recognised, but the lockdown signal must be different. Many schools use a two-stage lockdown alert, one meaning ‘be aware, but carry on’, the second ‘full lockdown’, which may mean lock classroom doors and close window blinds. One might indicate a threat in the vicinity of the school, the other a threat inside the school.
Sometimes people look online for advice about lockdown, but find information from America which refers to an ‘active shooter’ on site. In the UK, whilst firearms, can never be ruled out, (we just need to remember what happened in Dunblane in 1996), violence is more likely from ‘bladed weapons’ or physical aggression.
Schools should aim for a single point of entry, and supervise any other entrances. At least two scenarios need to be considered: when the critical incident happens during the teaching day, or as students are arriving or leaving.
I think it is much more important that schools prevent ‘risky’ people entering the site at street level. This means locked gates and intercoms with visual contact, direct routes to a clear visitor entrance, greeting by a receptionist, before being allowed through an access controlled door into the main school building, supervised by the person they have come to see. This process means that there are three opportunities to review the visitor, by name or behaviour.
Most schools are secure, at least during the teaching day, but it is often human error that let’s the system down: leaving delivery gates open, or not checking who’s at the door before opening it. School entrances that are open at busy times, should have adults on duty who are clearly visible (as a deterrent), and who are alert to people coming in and out, and where they are going.
Some steps to consider
- Identify the likely risks to the school
- Identify the mitigating measures in place to slow down or prevent access into the school site and buildings
- Identify any parents or students that might present specific risks; or risks presented by the community, for example, the impact of gangs.
- Look at how current alert systems can enable different sounds to be given for different events
- Think about a ‘two stage’ lockdown
- Consider how these steps can be shared or, if appropriate, practised with pupils without spreading fear or alarm
- Consider how communication with parents can be made to minimise panic responses
Other sources of information
Developing Dynamic Lockdown Procedures (National Counter Terrorism Security Office)
Lockdown Procedures (Surrey County Council)
Schools Lockdown Guidance (Birmingham City Council)
Lockdown Procedures for Schools Guidance 2017 (North Somerset Council)
Lockdown Procedures (Central Bedfordshire Council)