Evaluating Your School Lockdown Security System
Active shooter scenarios have become ever-persistent threats in the United States. More than 300,000 U.S. children have been exposed to gun violence at school since Columbine.
In light of this deeply unfortunate trend, schools, universities, and frankly all organizations have no choice but to guard against this threat. To that end, nearly all schools now train staff and students for lockdowns.
As necessary as lockdown scenario planning is to prepare against acts of violence, it’s also quite difficult. The first step is to take an honest assessment of an organization’s capabilities by asking some hard questions:
How equipped is the campus or building for a lockdown scenario?
Can every door that secures people be locked remotely?
Can doors be locked from the inside?
Who can activate lockdowns and who can release them?
To answer these questions and improve your lockdown preparedness, let’s look at what key incidents in the recent past have taught us about lockdowns.
What Recent Incidents Teach Us About Lockdown
Few people disagree on the utility and potential effectiveness of lockdowns in preventing violence. Yet recent shooting incidents have revealed some important insights that can help all organizations improve their lockdown preparedness.
For Large Campus Settings, Lockdowns Are Complicated
After Virginia Tech in 2007, then governor Timothy M. Kaine was presented the Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel. In that review, the panel found that a total campus lockdown wasn’t possible due to “the size of the police force and absence of a guard force, the lack of electronic controls on doors of most buildings other than residence halls, and the many unguarded roadways.”
As the report details, Virginia Tech “did not have classroom door locks operable from the inside of the room,” while noting that such locks “can block entry of an intruder and compartmentalize an attack.” Ultimately, and despite other concerns about such locks, the panel concluded that having them on campus was a good idea.
Furthermore, the panel came to this critical conclusion: “Lockdowns or cancellation of classes should be considered on campuses where it is feasible to do so rapidly.” With regard to the former, electronic controls on doors appeared to be one of the key missing components during this incident.
In Schools, Doors Must Also Lock from the Inside
Various studies of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 show that doors locked from the inside prevent active shooters from entering classrooms. In the Final Report Of The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, the commission made clear its stance on doors that lock from both the inside and outside:
“Classrooms and other safe-haven areas should have doors that can be locked from the inside. The commission cannot emphasize enough the importance of this recommendation,” says the report.
Yet, substantial delays in locking a classroom door are likely when a keyed deadbolt lock is used (with delays lasting from 30 seconds up to a minute and a half or more). This is due to the fact that the teacher has to be the one to lock the door.
As the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission notes in its report, one substitute teacher was “unable to lock her classroom door because the school did not provide substitute teachers with classroom keys.” This and other findings in the report again make a strong case for electronic locking doors that can be operated remotely.
Safeguards for Lockdown Policy Compliance
In response to the tragic 2022 shootings in Uvalde, Texas, the Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting found several things the school could have done better. In this case, Robb Elementary did have both lockdown procedures and inside-locking doors already in place.
However, the report noted a “regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks.” The report goes on to conclude that had school personnel locked the doors according to school policy, the shooter’s progress would have been significantly impeded.
Setting aside the tragedy in Uvalde, there are solutions that can monitor for doors left unlocked, or open, that shouldn’t be, then alert security personnel so they can respond appropriately. At the very least, these proactive alerts can help enforce door locking policies, even in “cultures of noncompliance” which, unfortunately, remain quite common beyond this small school in Texas.
How the Verkada Lockdown Solution Aids Emergency Response Preparedness and Response
Despite the many lessons that active shooter scenarios have taught us, there is no end-all-be-all solution. Even with the perfect emergency action plan and physical security measures in place, some of these tragedies might still have happened.
Still, for schools and other organizations that do prepare for lockdown scenarios, there are ways to improve their preparedness. A number of schools leverage Verkada access control to enhance traditional lockdown capabilities in three key ways:
1. Bring Every Door Online.
One way to make sure no door is overlooked is to bring all doors together into a single management platform. Security personnel and school admins can use Verkada to secure and digitally manage every door across campus, from high-traffic exterior doors to lower-traffic interior doors. This includes the ability to respond to alerts (a door left open, for example) or initiate a total or partial lockdown.
2. Use Additional Lockdown Tools.
There should never be a single point of failure for locking doors and securing people. With Verkada, school teams can initiate a lockdown in a number of ways, both remotely and physically at the door. If a particular door is left unlocked, a team member can lock that door remotely, including during incident response.
3. Automate Response Procedures.
Anytime a lockdown is activated, time is of the essence. Verkada sends automated alerts and notifications to key staff members as soon as a lockdown is activated or lifted. Beyond ensuring a facility can safely go into a lockdown, Verkada allows organizations to better resolve lockdowns. This includes the ability to share video feeds in real-time and remotely unlock doors to aid first responders.
Unfortunate but Necessary, Lockdowns Must Evolve
In the end, each school and campus must prepare for lockdowns based on the latest information, as well as their own individual needs. A lockdown procedure at Virginia Tech is going to look a lot different than it will for a small elementary school. Still, even a cursory audit of key shooting incidents will reveal some universal best practices that can be applied in both settings, some of which we’ve noted here.
In the end, organizations in general seem to be going the way of more robust security solutions for their campuses. Not only do these solutions accommodate the nuance and individual needs of each environment, but they allow for a deeper level of protocol enforcement, centralized monitoring, and overall vigilance. This kind of smarter lockdown preparedness is certainly one of the main goals of Lockdown for Verkada Access Control.