Most schools have at least basic crisis plans, but they often leave something to be desired. They often look fine on paper at a quick glance, but a close examination frequently shows a lot of room for improvement. When plans do fall short, terrible things can come about, followed by a whole lot of finger-pointing and, inevitably, civil suits.
Here’s the range of lockdown arrangements I’ve seen:
1. No plan.
2. A vague plan. “If we need to lockdown, everyone knows they’re supposed to lock all the doors and take cover.”
3. A specific plan. “The Principal announces a code red. Everybody ducks into the nearest room and they lock the door.”
I’m hoping you made it at least to level three. So yahoo! we’re making progress, but you’re not off the hook just yet–the devil is in the details.
A comprehensive plan should address four phases:
3. Response, (utilizing the Incident Command System for any major event. A sample ICS chart is pictured below.) and
4. Recovery. (The four phases are discussed a bit more in the Safe Havens video clip at the bottom of this post.)
It should also specifically address at least the top 10-20 types of crises you can anticipate.
But this posting merely aims to give you a taste.
See if you can answer the following questions regarding lockdowns, and how easily (if it takes more than a couple minutes to find the answer, that’s a problem in itself):
• What if the Principal is unavailable to make the announcement? What’s the back-up plan?
• What if the intercom doesn’t work? (I inspected one school where the intercoms don’t work reliably if it rains–In Oregon!)
• What about the kids on the playground? Can they hear an announcement? Can they get back inside? Should they? If not, what are they supposed to do? (Hint: if there’s an active shooter inside the school, kids on the playground should flee. More on that later.)
• How do you lock exterior doors? Who carries the keys? Does the custodian have to zip around the school locking a dozen push bars with a hex key? Or can they be locked electronically, with the push of a button?
• How do you lock classroom doors? Is each teacher equipped to do so? Do they have to step out into the hallway, possibly into the line of fire, to lock a door? (Hint: they shouldn’t have to do that.)
• How do you keep a shooter from looking into classrooms? Do the rooms all have blinds? (They should. Some schools keep posters or strips of cloth nearby that can quickly be placed over windows, attached with Velcro, tacks or tape.
• What if the shooter is willing to break glass? What areas of the school are still secureable? Does everyone know to withdraw into those areas? The Sandy Hook shootings put this concern front and center. As a result, some schools are now installing bullet resistant, laminated glazing in selected windows. The primary downside to this is the considerable expense. Another approach is to maintain safe havens deeper within the school that have no windows at all, but even in those cases the walls will need to be bullet resistant—meaning wallboard isn’t enough. Fully stocked bookshelves can make a difference.
• Are there communication devices throughout, so that staff can talk to each other while responding to a crisis? Do they carry radios? Cell phones? Are there other routes for communication? Digital displays? Emergency pendants? (See my blog post on “Ekahau”.)
• Is your crisis plan written down? Could I easily find it if I came to visit? Is it an intimidating, fat 3-ring binder of information, an accessible flip chart, or both? Do staff and students practice, with lockdown and evacuation drills, or does your plan gather dust or sit in a file drawer most of the time?
• Is there flexibility in the plan? What if “plan A” fails? If we’re in a locked down classroom, as instructed, and the offender is kicking in the door, does the plan say it’s okay to fight back? Throw computers, books and furniture at the attacker? (Hint: the answer should be yes.) Is there a secondary exit we’re allowed to use? If not, is it okay to smash the windows to escape? What tools can we use to do so?
• Is it okay to flee? If so, where do we flee to? If we head for neighboring businesses, have they been prepare for the possibility?
A gold star if you’ve got all that covered. On the other hand, perhaps you’ve found a point or two to work on. If so, shoot me an email, or consider further useful resources, including:
• Federal (FEMA) guidelines published in 2013:
• ALICE – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate http://www.alicetraining.com/alice/k-12.aspx (This training applied FEMA guidelines in putting together an effective hands-on approach. It has a lot going for it, but also some limitations. I’ve had some feedback that the training may be a little too effective, in that some teachers, when presented with scenarios, treat everything like an active shooter situation, which of course is the least likely of the threats schools must face. Problems of a less lethal nature require a far more nuanced response, starting with basic communication and de-descalation skills, mediation and problem-solving. Run-Hide-Fight is another well-intentioned program that can inadvertently be taken as the solution to all school problems, which would be a mistake for similar reasons. In addition, the “run” piece can be problematic — in many cases running can turn into a stampede, along with injuries. Walking is often a better idea.
• Safe Havens — http://www.safehavensinternational.org Full disclosure – I work with Mike Dorn on occasion, and can vouch for him personally as a superior resource. He does an outstanding job of scratching beneath the surface, looking for evidence on what works, rather than going with something that merely sounds good. One critical point he uncovered, for example, was that people trained in responses similar to those just discussed often skip the most important part — locking up. This gets complicated if the school cannot be easily secured, but it’s certainly essential. For comprehensive school inspections and safety plan development, he’s an ideal resource.