Emergency school lockdown procedures are an unfortunate fact of life in 21st century schools. Like the fire drills, tornado drills and earthquake drills that preceded them and are still conducted today, these procedures are designed to help students survive a variety of threats. When developing school lockdown procedures, school officials should solicit advice from local law enforcement agencies and state and local governments.

Identify First Responders

The principal of a school building is the apex point of any school’s lockdown procedures. Joining the principal as first responders in the event of a threat are the administrative and office staff, hall monitors and teachers who are on break. These personnel are not always in direct contact with children and can be used as points of contact for teachers who are supervising students. Office staff and hall monitors should be equipped with walkie-talkies and assigned an area of the building to assess and monitor in the event of a lockdown-take cover drill or an actual emergency.

Assign Responsibilities

Once the school’s first responder team is in place, each member of a school’s staff should receive a detailed job description detailing what to do in the event of an emergency school lockdown. Although those who are in direct contact with students changes throughout the day, instructions should remain consistent. For example, in the event of a lockdown, teachers with classrooms full of students should direct their students to their lockdown location -- under desks, into restrooms or areas of the room with no windows -- and lock the classroom door. Teachers and other personnel not directly supervising students should receive an assignment based on their current location. For example, if a teacher is in the teacher’s lounge, she must secure her area by locking the door and remaining in a take-cover position until receiving the all clear signal.

Instruct Students

Students must understand what to do in the event of an emergency, and drills must take place throughout the school year to ensure understanding and compliance. Student instructions should be prominently displayed in all classrooms so they know what to do even when substitute personnel are in the building. Student instructions should identify all acceptable take-cover areas in the classroom and tell students how to report to those areas. For example: “If your teacher tells you to take cover, walk carefully but quickly to your assigned area. Students with last names beginning with A through M walk to the front of the classroom and take cover under the tables. Students with names ending in N through Z walk carefully and quickly to the back of the classroom and take cover inside the restrooms.” The plan should also include instructions for students who are traveling from one part of the building to another.

Develop a Communication Plan

A communication plan is essential to the safety of students during an emergency. Using color-coded signals can be less frightening for younger students than using the words, “We have an emergency situation. Lock down and take cover.” School lockdown plans often use the colors red, yellow and green to cue teachers about what to do in the event of an emergency. For example, if the principal announces a code yellow in the building, teachers know to keep all students in their classrooms and continue teaching until a code green is issued. If a code red is issued, teachers know to lock their classroom doors and instruct students to take cover.

Meet With Local Law Enforcement

Once lockdown procedures are in place, school leaders should meet with local law officials or the city's emergency preparedness department to review plan details. These professionals can help school personnel identify parts of the plan that need improvement. They will explain how the school should alert emergency responders to a threat and what to expect when law enforcement arrives.

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