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                        Workplace / School Violence

                        Lockdown! Is it the Best Choice for Schools and Businesses?

                        If you have charge over others, whether it be a teacher at school, supervisor of a business, healthcare professional with patients, etc, what is your responsibility when a potentially dangerous situation is reported or known to you? This is a question that, all too often, creates for confusion. Unfortunately, it should! I think that, on one hand, the responsibilities are either viewed as, or written to be, overly complicated yet, on the other hand, far too general in nature. Why do I say this?

                        Let’s use the following, very simple, scenario as an example:

                        A student/employees sees another student/employee inside of their school/business with a firearm inside of a bag and reports it to you. What exactly does your policy call for you to do? If you are not certain about what your policy says or you do not have a policy, then what makes the most sense? Most school policies require that you go immediately into lockdown.

                        Lets look at a very standard Lockdown Procedure:

                        1. Students and staff report to the nearest room

                        2. Close and lock all doors and windows

                        3. Cover all hallway doors and windows if possible/necessary

                        4. Move students so they cannot be seen and to the best area to protect them

                        5. Turn off lights

                        6. Remain silent

                        7. If fire alarm is activated DO NOT evacuate

                        8. Wait for further instructions

                        9. Be prepared to institute other actions as necessary

                        In a recent incident at a Manchester NH High School, a non-student was seen inside of the school carrying a bag with a firearm and knife inside of it. It was reported that a student informed a teacher and a lockdown was ordered. Reports following the incident stated that the Principal and Staff followed protocol and executed their plan perfectly. Since this time Ive had requests from schools to confirm exactly what plan they should have in place for this type of an incident. So lets think through an incident like this and attempt to determine whether "Lockdown" is an appropriate, automatic protocol.

                        First of all, if you see a potential danger, or one is reported to you, what is your immediate goal? I would hope that you would say to keep yourself and others safe! So you must take an appropriate and immediate action to start the process of accomplishing this goal. The problem in this initial response is that your first step may be quite different depending upon your "responsibility".

                        If you are a student, you have no responsibility to protect others and, therefore, your initial step may be to get quickly away and to safety; maybe even evacuate the building before reporting the problem. If, on the other hand, you are a faculty member, your initial step may be more towards a goals of protecting others as much as protecting yourself. So, even at this very initial stage, there are dynamics in effect that, depending upon what your goals and responsibilities are and what your choices are as a result of those goals and responsibilities, can impact the overall outcome of the situation.

                        Ultimately, one of your top priorities is going to be to call 911 and get help started. This is a very normal reaction in those who find themselves in danger. If you want fast and effective help, however, law enforcement is going to require detailed information. Where is the person now? What is the physical description of the person? What is the person doing? What did the person say? Will you have all of this information?

                        Maybe, however this will only be the case depending upon the choices that were made upon initial contact with the person. If someone sees another with a firearm or other dangerous weapon and has concern for the safety of others, is it best to walk away to report it and leave the suspect to potentially harm others? Think about this: If the suspect is seen on the far east side of the building, does it makes sense to have those on the far west side of the building lock down, as opposed to evacuate? Should this subject begin to harm people, you have now entombed those who potentially could’ve gotten to safety were it not for an automatic lockdown response.

                        The problem is, when you walk away from a threat, you have no idea where they go and who they potentially place in danger. You have no idea what they are doing. You will not have the most important information needed by law enforcement as they respond to resolve the situation. Again, as each step progresses, an automatic response becomes less and less practical and less and less safe! In order for law enforcement to resolve a dangerous situation quickly, we must know details of who, what, where and when. As an example, many time we respond to facilities for a panic alarm investigation. The problem is, we have no idea why the panic alarm has been activated. Is it a medical emergency? Armed robbery? Error in activation? So we arrive with absolutely no idea why we are responding. Unfortunately, this adds a tremendous amount of time to ultimate resolution.

                        Lockdown is a wonderful tool! However, its only a tool and this doesn’t mean that it is the best tool for every circumstance! Schools and businesses in their entirety, to include staff, students, employees, etc, must be trained to understand sudden and traumatic situations and how to quickly formulate an effective "team" plan that will bring an incident to conclusion quickly and safely. Every staff member, employee, student, etc must understand that a policy exists, what its purpose is for them specifically as well as overall, and be training in how to react to an incident of violence or danger in the school/workplace.

                        In the example above, training might bring the quick ability for the student to quickly recruit another to covertly watch the potential threat while they go and report it. A plan of this type established in advance would mean very quick and effective reaction. It may mean confronting the person while they are free of danger as the weapons are inside of a bag. There are so many potential options available if everyone is appropriately trained, in advance. If lockdown is only one potentially usable and highly valuable tool, training brings the additional tools.

                        We all have a toolbox and training fills them with options. And options are the bottom line: In a sudden and traumatic incident of violence, those involved need to be empowered to make their own decisions about what they are going to do. These decisions should be based on the circumstances that they face at the specific time that they face them. Its difficult to provide protocol that will work every time. Its dangerous to so as a result. The goal should be to train your most important assets, your people (students, staff, employees, teachers, etc) to react to many different kinds of incidents.

                        Published Sep 28, 2014

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