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Lockdowns vs. Multi-Option Responses

An active shooter incident at school is not something anyone wants to consider. But for administrators and educators, the topic is unfortunately unavoidable, making it critical to establish response protocols. For school staff, understanding and correctly executing an established plan can be the difference that saves lives.

In some school systems, the response to an active shooter incident is a still traditional lockdown. Others implement the federally recommended multi-option response, which incorporates multiple strategies, including enhanced lockdowns. Undoubtedly, both traditional lockdowns and multi-option responses have the goal of protecting students and faculty, but which is more effective?

The Traditional Lockdown Explained

The traditional lockdown is often the de facto response to an active shooter incident for schools and has been utilized since 1980. The protocol was first established in the Los Angeles Unified School District as a response to criminal activity near schools, more specifically drive-by shootings, but has since been widely adopted by school systems across the country. This type of lockdown emphasizes keeping students within classrooms, hiding and huddling in a corner utilizing the building’s doors and walls for cover from gunfire.

During a traditional lockdown, an announcement from the front office is made, after which classroom doors are locked, curtains and blinds are drawn, lights are turned off, and students lay on the floor or huddle together until the incident is over or help arrives. After the threat is neutralized or the incident is over, an official announcement from the front office is made and the lockdown is lifted.

The Downsides of a Lockdown-Only Approach

While a traditional lockdown does provide usable strategies that can be employed during an active shooter event, it has drawbacks.

Identical Responses for Different Threats

The traditional lockdown is inflexible and applies a one-size-fits-all solution to the complex problems presented by an active shooter incident. History has shown that active shooter events do not all follow the same pattern and that incidents can occur in any building on campus, or in no building at all. Additionally, 95% of school shooters are current or former students, so they are either already in the building or familiar with the surroundings.

Traditional lockdowns fail to account for many areas of a school, like the gym, library, sports field, or even the hallways, where people might be during an incident. Students and staff that find themselves anywhere on school grounds besides a classroom will be locked out of classrooms and untrained or unable to take the next steps they should take to ensure their safety.

Passive Response

During a traditional lockdown, students remain locked in their classroom, hiding and waiting for the entirety of the lockdown. That means even students far from the location of the shooter will remain locked down until the entire campus is clear. With no option for evacuation during a traditional lockdown, students will remain in place until the situation has ended, sometimes with little to no information about ongoing developments.

Feasibility of Protection

The lockdown-only approach to an active shooter is contingent on a locked classroom door stopping the assailant. Unfortunately, past events have shown that this might not be enough, as shooters have gained entry into buildings through glass entryways or windows. Additionally, the need for absolute silence during a traditional lockdown means that any attempt to barricade or reinforce a door or entry is discouraged. An active shooter likely knows there are people in the classroom and intends to harm as many as possible before police arrive. For this reason, a silent and darkened classroom is not viable a survival technique.

Multi-Option Responses for Different Threats

The multi-option response was created after the traditional lockdown response led to dire outcomes in the Columbine Shooting. The framework for multi-option response includes the lockdown response enhanced with a barricade, with options for evacuation when feasible, thus giving multiple options for students and teachers in an active shooter event. Students who find themselves close to an active shooter or near where an incident began might be best served by following the enhanced lockdown procedure, while students and staff on the other side of campus can safely evacuate.

ALICE Training ®: An Updated Multi-Option Strategy

ALICE Training ®established the protocols of multi-option response, and now includes updated strategies and modern resources for students and school staff:

New Responses for Better Adaptability

The strategies taught in the ALICE Training ®program include updates to established methods—like enhanced lockdowns and an evacuation option beyond traditional options—alongside new strategies. Students and faculty are taught situational awareness skills to help them make informed decisions and strategies specific to their circumstance. The strategies can be employed by anyone, anywhere, and at any time, making them life lessons staff and students can use beyond the walls of the school.

Blended Training for Improved Retention

ALICE Training ®utilizes a blended approach to training that includes eLearning curriculum and hands-on training, designed to ensure the strategies are retained and easy to recall during an emergency. Additionally, ALICE lesson plans are age- and ability-appropriate for grades K-12 with engaging and robust resources for educators.

Applying Proven Strategies and Building Confidence with ALICE Training ®

While the traditional lockdown focuses on one response to all situations, the multi-option approach in ALICE Training ®empowers students and faculty to participate in their own survival, assess situations, and make informed decisions. Regular practice and exposure to the various responses and strategies in ALICE Training ®gives participants confidence in their own ability to act during difficult emergency situations. In fact, while some fear that exposure to these protocols may have an emotional or psychological impact on students, 85% of students in a 2020 study 1reported feeling no change in their feelings of safety or felt more prepared, confident, or safe after completing training. Additionally, the study shows students who were trained more often in ALICE were more likely to report feeling more confident in what to do in a violent incident than those who were trained less often.

Choosing Your School’s Response

While the debate continues amongst administrators and education professionals as to the best active shooter response method, students and faculty in over 5,500 school districts have gained the confidence to respond proactively in a dangerous situation because of ALICE Training ®. Many individuals who learn ALICE through their school or organization go on to use the strategies to save their life in a different environment entirely. As new studies explore the topic and more evidence comes to light, ALICE lessons will continue to evolve, reflecting the current best practices. To find out more about ALICE Training ®, click here.


  1. Cheryl Lero Jonson, Melissa M. Moon & Brooke Miller Gialopsos (2020): Are Students Scared or Prepared? Psychological Impacts of a Multi-Option Active Assailant Protocol Compared to Other Crisis/Emergency Preparedness Practices, Victims & Offenders

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