Developing Effective Lockdown Procedures

Developing Effective Lockdown Procedures

How to create a lockdown procedure with an operationally centric approach

Campus lockdown procedures, much like other emergency response and disaster preparedness measures, are critical to the safe and secure operation of a school campus. Holistically, this includes the safety of students, faculty, staff, contractors, and even visitors that may be on the premises. The purpose of a campus lockdown is to provide an orderly way to minimize accessibility to areas of a campus, buildings, or rooms, to reduce the risk of danger to those on the site.

Lockdowns of a campus are not entirely new, as they have been a part of responses to natural disasters such as a tornado, earthquake, or other sever weather. However, the way we look at and design these procedures is evolving. With an increase in active shooter events on campuses, lockdown procedures must be created or updated to include this new and complicated threat.

Though these types of events are still rare statistically speaking, we should be prepared to provide added safety and security to individuals on the campus should such an event happen to occur. Having read through countless safeguarding policies for schools, campuses, and districts, a striking observation is that most of the lockdown procedures are alarmingly similar and vague. They state that when a lockdown is initiated, some sort of signal will serve as the lockdown flag indicating that you are to stay inside, lock your doors, and remain silent until further notice. These procedures sound adequate in theory but lack detail, consideration for the different operations that take place on a campus, and are too passive as a reaction to a critical event.

The main complexity of designing a proper lockdown procedure is the fact that there are different types of visitors accessing different functional spaces on a campus at any given moment. For example, you have students attending class, students in administrative offices, staff working in the administrative spaces, visitors touring the campus, contractors working in different areas, athletes using different facilities, etc.

Also, campuses, such as medical facilities, universities or colleges, tend to be open and inviting, allowing for multiple points of entry without verification of authorized access at every location. Properly securing an open campus is a different topic completely in itself, but for the purposes of this article we are considering your common school campus that allows entry at multiple points. Specific to a school campus, a lockdown procedure should account for the reverse evacuation of individuals that may be outdoors, returning them into a building in an orderly fashion to continue with the lockdown procedure.


The main steps to creating an operationally centric lockdown procedure are:

  1. Assessing the overall campus design.
  2. Identifying the resources for event identification.
  3. Identifying electronic systems that can assist.
  4. Creating a communication plan.
  5. Bringing all aspects together in a site-specific plan.

Once all the steps are completed and a lockdown procedure with an adequate communications plan is created, policies for education efforts should also be created. Your procedures need to be taught, rehearsed, and thoroughly learned by the site.

Lockdown procedures cannot be cookie-cutter due to the immense variation in the design of campuses. Therefore, creating this sort of procedure should start with a wide look over the architectural layout of your particular campus. Items to consider include: points of entry to the campus, paths of travel, schedule of activities and ability to detect an incident at any location on campus.

You must understand the full operations, and engage representatives, of all facets of your facilities such as administrative staff, facilities and maintenance, faculty, athletics, and student life. This is critical because roles and responsibilities will need to be assigned in a lockdown procedure. Once this is understood, the second phase of planning a lockdown procedure can take place; identifying what are the current security related resources that can be used for incident identification.


For a lockdown procedure to be initiated, the event needs to be identified and those on campus need to be notified. Think of how that could happen and who is best positioned to identify issues throughout different areas of the campus. Are there security officers? Are faculty members able to communicate with security officers or the main office from their classrooms?

In many cases, only an authorized person in an administrative office can trigger a lockdown procedure, but this presents a bottleneck or single point of failure. The incident may not start at the location of this individual and communication to them may take time in a scenario where every second is valuable. A more efficient approach includes several individuals or locations at which an event could be identified.

This may include administrative staff in offices, security personnel throughout campus, and faculty throughout the school. Though everyone may not have direct access to initiate the procedure itself, they should have a means of communicating what they are observing to someone that could rapidly initiate a lockdown procedure if needed.

As you may have noticed, technology has not yet been a consideration during this exercise. Now that you understand the full scope of the different operations on your campus and what that means in terms of people accessing different areas of the site, as well as having identified the resources that can assist in identifying an event, it is time to look at what systems are currently in place that could be tied into the lockdown procedure.

The following are some systems that could increase the efficiency of a lockdown procedure: video surveillance, electronic access control systems, alarm systems and mass communication systems such as paging, text platforms, or emails.

These systems could be tied to an event to automate communication, trigger locking of strategic doors, assist first responders with tracking and navigation, and help individuals obtain information as quickly as possible. As an example, emergency phones could be added in remote parking lots, lockdown/emergency buttons added in strategic locations, cameras added for adequate situational awareness during a response, etc.

The main goal is to provide systems that allow the earliest detection as possible and the fastest communication as possible. That includes communication to those on your campus, those that may be on their way to your campus, and to first responders. This provides individuals with as much time to react as possible, ultimately saving lives.


Now it’s time to tie all this together to create your lockdown procedure. The general steps should include:

  • Event Identification. The lockdown is triggered by the individuals identified utilizing the systems you have chosen for this step.
  • Communication. Communication is sent to everyone on campus and those that could be on their way to your campus, informing them of the event so they shelter in place or refrain from accessing the campus. Communication is also sent to first responders for response to the event.
  • Sheltering. Clear steps, depending on your location, to take to lock yourself in a building or room.
  • Target Hardening. Active steps that can be taken to make yourself the hardest target possible, such as barricading doors, closing blinds, and identifying objects around the room that could assist in fending off an intruder.
  • Room Clearing. The steps taken as individuals wait in their locations for authorities to regain control of the situation and safely clear and evacuate you.

These procedures are only useful if those on your campus are properly trained. Education is critical in ensuring that an individual could still perform the tasks as prescribed under duress. Typically, drills are conducted on a yearly basis, but increasingly it is recommended that lockdown drill, specific for active shooters on a campus, are conducted once a semester.

Inevitably there will be individuals new to your campus or visiting for the first time so the procedure needs to identify measures for these circumstances as well. For example, requiring that lead role individuals in classrooms quickly assess if individuals directly outside their room could come in for shelter within their space, or providing tour guides with the steps they need to take in different campus locations if they have a group of visitors with them.


There are some collective tips that have risen through years of coordinating these types of procedures, which could be applied when you are undergoing this process. Here are ones to keep in mind:

Prerecorded Messages. Audible messages should be prerecorded to avoid relying on an individual under stress to communicate in a clear manner. This also allows them to save time and carry on with their sheltering procedure as opposed to seeking a paging station to communicate.

Proper Hardware. Door hardware shall be properly designed for the ability to be locked from the inside of the room, not requiring someone to go outside in order to lock it with a key.

Limit Sight. Windows could be glazed or tinted to provide little visuals of the inside. If this is not possible, blinds or other shade systems should be introduced and closing them should be part of the detailed procedure. Notify Everyone. Do not forget to include communication with those that may be on their way to your campus to ensure they do not come in. This could be via automated messages to students, faculty, employees, and even parents. This may also be in the form of visual indicators at the campus or buildings such as lights that alert on comers.

Automate Important Steps. Automate the process of initiating calls to first responders. This will save you time and ensure that the scenario where people refrain from calling because they assume someone else already has, is avoided.

Use Various Methods to Notify. Have multiple methods of communication. An audible/paging system could communicate the event while emergency strobes of a designated color are also triggered and text-based communication is sent out. This could serve to mitigate a scenario where a fire alarm system is purposely triggered by a perpetrator to override a paging system to cut off the communication of the lockdown initiation. The goal is to eliminate a single point of failure and reach as many people as possible with your communication.

Keep it Simple. Avoid creating too many different types of lockdown procedures. Typically, these are assigned to different colors such as “code red,” or “code blue.” Throughout my experience I have observed individuals on a campus becoming confused when too many different lockdown procedures have been introduced. This could delay your reaction to an event or cause an individual to trigger to wrong type of event.

Identify Key Roles and Responsibilities. These will be specific to your campus depending on what resources are available. For example, identifying who is in charge of each classroom, administrative space, facilities locations, etc. Who will be responsible for identifying the event, communicating, and who responds to the different sections of the campus.

Discuss the Procedure. Conduct table-top sessions with your key participants to think through all aspects of the event. Some procedures sound great in theory but are not adequate when you start to think of the details such as what if you’re outdoors with a class, in a bathroom, during a lunch break etc.

Train Realistically. Ensure that drills take place at appropriate time intervals such as once a semester and that they are as realistic as possible. Avoid telling those on campus of exact dates and times. What typically happens when that information is given, individuals start to prep for the drill 5 to 10 minutes ahead of time and begin closing windows and drawing blinds in anticipation of the drill. This decreases the drill’s efficiency.

Stock up. Provide the resources needed inside lockdown areas, should individuals need to stay inside for extended periods of times. This may include water, first aid kits, and even supplies to stop the bleeding. Many deaths have occurred because first responders could not access victims in time during the process of having buildings and rooms safely cleared.

Lockdown procedures are hard to create as you might want to believe that a serious incident, such as an active assailant or bomb threat, will never happen on your campus. You must be prepared for any and all threats. Focus on educating your staff about procedures, train realistically and communicate with leaders, students and faculty so that if, and when, the time comes, your campus is able to lockdown as quickly as possible, minimizing a potentially deadly incident.

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Campus Security Today.


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