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How Lockdown Failed Sandy Hook

lock·down  (/ˈläkˌdoun/)
Noun:  Compartmentalization or confining to a specific area.

The inability to secure classrooms at SHES was not an application failure by the staff. The failure was “experts” telling them lockdown alone was enough. They totally depended upon teachers entering a hallway to lock classrooms doors. No training on impromptu target hardening and no direction to Run if they could not secure their location.

Lockdown should not be viewed as the catchall response to mitigate a violent attack. If you are inclined to associate lockdown with intruder or active shooter response, think of lockdown as the Hide portion of Run-Hide-Fight. A lockdown is like telling teachers to only hide; removing the desperately needed “Run” option and the rare, last resort of “Fight.”

As a security protocol, lockdown was first introduced in prisons as a precautionary measure to protect guards by isolating offenders in their cells. Prisons are designed to be compartmentalized, offender movement is extremely regulated, and guards have specialized training to manage violent persons.

Security is rarely a priority in school construction; with aesthetics often taking priority.  Students and staff move about the school, and staff lockdown training typically consists of lock the door, turn off the lights and sit against a wall.

A lockdown can never protect a person who has direct contact with an attacker or someone that is in an area that cannot be secured. This does not mean compartmentalization (Hide) does not have a place in intruder response. If an intruder can be prevented from entering, or once inside, kept the intruder from occupants, that is a success. However, basing an entire intruder response plan on the ability to compartmentalize everyone from the threat is seriously flawed.

Building-wide response plans work for fire or severe weather because these threats are less dynamic and changing than a human-based threat. Compartmentalization (Hide) certainly helps some occupants, because an intruder cannot pose a direct threat to an entire facility at once.  If a shooter is in the cafeteria, securing students in classrooms may well be the best response.

In an active shooter incident, everyone needs to understand their specific response is dependent upon their level of contact and location. While no plan can offer total protection from a violent intruder, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides a three-option approach. The options are Run, Hide, and as a last resort, Fight.

Stay safe,

Brad Spicer

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